First off, let us be very clear on this.
The actor who debuted along with Monisha Unni in Nakhakshathangal (1986) is Saleema. As in S-A-L-E-E-M-A or S-A-L-I-M-A, depends on how you want to look at it. Not Saleena nor Salina. The emphasis is M, and not N. Vineeth Nambiar had debuted in IV Sasi’s Idanilangal in 1985, so, this ain’t technically his debut film. The one that made him a household name, maybe.
If you were someone who watched Nakhakshathangal in your neighborhood cinema and went moony over Gowri, I am sure what genuinely got under your skin was this spunky, absolute natural ‘behavior onscreen’ of this debutante with ‘unconventional looks’ [ Yes, you can interpret that in any way you want, please ]. With Saleema, our film makers had a very strange situation in their hands, as far as I look at it. Here was a brilliant actor, extraordinarily talented, an absolute natural onscreen, but refused to ‘conform’ to the ‘established (read ingrained) notions of a ‘heroine’ onscreen. I remember reading during that time that her roots were in Tamil Nadu, but am not sure. If anyone knows how she came to Director Hariharan’s attention, please do share. When one looks at the roles written for her – the best came from MT Vasudevan Nair, but her career graph went on a tailspin after her first two movies.The latter were, I feel, trying to conform to the ‘commercial requirements of a performer’ on screen, and I think she seemed to have lost that zest and spunkiness in them, more like an also-ran.
Admit it. As you watched Nakhakshathangal, your grudging admiration for this debutante grew by the minute. Saleema‘s debut role was that of Lakshmi, the beautiful, deaf and mute daughter, and the powerful end of a love triangle that drives the story. The most amusing and interesting part is, though she never uttered a word in the entire movie, you felt that she spoke just the right words with her eyes and her body, which can be quite a challenge, when you are facing the arclights for the first time. Of course, with two brilliant craftsmen at the helm, MT Vasudevan Nair and Hariharan, there was hardly an room for things going wrong, but, hey, let’s face it, debut performances usually hold the key to one’s career. Although a large part of the credit goes to MT’s screenplay, it wouldn’t have had as much effect had it not have been for the perfect actors who portrayed the roles, and I believe Saleema outclassed herself in her first outing itself. There are two scenes from the movie that always stays with me. One is the instance where she requests Ramu ( Vineet) to write something for her, and he writes that classic verse, “ആരെയും ഭാവഗായകനാക്കും ആത്മസൌന്ദര്യമാണ് നീ “, the way her face lights up and her reaction to the lines blows you away. Probably it was one of the few instances on the Malayalam screen where the girl in love so emphatically and literally ‘sealed her intention with a kiss.’ The second is when she lets her father know of her decision on the heartbreaking turn of events through a note, and as her father ( Jagannatha Verma ) looks up to her face, the emotions that fleet across her face is beyond compare. Nuanced, subtle but it said everything.
Aareyum Bhava Gaayakanaakkum from Nakhakshathangal.
Niramulla Raavukal (1986 )
* [ Thanks Deepak for the input ]
Saleema as a teen hooker in M Krishnan Nair‘s Niramulla Raavuakal (1986), a sort of “multi-cameod soft-porn” offering is sure to have you sit and scratch your head hard. Of the dizzying number of ‘temptations of the flesh’ thrust into absurd situations so that M Krishnan Nair could conveniently yank off their clothes, her short appearance thankfully (atleast in the crappy VCD I got) stayed within reasonably sane limits. There actually isn’t anything more to be said. She had a role in Niramulla Raavukal. End of matter.
Kurukkan Raajavaayi (1987)
For the life of me, I just have no idea how she landed up in this one. Was it a gag-fest? Now as you revisit it, you look for a space in between your sofa upholstery to crawl into. This seems to be one of the tail-end movies directed by P Chandrakumar in the real world before he crossed over to the land of soft-porn, starting with Aadi Papam. Anyways, coming back to the movie, Saleema as Raaji played the love interest to Manianpillai Raju‘s ‘aimless, love-sick bumpkin’, someone who takes the help of his dear friend to help him fall in love with her – the whole movie script had you thinking hard on what exactly were you thinking when you decided to watch the movie ! Compared to this, Prassi Malloor‘s Loose, Loose, Arappiri Loose (1990) was Oscar material. This wasn’t Priyadarshanesque screwball comedy, this was leagues beneath.There wasn’t much Saleema had to do but wear 80′s ‘modern-girl dresses and accessories, drive a Fiat Premier Padmini and look very bimbette’. Oh, and yes, mouth gems like, “You are the one that I see in my dreams everyday ” to two people, both fast friends ! Wasted.
A worthy follow-up to her debut act in Nakshakshathangal (1986). I believe we remember her more for Ammini in Aranyakam than anything else. Saleema played the pivotal character of Ammini, the lonesome, seemingly introvert, mischievous, wacky and brilliant – the proverbial diamond in the rock, which also seemed to me another approach on the same theme that MT expressed through Kuttyedathi too ..don’t you think so? Though unlike the latter, here, she was educated and had social security. Kuttyedathi had neither. I feel MT again revisited the ‘ugly duckling’, this time from another angle, in Ennu Swantham Janakikutty (1998) [ based on his story Cheriya Cheriya Bhookambangal]. Ammini is slave to her daydreams, an astute lover of nature, fits the ‘solitary traveler’ to a T, and is so overwhelmingly folded up on her ‘inadequacy to conform to social niceties and existing standards.’ The very reason, why her best friends are her personal diary, books, birds and insects around the countryside, in that order. And surprisingly, it is this introvert that seem to end up forming bonds of physical attraction, compatibility and admiration with the two main male protagonists of the movie, albeit in two different levels. A stellar role, reinforced some divine music by Reghunath Seth to lyrics by ONV Kurup, every song has been an evergreen classic. Saleema was Amminikkutty. Period.
Olichirikkan Vallikkudilonnorukki vechilley from Aaranyakam.
From the Hariharan school to Joshiy‘s was an interesting ‘transition’. Saleema in Mahaayanam didn’t have to much other than being the customary ‘repressed, loved heart within the palatial four walls’ and react suitably pained in the few minutes of screentime she had. Heck, anyone could have done that role. It was also delightful to watch Vineeth romancing Saleema for the third time, and sadly, still go unfulfilled. It must have been Lohithadas‘ script that gave a certain lil’ magic and mystique to what would have been otherwise a staple Joshiy Ketchup Fest, a certain amount of, shall I say, ‘edge-of-the-seat-respectability.’ Saleema was Molly, the ‘pining for love’ daughter of Kochuvarkey ( Prathap Chandran in a stellar role ), the local feudal lord who takes even the movement of a bedbug against his will personally. So it can only mean nuclear fission when he comes to know that his lowly page-boy-cum-doormat-cum-runner-cum-junior-accountant is madly in love with his daughter and catches them in a tender moment. The story evolves into more expected violence and gore, but sadly, Saleema isn’t there playing any part of it. Mahayaanam is somehow one of my fondest movies of Joshiy, and the handful that came in the 90′s, that somehow with much difficulty restrained its cuss and curse elements, and still managed to keep you interested. A wonderful premise of a journey, a stranger enters a strange land with a dead body, and returns with another loved one’s. Beautiful.
A clipping from the movie.
Ah, Priyadarshan‘s version of John Badham’s Stakeout (1987), with some ill-fitting wigs and slapstick thrown in for good measure. Saleema plays Professor Kurian Fernandes’ favorite student who gets raped and killed and the charges stuck on him by the conniving college management. Umm..that was it. Before you knew, it was over on screen. Again, how she ended up in that role is beyond me.
Meghangaley from Vandanam.
So, here we are.
5 6 movies , and she was gone ! If anyone has more information, would love to hear from you.
Do write in.
Update : Jayanan Vincent, acclaimed cinematographer [who was also the director of cinematography for Mahayaanam ] tells me that Saleema is the daughter of the famous Telugu actress and comedienne from the sixties, Girija. Aha!
Update : From an interview with Vineeth found at Manorama Online,