All the characters Sathyan played on screen were of strong men, all imbued with the special “Sathyan” touch which made them unforgettable. Most roles were, in my memory, tragic. However, one memorable character that he played, with the story ending on a positive note, was in Thoppil Bhasi‘s Mooladhanam (meaning Capital, as in Wealth). The story is based on Thoppil Bhasi’s own life experiences as a Communist Party worker during 1944-1946, of the sacrifices he had to make, in order for the mass struggle against the unjust rule of the Diwan be a success. Sathyan plays the role of the hero, Ravi, and Prem Nazir takes the role of Mammootty, his comrade, working for the same cause. The pair, both super stars of their time, appearing side by side at the beginning and also at the end of the movie, highlights their stark contrast in appearance and acting style. There is no contest, Sathyan wins hands down.
Apart from being a fervent member of the party, Ravi is also a loving husband to Sarada, and father to two children, Appu and Ammini (played brilliantly by two bright child actors, sadly not credited in the titles – could not find their names). Political circumstances force Ravi and Mammootty to go into hiding. As it has only been a week since his wedding to Nabeesa (Jayabharathi), Mammootty defies Ravi’s instructions to go and meet Nabeesa in a sneaky rendezvous. Unfortunately, he gets arrested by the police. Ravi continues his activism from hiding. In spite of missing his dear wife and kids, he holds fast to his beliefs and principles, preferring to have no contact with them rather than put other activists’ life at risk. Police ransack his home, carrying away everything they possess. they break the framed photograph of Ravi and take away the photograph, leaving the broken glass and an empty frame and cardboard backing. The police place Sarada in custody until they find Ravi. The kids are orphaned, and leave the house. Hoping for her sexual favours, Madhu (KP Ummer) gets her released from jail (“ഞാന് ഒരു വികാരജീവിയായ മനുഷ്യനാണ് !“). Sarada tells him to get lost, and Madhu leaves.
Meanwhile, Ravi entrusts a manuscript of a book to Madhu for publishing under a pseudonym, Soman. Ravi is in hiding under an assumed name, Prabha, a tuition master, in Malathi’s (Ambika) home. Ironically, Appu and Ammini reach Malathi’s house where their father is in hiding. Malathi gives Ammini a place to stay. (Strangely, the kids fail to recognise their father, who they had been separated from just three years ago). Ravi witnesses his child Ammini being beaten for some small offense of which Malathi wrongly accuses her. His son Appu gets arrested. When Ravi’s book, “Palunku“, gets published, Madhu appropriates all the accolades and even a National Award to be presented in New Delhi. Sathyan endured his family being destroyed; his wife arrested; his kids turned into beggars; his son arrested and tortured; but when the book he wrote with his life-blood being wrongly claimed by Madhu he explodes. He confronts Madhu and confesses to Malathi that he is Ravi, the activist who police is looking for, and not Prabha the tuition master. He gets arrested.
Sarada’s life during this time, is hell. She is pestered by Madhu’s unwelcome advances and the police. Finally she is forced to succumb to Madhu, in order to save her son being tortured, and to prevent Nabeesa from being arrested. Shocked and disgusted at finding Sarada in a compromising situation with Madhu, Appu takes Ammini and runs away from home again. Malathi organises a defence committte to free Ravi and other freedom fighters, and they are finally freed. Mammootty returns to Nabeesa to resume their interrupted honeymoon. And Ravi is heart broken to find that his wife has been unfaithful. Sarada confesses and agrees to leave. But Ravi and Nabeesa pleads Ravi to call Sarada back. After all, Sarada yielded to Madhu only to save her own son, and to prevent Nabeesa from being arrested. Ravi realises the magnitude of her sacrifice, and calls Sarada back into his life.
There are several poignant moments all through the movie. Ravi’s gratitude to a poor family who dug out their kitchen to make place for Ravi to stay, while his rich friend with a house with plenty of rooms refuses to let him stay there; Steeling himself to send his wife and kids away for fear of betraying his friends; Seeing his kids as beggars, even seeing his daughter being beaten for a crime she did not commit; hearing that his son was in custody and was being tortured by police, feeling over the moon when his novel was appreciated critically, then furious when he found out that Madhu was claiming it as his own; finding out that his wife had been unfaithful,and then finally realising the extent of her sacrifice for her son, and also for the cause that he himself believed in – a myriad of expressions flit across Sathyan’s face in these situations. All these consistently reminding you that there has been no-one to equal Sathyan in Malayalam Cinema, either before, or after, his time.
Just a note on Sathyan’s attention to detail: In one of the final scenes, when Sathyan and Adoor Bhasi are being garlanded and felicitated by the public, Adoor Bhasi takes off one of his garlands and throws it carelessly; it falls on the floor. On his way down, Sathyan bends down, retrieves the garland, and places it on the table, while Adoor Bhasi stands watching, non-plussed.
Swarga gaayikey from Mooladhanam (1969)