Another artiste that was a part of the Malayalam Cinema for five decades, passed away silently into the dusty public memory archives. Five decades, ladies and gentlemen ! ( Read that against the shelf life of the current crop of actors who do not go beyond single digits). As the famous Adoor Sisters of Malayalam Cinema, with the elder sibling, Adoor Bhavani, they were a delightful combination, whose characterizations was almost pigeonholed for their roles on screen. As the elder one brought the vile, acerbic mother-in-law or the brooding, muttering Granny to life on screen, Pankajam was the brash, spunky and loud wife/grandmother – and the duo, regardless of whatever the demands of the script, mostly rendered their lines in the sing-song tone of central Travancore, something that was always a delight to listen to. It must also have been because of the fact that Adoor was a stone’ throw away from our little hamlet.
The fact that she had acted close to 412 films in her career was something amazing, and though Malayala Manorama mentioned this in their matter-of-fact obit, I wish they had listed the entire filmography in their online property. (On second thoughts, they must have wondered, does anyone care?)That should also explain the absence of a microsite on her at Manorama Online too, unlike her peers. Adoor Pankajam was the first of the siblings to get into the film industry. Already a very popular theater artiste , a fabulous singer and debuted in Aravind Productions‘ Prema Lekha (1952), directed by M K Mani but the first film to be released was Udaya Studio’s Vishappinte Vili (1952), which was later dubbed into Tamil and Telugu, I believe and was a box-office success.
Though she got ample opportunities and related roles that helped showcase her talent as a dancer in the beginning of the career, pretty soon, as the commercial dynamics changed, her roles became more and more stereotyped, and it wasn’t long before the media, in their eternal quest in pigeonholing talent, delightfully spoke of the siblings as the sunshine-and-sarcasm pair, and the roles that came their way did their bit too. Amidst this celebration of the trite came the role of Chakki in Ramu Karyat’s Chemmeen ( 1965), which even in a way celebrated her value as a singer by having the melodius Pennale Pennale picturised on her, leading the folk group song.
Here is the matter-of-fact report that came in at Manorama News, and in their Pathanamthitta District News Channel on Manorama Online though I wish they had an exhaustive one like the one that they did for her illustrious peer and neighbor, Adoor Bhasi.
Here is a run through four roles of Adoor Pankajam across the span of 50 years ( paltry, I know), but these were the four roles that first came to mind as I read the news.
Vishappinte Vili ( 1952).
Adoor Pankajam‘s first release though her first movie was Prema Lekha(1952), it was an assembly-line Udaya production, it was one of the block-busters of 1952, starring Prem Nazir and Thikkurissy Sukumaran Nair.
This was the starting of the trend where she was inevitably paired with SP Pillai, who gave the comic-respite to the high-voltage melodrama which was directly borrowed from the Tamil films of the season.
The SP Pillai-Adoor Pankajam would go on to be a staple in the ensuing years as the most popular comedy duo the B&W era.The movie as I can remeber, also marked the debut of Jose Prakash as a playback singer – a duet with Kaviyoor Revamma !!!
Bharya ( 1962).
Another Udaya production, starring Sathyan as Prof.Benny, a tale of an adulterous love affair by a married man gone horribly wrong, it was said to be based on a real story, and was quite a change from the staple fare dished out by Udaya Studios during the times.
She was paired against SP Pillai again, as the elderly couple of Sathyan‘s “love interest” – played by Gracy. Packed with almost every single hit-song you could think of, this was one of the movies which was at her peak popularity, though type-cast, she was able to hold on her own with the comedy legend of the times, SP Pillai.
As Nallapennu in the award winning film, this would be the one role with which she would be remembered in her illustrious career that spanned 50 years in Malayalam Cinema. Paired again with SP Pillai, as the affable, loud-mouthed yet caring neighbors of Chembakunju ( Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair), this was one role that Adoor Pankajam literally brought to life on screen.
It was also a fabulous cinema moment to have both the sisters roughing it out as neighbors in the same film production, which ended up as the best film of their lives.
And not to forget the evergreen classic Pennaley Pennaley from the film picturised on her and Sheela!
Watch Pennaley Pennaley from Chemmeen (1965) here.
Kadathanattu Makkam (1978)
Another one in the gaudy, over-the-top, loud productions that passed off as Vadakkan Pattukal or its adaptations, which was more like an early version of Udaya‘s homegrown Samurai Series.
There was nothing special to speak about the roles – just another ‘job’ playing a character, someone worthwhile in the proceedings if you were lucky or high up in the professional rankings in celluloid at the time – which explains why Prem Nazir always played the purportedly agile and martially adept Warrior!
Adoor Pankajam‘s full-blown roles more or less were on their downhill curve by the early 80’s. It would go on till it got few and far in between, and coupled with her failing eye-sight, it was a sad progression of events.
Another legend gone, to perform at the great gig in the sky.
Rest in Peace.