Onam and Onathumbi from Old Malayalam Cinema.

Odes to the Dragonfly

Onathumbi in Malayalam Film SongsDragonfly Pix Credit : Jkadavoor

I am yet to be made aware of another regional community that attaches so much significance to the presence of  an insect, specifically,  the picture wing dragonfly, when it comes to their greatest celebration  that represents a new beginning, gaiety, mirth, hope and above all the warmth of homecoming. Our little Onathumbi has been so ingrained in our Onam celebrations, that it is but natural to find its reflections in Malayalam Cinema too.

Though most of the references in songs from the old films are inextricably tied to at least one of these aspects – freedom, mirth, celebration and the innocence of childhood, I realise  most of them relate to the Onam festival. Here is a  compilation of the memorable ones that revolve round our Thumbi/Onathumbi through the films of yesteryears.

Koodappirappu (1956)

Lyrics : Vayalar
Music : K.Raghavan
Sung by : Shantha P Nair.

No Onappatukal compilation is complete without her  effervescent “Thumbi Thumbi Vaa Vaa” , from the film Koodappirappu ( 1956), with  lyrics by Vayalar. The film was also the debut of Prem Navaz ( brother of Prem Nazir), and also Vayalar’s debut as a film lyricist. I can still recall clearly Shanta P Nair, singing this live in the DD studios, in their Old is Gold program, and have given up in frustration trying to get a recording of the same from their archives. Some day (sigh!). Playing on one the veritable symbols of Onam’s mirth, the dragonfly, Thumbi Thumbi Va Va was a child’s moving query to his friend, the dragonfly, the eternal wanderer whether he had met his father in the great big city, during his great wanderings.

Aparadhi (1977)

Lyrics : P Bhaskaran
Music : Salil Choudhary
Sung by : Sujatha, Ambili and Chorus

Penned by P Bhaskaran, it invites the dragonfly to join the little one in the festivities, dance around, ride the swing and the general merrymaking that is associated with childhood, and for those special occasions like the Onam celebrations.

Samayamaayilla Polum ( 1978)

Lyrics : ONV
Music : Salil Choudhary
Sung by : P.Susheela

This is ONV‘s version of the same ‘invite to the dragonfly’, set to music by Salilda. He must have been very lucky to give two musical interpretations based on the same concept from to great lyricists, in a short span of an year! This was also a reworking of his Bengali tune he composed as a Children’s song, sung by Sabita Choudhary, Bulbul paakhi moyna tiye.

Onathumbikkoroonjal (1985)

Lyrics : Poovachal Khader
Music : AT Ummer
Sung by : K J Yesudas

In semi-pathos, this is a heart-broken father’s reminiscences of the good times with his little daughter, the terrain is what we already mentioned – childhood memories, now from an adult’s perspective.

Olangal (1982)

Lyrics : ONV
Music : Salil Choudhary
Sung by : S.Janaki

Ilayiaraja‘s perspective on our bond with the Thumbi gave us this melodious and highly infectious rhythm, a classic combination, that spells the Isai gnaani‘s touch. He recycled the tune though, two decades later, for Paa, and in not one, but 4 versions, in the same movie! I would call that downright cheekiness :D.

Kakkothikkavile Appooppan Thadikal (1988)

Lyrics : Bichu Thirumala
Music : Ouseppachan
Sung by : KS Chitra

I have written in detail about this movie here, and why it remains a fond part of my growing years. The title track Kannanthumbi Poraamo, is yet another request to the dragonfly by two bubbly little siblings to join them in their pranks and childhood fun. A song that will always stay with you.

If you have reached here, well, thank you.

Hope it helped bring back a lot of fond memories.


3 thoughts on “Onam and Onathumbi from Old Malayalam Cinema.

  1. Lovely post- I did not know about the dragonfly’s symbolism in Malayalee culture. Tidbits like these are things I love to learn – keep up the great blog! 🙂

    1. Hi MinaiMinai,
      The two major metaphors in Ol Malayalam Cinema, as I’ve seen it has been the dragonfly and the crow.While the former stood for memories/freedom/childhood fun, the latter was mostly benevolence/messenger/a a patient friend for the characters. It was just that the latter was mostly a product of the poetic imagination that came through the movie songs and not so seeped into popular culture. But, the dragonfly, atleast for the generation that witnessed the labor pains of the ipod and Wifi, always makes you misty-eyed, which includes yours truly too.
      Be seeing you around.. 😀

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