If you haven’t watched Poombatta (1971), yours truly recommends you to do that. Not just for the fact that it was a simple, straightforward story, without any fussy ‘superstars’ of that era ( well..almost, it does have Raagini in a guest role), but for laying it out in brilliant contrast, the acting prowess of a little girl called Baby Sridevi, or the Sridevi as we know her today. Karoor Neelakanta Pillai’s literary work ( I am of the belief that it has to be one of his short stories, if it ever was, or else he wrote it for the screen, and no, I have NOT read any of his literary works which I plan to, soon). The story was the done-to-death oneliner of little-girl-redeemed-from-her-suffering-by-kindly couple, and BK Pottekkad ( the director), gives you an advance warning that it is of course, a ‘Children’s Film.’
But what blows you away is the performance of Baby Sridevi as the suffering little Sharada, who is ‘adopted’ by her mother’s dear friend ( TR Omana as Devaki) on her death. Life soon turns hell for her, as she becomes the unofficial maid-local-help-babysitter, all rolled into one for Devaki and her 3 children. The eldest, played by Baby Rojaramani is sympathetic to Sharada but scared of her mother’s fierce temper. As the story progresses, a kindly childless couple come into their lives, who literally buy Sharada from Devaki ( she is the local moneylender/pawnbroker) for Rs.500, and adopts her as their daughter. Baby Rojaramani falls violently sick, and it takes the entire resources of Sharada’s now foster-father ( who is an Ayurvdeic practitioner) and the presence of Sharada to bring her back from the dead. And all ends well.
Sridevi performs as a seasoned actress on screen, though I guess it must have been her 4th or 5th movie, Tamil and Malayalam included. The effortlessness in dialogue delivery, the delightful grace with which she dances, it is very clear from scene 1, that this child is destined for greatness. And time proved it, we all know that. Sridevi’s first film, as per records available, seems to be the 1967 Tamil movie Kandhan Karunai, playing the role of young Lord Muruga. Poombatta (1971) seems to be her 3rd movie in Malayalam, preceded by Kumara Sambhavam (1969) and Swapnangal(1970).
Though The movie is available on Youtube, I am not yet convinced to the facial features of the little one, whic somehow don’t fit into the consummate ease and grace of the Baby Sridevi that you see in Poombatta (1971). Maybe I am wrong, but that little grain of misgiving still remains.
Here is the introduction of Sridevi into Indian films, the Tamil film, Kandhan Karunai, where she played the childhood of Lord Muruga, which was taken over by another child artiste as the movie progressed.
Baby Sridevi appears at 4:14.
This is a clipping from the movie, one of my favorites as the little Sridevi sneaks out to her mother’s resting place and weeps her heart out. Brilliant!