12 years since his Passing.
Kuthiravattam Pappu was a magician on screen.
He was always the painfully – hilarious, empathetic yet incalculably shrewd money-lender (Mithunam), or the considerate pimp ( Avaludey Raavukal), or the sleazy, slimy small-time real-estate agent (Vietnam Colony) or the explosive, pompous to the point of stupid, garrulous ‘Club Secretary ‘ in Mazha Peyyunnu, Maddalam Kottunnu, he had so much going on for you onscreen that you followed him almost breathlessly onscreen. He made you feel content ( I know, its a little bizarre, but it was the case for me) as he went about his business, making you well up, mostly with inconsolable laughter, but at some significant junctures with tears too. Kuthiravattam Pappu, you see , could make himself disappear while being present at the same time.
He was never a comedian as far as I see him. To me, he was one of the finest examples of effortless, simplistic emoting conveyed ever in Malayalam Cinema and I rank him amongst the greats in world cinema. He did close to a 1000 movies before he passed away, and the wiry, lean frame was a limitless bundle of sheer talent which sadly never got its full due. He was mostly relegated to the second-rung slapstick comedy routines as he became an integral part of the commercial, mainstream cinema, but he wrung out every single moment allocated to him on the script ( or the absence of it) with his sheer presence on screen. Be it buffoonery, slapstick or the short,intense memorable roles ( a big thanks to Sathyan Anthikkad), Kuthiravattam Pappu came to his own in the late 80’s. There were three directors , I feel, who gave him the due respect and freedom to explore his thresholds as an actor onscreen through their movies – IV Sasi , Sathyan Anthikkad and Shaji Kailas. (yes!)
Though Priyadarshan gave him, and thereby us, one of the most memorable 4 minutes in Malayalam cinema, based around a rusty, broken down road-roller, it was these two who gave the due respect to the actor called Kuthiravattam Pappu through their productions. IV Sasi started it with his classic Avaludey Raavukal as the cycle-ricksahwallah cum pimp Damu to Seema’s teenage prostitute in 1978, he also got him, his most memorable role in 1984, in Aalkoottathil Thaniye, the role of Kutti Narayanan, the self-appointed ‘valet of death’ of the village, a strange character who appoints himself to be the facilitator of passing away to anyone who is in their final hours on earth.
Here is a clipping from the movie, Avaludey Raavukal(1978).
IV Sasi even went a step ahead and picturised a whole song on Kuthiravattam Pappu, in a commercial high-density movie packed with stars, led by the immortal Jayan, something that was unheard of, in those times for a ‘staple comedy actor’ – moniker that was perceived to be a couple of notches down the priority ladder in Cinema. Sathyan Anthikkad will have to be credited with giving us the ‘real’ face of the actor, which in itself was a misnomer, because the characters that he brought to life through his movies have ALL been memorable. Who can forget the wily,selfish brother-in-law of Balagopalan in TP Balagopalan MA (and of course, the second edition of the Thamarassery Churam story). There wasn’t anyone who could do full justice to the role than Kuthiravattam Pappu, and Sathyan Anthikkad reminisces in his book about how after he read him the script, Kuthiravattam pappu smiled and said, “This wouldn’t be a problem, I personally know a lot of them.” And if I write this today, here, its because I still haven’t forgotten that role even after 20-odd years.
Here is the second edition of Thamarassery Churam from TP Balagopalan MA.
The one that really shook me up was his role as the foul-mouthed, pissed-drunk, acerbic yet with a heart of gold owner of a run-down motor garage in Veendum Chila Veettu Karyangal again from Sathyan Anthikkad. It was one of the last movies he did and you can see the wiry frame turned gaunt, and the deep pain of weariness on him, but his face shone with the same old creative fire!
Lohithadas created the character with him in mind and insisted that only Pappuettan could do justice to the role. Tired as he was, he did it. Sathyan Anthikkad reminsces that he literally carried Kuthiravattam Pappu up 4 floors to the dubbing theater for the movie’s post-production work as there was no elevator in the building and he was unable to take the stairs.
A clipping from Veendum Chila Veettu Karyangal.