Moonbeam. That was what she embodied onscreen. You just couldn’t get enough of it, you never even realized as it enveloped you in its cool and welcoming glow, and you were so suffused in it you hardly realised when she withdrew. You were already in a good, warm and comfortable place inside your head, snug and joyful by then. Right from her debut in MT – Hariharan team’s Nakhakshathangal (1986) to her last, Cheppadi Vidya (1992), in a short span of six years, she managed to give you a varied handful of onscreen portrayals that refuse to go away, try hard as one could. She never had to try hard to do that for any of those roles – emoting came effortlessly, almost like her natural grace, it was obvious on screen. I still remember that cold morning in December when you opened up the newspaper, mind still asleep, and the headline screamed at you about her passing away. It was one of the moments when you really, really sat down and questioned the “Natural Order of things”.
Monisha Unni’s lineage and her deep love in Indian Classical dance shined through her characters, imparting every role a grace that don’t come easily to most. Her roles, even when it slid down and rested uncomfortably in the ‘industrial typecast ones (think Thalasthanam) even made it look dignified just by her presence onscreen. I have just tried to bring together those that are still memorable to me ( and am sure you will concur on some ) and mostly representative of the variety of roles she played in Malayalam, fortunate to have worked with some of the industry’s talented best in the short period she graced Malayalam cinema.
Her debut won her the National Award for the Best Actress and was also the youngest one to win one till then – she was all of 15 years ! MT Vasudevan Nair, who was a family friend was instrumental in getting her to play Gowri, the young maid who falls in love with another destitute lad adopted into her ‘master’s’ family, and the latter’s daughter too falling head over hells for the same heart. A classic love triangle which was also explored minus the third angle in his Neelathamara too, I feel. She excelled as Gowri, as you accompanied her wanderings of the heart, with that sinking feeling at the back of the mind, warning you in that soft tone all so familiar to those characters created by MT, ” This will turn into hell, wait and watch.” And it did too, and she fit the role to a T and you never even realised that it was her debut movie, though Vineeth‘s discomfort and stiffness sometimes peeked through – Monisha was at home in front of the camera. With Ravi Bombay‘s music and Hariharan‘s direction, supported by thespians like Thilakan and Jagannatha Vama, it was a dream debut and she was blessed with the best that came out of that effort.
Here is Manjal prasadavum from Nakhakshathangal.
In Prathap Pothen‘s body of work as a Director in Malayalam (he directed 3 movies), this is to me, the finest. Must be the script of MT again (sigh!). The story about a decaying wealthy Nalukettu and the disparate characters baying for blood and a share of the property had Monisha playing Thankamani, the younger sister of Devu (Geetha), torn between her love toward Keshu (Vineeth ) , the central ‘bastard’ character and her elder sister’s vow to get her married to her professor at college. And the professor is in love with Devu ! (Trust MT to come up with complications like that 🙂 ). I also believe this to be one of the best screen adaptations of MT’s screenplays in the color era – a movie hardly heard about in discussion forms. Thankamani’s character evolves into the pivot on which the narrative takes an abrupt turn and just when you thought you have ‘endured’ all what an MT screenplay can give you, he takes a stake and drive it right through your heart in the end. Please don’t miss a chance to watch it.
Here is Rithusankramapakshi padi from Rithubedom
One always get chills watching Perumthachan (1990). With Santosh Sivan’s cinematography, MT’s script, P Krishnamoorthy’s art direction, the debut of Ajayan as director ( Thoppil Bhasi’s son), this was an exquisite poem on celluloid. Monisha became a part of that too, as Kunhikkavu Thamburatti, who becomes the main character as the histort of love repeats itself in the life of Perumthachan (Thilakan) and the distraught but determined architect ‘from the gods’ takes a heart-breaking decision. Monisha was again at ease, in full control of the character, the tad acerbic, decisive, hugely independent and yet vulnerable daughter who is determined to see her late mother’s wish of constructing the Saraswati mandapam with the land’s best talent come true.
A clipping from Perumthachan.
Written and directed by MT Vasudevan Nair, this also won him the National Award for Best Screenplay and the Kerala State Award for Best Film. The story was about a bunch of characters that always met at the ferry, and in turn took a brief peek into their lives, and the main protagonist Raju, the young runaway who becomes the aging, alcoholic boatman Beeran’s favorite and assistant. Monisha, I recall, played the role of this young government employee who takes the ferry and shares a warm relationship with a school master (Murali). I remeber watching this in our good old Doordarshan in the late 90’s and all efforts of getting hold of a legal, presentable copy of the film has come to naught. If you are reading this and know of a source, please do let me know.
14 thoughts on “Remembering Monisha Unni -1”
Such a beautiful graceful actress we malayalees had. If i say her beauty lies in her inoccent face and her long hair. Monisha is still alive in the hearts of millions…..god bless u….
lost of the perfection of dancing arts…. i remember ever………….see her dance
video even today…….. simple and humble nature……………………………….
what can do ?
I don’t know how to express my sorrow that even though its already 20 years over.
I can say monisha is not only best actress in malayalam film industry but also a excellent dancer and most beautiful humble person in the entire indian film industry.
I don’t know malayalam, but that doesn’t stop me of watching her films again and again until now. No wonder that she still conquered my heart.
Monisha onscreen has that effect on movie viewers. Its a pleasure to know that you appreciate her performances on screen regardless of the language handicap, which again goes on to show her firm grasp on the craft. Sad, we have only a handful of her performances to remember her by, Thank you for writing in..regards..cinematters
I am 21.An actress who conquered my heart is Monisha Unni.I had no brain no remember when she died,but today also,i love her as my age girl.There is something feeling in my heart about a long ago history..I saw many times her films..I can’t write this if her is alive.How cruel is god…..”DEATH- ranga bodhamillathe kadannu varunna komali”….I love you monisha unni..i love you i love you so much…
That is some pretty strong words coming from a 21-year old. True, it was hard not to like Monisha Unni and put her in that warm, fuzzy place that you have reserved for special people, but to be so besotted that it causes torment makes one think. Thank you for writing in to Old Malayalam Cinema.Take care..cm
I am 23.I have seen that disturbing scenes of her dead body and procession in that gulf program cassette when I was a 6 year old and since them many a times.Its a decade after that I happened un search for that particular video in the you tube and got to see post over half a decade.What radiance Monisha chechi had!!1992 year that saw a lot of historical incidence in India.Dec 5 she died,the next day Babri Masjid demolition day,dec 7 my 5th birthday.Feels like I knew her.21 years too young… she had come in my dreams too…
Dear Syam Nath,
Thank you for your impressions as you recall best about Monisha, the actress. True, she had a unique ( shall I say hold ?) over the Malayali psyche in her active years in Malayalam films and it continues to this day, albeit in different degrees. There is a point of view that she was just the luck girl at the right time at the right place and ended up having a movie career in front of her. You mentioned about radiance – a Moonbeam, no less. Thanks again..regards..cinematters
Wonderful article on our beloved actrss Monisha. But here you’ve gone through her movies by MT. Kamaladalam was another really great movie where she was awesome along with the brilliant Lal. This is my favourite perfomance of her.
Looking forward to more of such good articles.
Glad that you liked the article. I intend to cover the rest of her movies in the next part, but it is incidental that the first few movies ( in chronological order !) seems to be from MT himself. It wasn’t intentional 🙂 I am also waiting for a a very refreshing take on all the dances in Kamaladalam and a perspective on Monisha Unni as an artiste/dancer from a learned, dear friend (who herself is a proponent of the Classical school) here at Old malayalam Cinema. She has promised shee will write and am sure she will. Will keep you posted. Kamaladalam is an undeniable milestone in the commercial mainstream releases in Malayalam Cinema for so many reasons. Thanks again for passing through and for your kind words.. Regards..cinematters
I think Perumthachan was one movie where she was given a role outside the norm she was getting used to in those days. What a beauty the girl was too…
Indeed, Perumthachan was one movie that stayed a shade apart from the roles that she did, that brought in a hint of rough edges.And without doubt, she was every inch divine on screen..Thanks for passing through..Regards..Cinematters
It is indeed natural to remember where you were, especially when it comes to path-breaking events in history. Monisha’s untimely demise will remain one such – and even today, you cannot talk about her without that lump in your throat. I remember my sister telling me about it then, and prolonged silence followed, in reverence to the soul that for a brief while graced us with its exhilarating presence. Consummate in her art, completed by the grace of dance, she will always remain, naturally, the greatest actress in Malayalam cinema. As I write now, the heart skips its natural rhythm and contemplates the completeness of it all when Monisha was around. Moon-beam, indeed, CM. Thank you, again!
I’m sure many of us recall that with remarkable and surprising accuracy. I guess Universe also conspires when talent, grace and beauty like this come together and shine in any media, and steps in quickly to snatch it away, in the celestial sense. Even though it was only a handful of movies that Monisha completed in her brief career, every single one of them, am sure, is still fresh in our minds. Another word for that would be eternal memory. What more can an artiste ask for…Regards..CM