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.