A Journey through Rustic Goodness in Malayalam Cinema.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it was Sathyan Anthikkad‘s movies that played a major part in shaping up the composite memory of the Oduvil we all have in our hearts. And that memory, across all age-groups, am sure, its surprisingly more or less the same. In fact, a journey through the varied ‘faces’ that Oduvil portrayed on screen, at times with more than one in a movie, is also a journey through the rural heart of Kerala, an environment that is scarily being reconstituted to resemble the glass-and-chrome monstrosities of its urban peers. Also Sathyan Anthikkad’s movies would bring together a delightful set of regulars in his movies that usually spoke of the ‘hearts and heart-breaks in hamlets’ – characters that came alive through Paravoor Bharathan, Shankarady, KPAC Lalitha, Philomena, Sukumari, Maamukkoya, Innocent, Jagathy – with a rock-solid script from Sreenivasan who most of the times joined the fun. The stories most often spoke of current issues with dark sarcasm and pure humor, through this set of actors who essayed characters who were no different from the ones we knew from our neighborhood. Oduvil took to this fraternity like fish to water!
Even the livelihoods and occupations the characters portrayed on screen, I am sure, would become reference material on how they functioned, in the years to come. It wouldn’t be long that you would have to put on a VCD of Mazhavilkkavadi, and point to Oduvil Unnikrishnan’s “Vedikkaaran” at the local temple and explain to your child about that unique profession. This is a trip through his varied roles in Sathyan Anthikkad movies, where Oduvil made himself king in a parallel universe of simplicity, reflecting what he was in real life. For him, it was a seamless transition – or come to think of it, was there ever one for him?
Oduvil came into the Sathyan Anthikkad ‘scheme of things’ through Appunni, which was a brave effort on the part of Sathyan Anthikkad to adapt to screen a VKN creation – something that was unthinkable to a purist. There is an element of truth to it, if you ask me. VKN works at various levels with his words, at the same time. Based on VKN’s Premavum Vivahavum, it was a love triangle between ‘two lovers from childhood – (Menaka and Nedumudi Venu) ‘ and a rich urban entrant ( Mohanlal’s Menon Mash) . Oduvil played Kurup Mash, the elderly school teacher who is also a part of the village as a part of the school. Sathyan Anthikkad recalls in his memoir’s about Oduvil’s subtle, nuanced and powerful behavior in a particular scene where Oduvil accompanies Mohanlal in his search for ‘accommodation in the village’ and end up at Kuttyedathi Vilasini‘s house, the village’s ‘woman of tempation. ‘ Check out the video, it starts at 4:58.
A video clipping from Appunni (1984)
Kudumbapuranam, scripted by Lohithadas had a very similar storyline to Visu‘s Samsaaram athu Minsaram though it takes off on an entirely different direction altogether when it came to the actual crux of the story. Oduvil played the uncle/local guardian of Ambika – the dutiful, rational and loving eldest daughter-in-law of the house, who desperately tries to hold the family together through all, even at the cost of an enraged, stubborn and diffident husband. It was a small role, having nothing much to but in that few minutes, Oduvil, as usual, left a lasting impression.
In the equally rollicking sequel to Nadodikkaattu, Oduvil played the role of the Home Minister, hassled and harried by a sensational murder that is about to even topple his ministry, and atlast agrees on ‘importing’ the two exceptionally intelligent Inspectors from Chennai Crime Branch. Sample this :
State IG : സര്, അടുത്തിടെ വന്ന ചില പത്രവാര്ത്തകള് സര് വായിച്ചു കാണുമല്ലോ?
Oduvil/ Home Minister : “ഇല്ല, മന്ത്രി ആയതില് പിന്നെ പത്രമൊന്നും ഞാന് വായിക്കാറെയില്ല !” 🙂
A clipping from the movie.
Ponmuttayidunna Thaaravu 
The cult favorite that could be called a perfect movie ( hey, its my personal opinion!). A love story based around the primal greed for material wealth in human beings ( read gold) – it was a heartwarming story of a village goldsmith’s love for his lady, based on pragmatism ( that was the surprise!). Oduvil played Paappy, the ‘latest’ in a generation of bullock-traders, who is an integral part of the village eco-system, and half-way through the narrative, loses his cow, destined for the local market. The rest of the movie finds him an active participant of the proceedings in the main lovestory as well as searching for his lost cow. You can only sit and helplessly laugh holding on to the couch from falling as Paappy goes around the country side, searching for the lost cow, calling out “Paasu, Passu…” – as if the cow knew that was its generic title and she was supposed to answer to the call ! I can watch this over and over again, and am sure you will too. This is an all time classic.
Scripted by Sreenivasan, and destined for greatness, Varavelpu was created from an incident in real life – that of Sreenivasan’s father who purchased a bus service and almost went bankrupt owing to the identical narrative of the movie. The storyline, in the hands of Sreenivasan, coupled with the integration of the ‘Gulf-exodus’, back to Kerala transformed into a story anyone living in the early 90’s would have easily identified with. The issues discussed, with part dark-humor and part sarcasm, are relevant, even after two decades!
Oduvil played Narayanan Nair, the eldest in the family, and a restaurant owner, who gleefuly takes every single penny that comes his way from his youngest brother in the “Galf”, but looks the other way when the source runs dry as he comes back home. I remember my Dad watching the movie with his eyes welled up – (though we never bought a bus), he said, “this is my story”. Anyone with a “Galf legacy” could point out to a Narayanan Nair in the family without batting an eyelid. That was Oduvil’s strength of portraying a role.
Watch the “First Ceremonial Welcome”