[ This is the prize-winning entry from the MT Classics 500 Contest entries submitted, which ran in the month of May, 2011 at Old Malayalam Cinema. The author Mohammed Naseef is a software engineer working in Bangalore, from Malappuram, passionate about films and reading. He says, “M.T Vasudevan Nair is one of my favourite literary & film personality, and Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha is one of my favourite movies. This prompted me to put forth my thoughts about it at your site. I owe a lot to my friends with whom I have discussed this movie, whose thoughts are also reflected in what I have sent as my entry for the contest.” ] Congratulations Mohammed !
ORU VADAKKAN VEERAGATHA.
Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha ( A Northern Saga) is arguably the best screenplay written by M.T. Vasudevan Nair, and perhaps the best screenplay ever written in the history of Malayalam cinema.
The story is based on the northern ballads (vadakkan pattukal) which have been sung for centuries across the Malabar. In the context of Malayalam cinema, the genre of films based on vadakkan pattukal started from Unniyarcha(1961). Since then, almost all characters of vadakkan pattukal have become protagonists in one or the other film, and all the inherent and potential plots and subplots of the ballads have been explored and exploited to fuel these movies churned year after year(mainly by Udaya and Merryland). But all that was before the year 1989, when M.T with a single master- stroke, crucified the songs sung over centuries and films made over decades before resurrecting the tale in its ultimate celluloid adaptation which came to be known as “Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha”.
Contrary to popular belief, M.T did not rewrite the tale. Rather, he changed the viewer’s perspective towards the original. Plots from the original which portray Chandu’s villainy, have been presented from the protagonists’ point of view giving the character a whole new psychological depth. So compelling is the writing that at every turn of events, the viewer is convinced that there cannot be an alternate version of the story and is left pondering as to why he did not notice this before.
Chandu’s status as an orphan makes him most vulnerable to injustice. This explains Aromal’s rise as a better warrior was more attributed to his circumstances rather than his skill and Chandu’s training under Aringodar was an acceptance of his helplessness rather than ungratefulness. The story of him trying to molest his childhood sweetheart seems unlikely compared to him being cheated by her, given the vindictive nature of Unniyarcha who embodies masculine qualities but is trapped in marriage with Kunhiraman. The screenplay is blessed with plenty of such incidents. And thus, at every twist and turn of the story, the author drives the undercurrents while keeping the surface same as the original, as the human drama unfolds with a new dimension accusing history of committing grave injustice to Chandu.
The dialogues are among the most memorable lines uttered in Malayalam cinema, echoing the deepest of thoughts with the choicest of words, which apart from enhancing the screenplay; show the beauty and splendor of Malayalam language, a feat never before achieved in Malayalam cinema. But M.T, whose silences are more powerful than his words has left pregnant silences between his words leaving the viewer to ponder, analyze and scrutinize the characters and the tale, which justifies and rewards repeated viewings of the film.
Epics are essentially tales of heroism, in which context this film would be the greatest epic told in Malayalam cinema. Killing oneself is accepted as an act of cowardice. However, in the climax of the story, by killing himself, Chandu’s character attains epic proportions. The man, who was defeated by so many people in his life, wins over them all by ending his life. He virtually defeats Aromal Unni and Kannppan Unni by stabbing himself (showing that they could never have defeated him by themselves). He wins over Unniyarcha by sparing her child and declaring him his unborn child showing his undying love for Unniyarcha. He wins over and repays his guru Valiya Kannapan Chekavar by asking Aromal Unni to take credit for his death and paving way for him to become a hero and bring laurels to the Chekavar household. Above all, he proves that he was the greatest master of kalaripayattu by easily defeating Aromal Unni and Kannppan Unni in the duel and then announcing all the strategies of duel they were going to use later (which they had thought was their trump card).
The life and customs of that era have been brilliantly captured in words and reflected on screen in this film which also serves as a chronicle of that period and a window from this age to that bygone era.
An interesting legacy of this film is that the name “Chandu” has become more common among people born in the last 20 years, considering that the name now evokes positive emotions and response. Just another fitting tribute to the master of words called “M.T Vasudevan Nair”.