15 June 1971 | Remembering Sathyan

Pix Credit : Chitrabhoomi Special Edition June 2011

Sathyaneshan Nadar (11 November 1912 – 15 June 1971) aka Sathyan.

40 years on, Time still looks up in awe at this consummate actor who passionately lived for acting, than the ‘business’ of acting. What does Sathyan mean to someone who loves Malayalam films, or for that matters films in general? There is a whole lot of things and curiously, not one that you can actually point your finger and say, “THIS is what he stood for in Malayalam Cinema”. Sathyan debuted as a lead character at the ‘eye-brow’ raising age of 40, and went on to rule the arc lights for the next two decades, leaving behind a bunch of onscreen characters we still can recall by their names ( isn’t that a wonderful thing – I can hardly do the same with the ‘existing’ celluloid sultans). What Sathyan represented, to me, was conviction in all its deep and profound sense. About the characters he chose and brought to life in a way that never overwhelmed or threatened the rest of the cast but held on its own, leaving you awed by the time you left the cinema.

The veteran director M Krishnan Nair, in a birthday remembrance of Sathyan says about his uncanny knack of knowing which character, regardless of whether it was the lead or supporting one, suited him best.

While one went to a a movie that had Prem Nazir with a reasonable knowledge of what to expect out of the story line, Sathyan, on the other hand, would blow you away with his nuances and the characters that came alive onscreen. He could exaggerate when he wanted and hold back  just as effortlessly.  As far as the former is concerned, I always watch them with bemusement, mainly the ones based on the Vadakkan Paattukal ( Unniyarcha [ 1961], Thacholi Othenan [1964] and Othenante Makan [1971] ) . For the latter, the examples are legion. I know this might sound a little sacrilegious to the pundits, but Neelakkuyil never really affected me as a film, and that could also be the odd-one out in the long list that I love to sit back and lose myself. Palani, Pappu, Professor Benny, Paramu Pillai, Chellappan, Narayana Kaimal, Raghu, Kunjukutty – the list of faces that came alive courtesy Sathyan, the actor, goes on and on.

In Snehaseema and Yakshi, one saw him with half his face disfigured (James Nalanchira writes in the cover story of Chitrabhoomi’s special edition on Sathyan that he actually darkened his face more  with a mild acid for Snehaseema) – I wonder if anyone now would go to those lengths to bring out the ‘life in full’ of a character on screen !

Sathyan in Odayil Ninnu (1965) In the closing scenes of Odayil Ninnu (1965), where his adopted daughter, about to get married, comes to take him to the place of wedding, the ailing, abrasive Pappu tells her with an air of finality, “Carry on, but, without me.” The modulation, the deep emphasis without  wallowing in melodrama – everytime I watch that scene, I can feel a chill run down.

40 years on, the movie and the character still affects you. Just like all his movies. That, in a nutshell would inadequately describe his persona as Sathyan we know him today and for ever. A personality that affects you, across  time.

Related : Satheesh Sathyan, Sathyan’s son on his Papa.

9 thoughts on “15 June 1971 | Remembering Sathyan

  1. I wish to recount a humorous episode back in the early 80s. We had a VHS of “Odayil ninnu” and once (I remember it was an afternoon, just after school exams) we were sitting together watching it along with my Mother and Aunt (who’d come from Kerala visiting us). Mom and Aunty got so affected by the character of Sathyan- his rasping cough, decrepit appearance, rags, poverty, etc- whilst his daughter waxed and grew sleek with the riches of fame and who did not heed her poor father, etc, etc… all this affected them so much that they took to vocally criticizing the daughter: “Just look at her “bhaavam”! How dare she ignore her poor father! Just look at her arrogance!” all this, till the end “Suits her right! There IS a thing called ‘Abhimaanam’ “, and all that.
    It was then that I got to watch how those old movies always touched audiences. And i believe it was the B&W nature of the medium. In this context I also remember two other movies that drew tears- and excellent movies at that: “AABHIJATHYAM”, and SathyanMaster’s last movie “ANUBHAVANGAL PALICCHAKAL”
    The latter was an especially complex movie, especially how the Director had to adapt the movie to deal with Sathyan Masters’ actual demise during he course of the shooting of this movie. My Dad said that the grief depicted by Sharada and Prem Nasir was very real (especially during the song “Agni parvatham puganjyu”, as the news of his death, mixed with the imminent death of the character was something very emotional, and crossed over the strict boundaries of an actor’s art: the subtle propriety and non-involvement that professional actors have to maintain assiduously.
    I often wondered that if such a movie was given into the hands of the hacks nowadays, how it could have gone! Oh, I shudder to imagine.
    I have recently acquired a VCD of this movie, and it’s a wonderful experience watching the movie again and again. Sethumadhavan did an excellent job, indeed.
    My thanks to CineMatters for such a wonderful forum, and a means to express ones thoughts.

    1. Dear Krishnan,
      What a lovely, delightful cookie from your memory bell jar 🙂 I think that’s an emotional response identified with that generation, with my mother even now gets overtly emotional even while watching the daily soaps on the tube in that sanctified 7pm to 11 pm slot ! To me, it was more of their basic social conditioning of an uncluttered life with simple pleasures. I guess the possibilities of the mind to to emotionally connect across that chasm what we call a medium is immense when you have nothing between you and the art form that you are experience, be it in whatever ‘degree of sophistication’ that you describe – the art form, that is. Unlike us, they are not deadened by sensory overloads, nor the camera angles,or for that matter, the weariness and helplessness of being unable to connect across that chasm..just my personal opinion. Come to think of it, during our years in the Middle – East, us children used to give our father a wide berth while he watched Wrestling on Channel 33, cos, if one wasn’t careful, you could find your neck snug under his hefty elbow crook 🙂 And then he used to sheepishly kiss us sorry. I agree totally to that incredulous mental and emotional experience’ the cast and crew of ANUBHAVANGAL PALICCHAKAL must have gone through..Its a fabulous piece of work, even as you watch it now.
      As far as this forum is concerned, I would like to believe that its kindred souls like you that makes sharing a divine experience..Thanks again..cinematters

    2. I am an ardent fan of Sathyan. I grew from my childhood seeing this wonderful
      actor and even now he lives in my heart and will be there for ever. I keep a collection of Sathyan CDs. I don’t know how many times I saw his films like Kadalpalam, Vazhve mayam, Yekshi, Tharavaattamma and Midu midukki etc. No other actors attracted my mind till now!

    3. Rarely seen such marvelous appreciation on Sathyan. (I don’t think Sathyan needs a Mr. or Shri or Master! He is above all these suffixes and prefixes!). I too am an ardent fan of Sathyan. A couple of years back, during my visit to Kerala (I work in Ahmedabad, Gujarat) I cajoled my younger brother who settled Thiruvananthapuram only four or five years ago to accompany me to see where Sathyan rests. We went all around Thiruvananthapuram and inquired about the Church. Finally we came to CSI Mateer Memorial Church and saw his tomb. The unmatched actor (till today) resting in peace. We stood there for quite a good time remembering his unparalleled movies. We both prayed for his Soul and left with a heavy heart.

  2. My Dad was acquainted with Sathyan during his stay in Madras during the 60s/70s. In fact, I have at home in Bombay a card announcing his death and invitation for the funeral. Next time i go to Bombay, I shall get it scanned and get it posted here.

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