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  and Othenante Makan  ) . 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 !
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.