Balachandra Menon and his leading ladies’ debut in Malayalam cinema – 1

Shobana in April 18
Balachandra Menon - Early Years
Courtesy :

With the Malayalam mainstream media awash and rabid with the purported ‘second coming’ of Balachandra Menon, and catching a re-run of his old 1984 box-office hit Oru Painkkili Katha {A Candyfloss Talemy translation}, I thought it would be fun, going back in time and taking a trip with the now leading ladies who debuted in his productions. There are surprisingly, some of the very famous ones of our times, mind you. The ‘Return of Balachandra Menon’ saw him launching his 9th book in Malayalam (of which four are screenplays) and ofcourse, the launch of his personal website. Though I haven’t been able to read any of his books (though having watched the movies), was able to take a trip through his newly launched website, which was an excruciatingly painful experience. It chronically suffers from all the maladies that I have mentioned here about our film personalities’ personal websites. Coming back to Menon’s leading ladies,  though most made it to the popular mainstream, and carved a niche for themselves, some became just flashes in the pan, bright but short-lived. Balachandra Menon’s movies also saw the debut of  two male actors in  Malayalam  cinema, Byju ( April 18) and ‘Manianpillai’ Raju ( Manianpillai athava Manian Pillai), and it is the latter who has been the most consistent and active in the industry till now. I was looking forward to reading about the vents that led to the ‘discoveries’ of all his ‘leading lady debuts’ but was hugely disappointed. That website is a nightmare. More on that later.

Sara (aka Zara ) in Uthrada Rathri ( 1978)

I haven’t watched the movie, though I hope to, and the fact about his first discovery in his debut production remains somewhat hazy. Sara is not mentioned in his personal list of debuts by actors through his productions at his website. Nor do I find this name at MSI’s database on the film, an entity that I hugely rely on. But Manorama Online’s microsite on Balachandra Menon lists her, and so does his filmography list there.  So, as I said, this is a bit hazy. The movie was a “story about a college student, he facing the problems due to some disease ” :), and according to the ones who watched it and whose opinions I keep in the highest regard, say this was a refreshing movie of those times. A bit raw and bland around the edges, but, a welcome change nevertheless. If you can shed more clarity on the subject, please do write in.

Lizzie in Ithiri Neram Othiri Karyam ( 1982 )

Lizzie Priyadarshan Lizzie Priyadarshan is one of those that I really miss on the Malayalam Screen. To me, she had this amazing sense of what I call a combination of ‘graceful ease and impish charm‘, not to mention beauty and acting was natural to her. or to borrow the cliche’, she was a ‘real natural in front of the camera’.Lizzie reveals in one of her interviews with TN Gopakumar that she was in her first year of undergraduate studies that Balachandra Menon whisked her away for his movie, recommended by a mutual family friend who was also a producer in Malayalam Cinema. Interestingly, I think she has also been his only leading lady who collaborated with him for the maximum number of productions, when compared to all his other debut launches. That, in itself, speaks volumes about her capability and professionalism as an actor and a bankable name in the industry in the 90s, her active years. She did Prasnam Gurutharam (1983),Shesham Kazhchayil (1983), Arante Mulla Kochu Mulla (1985) and Njangalude Kochu Doctor(1989) with Balachandra Menon. Though she would go on to become a staple ingredient inmost of Priyadarshan’s screwball comedies, she had a flair of easing into any role. Her most memorable roles, for me, has been in Sarvakalasala (1987) and  Vellanakaludey Naadu (1988).

Lizzie about her early years in Malayalam Cinema.

Shobana in April 18 (1984)

Shobana in April 18Shobana, the petite, demure little child-lady debutante in April 18 was an ‘event’ in Malayalam cinema. It is not that there were equivalent leading ladies’ debuts in Malayalam cinema, for example, Urvasi in Ethirppukal, but, with the screenplay that was markedly different from the staple fare, it was no wonder April 18 blazed away to the top of the charts. As the haughty, impulsive, clingy yet deeply possessive wife of a Sub-Inspector, Shobana did not even let her age come in between when it came to emoting for the camera. Though Balachandra Menon has expressed his reservations and doubted his choice about this ‘little girl who was uncontrollable’ in his book Randu Thirakkathakal April 18, April 19, the coming years would go on to prove the mettle of this actor with an envious lineage. By the time they would join again seven years later, for Sathyan Anthikkad‘s Sasneham (1990), Shobana had laid down an impressive track record on the south Indian silver screen. Their last time together onscreen was for Thampy Kannanthaanam‘s highly forgettable Janmantharam in 1988.
Shobana talks about her early years.

Karthika [aka Sunanda] in Manicheppu Thurannappol ( 1985)
Kartika - Malayalam ActorThe Enigmatic Actor‘ of Malayalam cinema, if you like pithy epithets and love labeling actors.Karthika’s debut wasn’t a commercial success as far as I can remember, but from then on, she got to play some of the best roles the 80’s could offer her under almost all the leading directors of Malayalam cinema. 4 years, 19 movies and poof! she was gone. Stopped playing when the music was at the most melodious. She was mostly everything not what her peers were. With an appearance and personality which was unorthodox and unconventional for those times, she took on machismo with an attitude never before seen on the Malayalam screen. And she never appeared in another Balachandra Menon movie also.

From her second movie Adiverukal (1986)

* Honorable Mention.
Urvasi in Ente Ammu, Ninte Thulasi. Avarude Chakki (1985 )

Balachandra Menon and Urvasi in Ente Ammu, Ninte Tulsi Avarude Chakki (1985)
Pix Courtesy :

No, this wasn’t her debut film. No, Balachandra Menon didnot bring her into Malayalam Cinema. But yes, Ente Ammu, Ninte Thulasi, Avarude Chakki (1985) gave her the impetus she needed to cruise in a career that has by now spans across four languages in close to 200 films, and includes 5 State Awards and a National Award.

The classic Nimisham Suvarna Nimisham from the movie.

Usha in Kandathum Kettathum (1988)

Balachandra Menon and Usha in Kandathum Kettathum (1988)
Pix Courtesy :

Usha has to be one of the most under-utilized actors in Malayalam cinema. I am given to understand her original name is something else  Haseena Haneef ( Thanks Felix ).  Usha debuted in Balachandra Menon’s Kandathum Kettathum (1988),  as Muthulakshmi, the orphan girl who is about to be sold off to the flesh trade in Mumbai by her guardian. Though hugely talented, she has been mostly relegated to the secondary lead roles and have never been able to rise up to the ‘market levels’ of Parvathy, Karthika or Shobana for that matter.  One of her most memorable roles, other than her debut has to be in Chenkol (1993). Wish she could have done more on those lines.

A clipping from Chenkol. Starts at 18:30 (1993).

… To be continued.

8 thoughts on “Balachandra Menon and his leading ladies’ debut in Malayalam cinema – 1

  1. Any info on actor Sasi (hero and producer of movie Uthrada Raathri) who launched the cine director Balachandra Menon?

  2. I always thought Byju made his debut in Poochakkoru Mookuthi.
    Regarding Usha – yes her real name is something else. cannot remember. she has released some Mapplia song albums under her real name.
    Menon, it seems also had some clause with his discoveries that they shoudlnt act in another film for a year. Not very sure about this but seems to have read something like this. IMDB is blocked here. Could have confirmed by checking movies of Annie and Nandini

    1. Dear Rajesh,
      Poochaykkoru Mookkuthy and April 18 were released in the same year – 1984 ! So, it would be a matter of technicality as to which one was released first in that year to qualify for it. 🙂 The one year gap seems to be a ‘case-to-case’ issue 🙂 as Shobana’s April 18 and Kanamarayathu were both released in 1984 !Must for the later leading ladies then. Regards..cinematters

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