Madhu turns 78, this September 23 !
Of the tiny trickle of search request terms that Google so generously dumps at my doorstep, the third most popular term of all time is “Madhu film“. I guess, that, though itsy-weeny-teeny miniscule in volume, is an indicator of the popularity and the affection that he enjoys as an actor, or shall we say, as one of the patriarchs of Malayalam cinema.
The once ‘Hindi Lecturer’ was a unique personality who never ever upset the ‘business equations’ of the existing power centers of the Malayalam cinema industry which he stepped into, with Ninamaninja Kaalpaadukal (1963), but ensured that he was adept to mold himself into any role, without any inhibitions, that resulted in some of the memorable movies and characters that have become a part of our legacy. Then again, hey, this is my personal opinion.
He was always the part of the trinity that we have come to know as the 60’s, but he was equally comfortable out of it, on his own too. Though the screen-test for his debut was for Ramu Karyat‘s Moodupadam (1963) by Chandrathara Productions, it was destiny that his first release was Ninamninja Kaalpaadukal (1963), by debutante director, NN Pisharody, which was also distributed by Chandrathara. Madhu fondly recalls his screentest in a delightful chat with the legendary Shobana Parameshwaran Nair, in the documentary, Cinemayudey Kaalpaadukal – it just so happened that his was done on a live set of Ninamaninja Kaalpadukal , lighted up, on a lunch break, when Prem Nazir and Ambika took a breather from the shooting. Moodupadam (1963) also had another similar story with Kuthiravattam Pappu, which was also his debut, but he rose to fame with Bhargavinilayam (1964), again by Chandrathara where they would come together again !
Ninamninja Kaalpaadukal ended up being the perfect launch pad for Madhu as an actor. Throughout his career, he approached acting as a passionate vocation, yet as a true professional.Nothing more, nothing less. As he described himself in an interview, “It was not easy those days for a man with a face and figure like mine to be accepted as an actor,” he says. “Nazeer and Sathyan were already big stars. I believe I succeeded as an actor all these years because I never was a star; no man has ever gone to see a film just to see me. Maybe that’s why I never really had a fall in my career.” Absolutely true !
Ninamaninja Kaalpaadukal (1963), the movie adaptation of Parapurath’s novel of the same name, which dealt with the heartbreaks, tribulations and extra-marital affairs of a traditional Christian family, set in the backdrop of the Indo-China War, had Madhu playing the army instructor-who-turns-dear-mentor to the morally ambivalent, wimpy Thankachan (Prem Nazir) who just can’t seem to forgo the love of his life, even after her being married off. The film didn’t actually set the box-office on fire, but it got them the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Malayalam, which so surprised Shobana Parameshwaran Nair because he never remembered sending a copy of the movie to the committee in the first place ! It was one of the distributors who did it.
Madhu’s career in cinema, to me, never traversed the obvious – on the contrary, it was a wild ride where he chose the way forward. And his work was unique in a way that never overshadowed or threatened his co-stars ( read reigning deities), and somehow he ended up in being part of most of the productions that became milestones in Malayalam and national cinema. And the funniest part is that in a fruitful and shining career that still goes on strong in its 48th year in cinema, with 500-odd movies behind him – he hasn’t even received a single award for the leading actor ! Then again, so was Bahadoor, Kuthiravattam Pappu, Sankaradi and along list of popular actors. It must have been in hinsight that the Government of Kerala realised and recognised its oversight and felicitated him with the J. C. Daniel Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004. I can only imagine the flood of emotions that must have overwhelmed his worthy heart as he received the Bahadoor Foundation Memorial Award for contributions to Malayalam cinema.With Bhargavi Nilayam (1964), Madhu had proved and validated his acumen and craftsmanship as an actor. [ You can read in detail about the film here.]. Madhu, as an actor, interestingly, also has to be the one, according to me, who must have been a part of the maximum number of movie adaptations of popular works from Malayalam literature, which ended up earning State and national recognition for excellence. I mean, look at all the movies that he has been a part of, in the first two decades of his career as an actor and you’d be amazed. I don’t think he cared two hoots about even going off and being a part of KA Abbas‘ Saat Hindustani(1969), in a leading role, which also saw the debut of a lanky youngster by the name of Amitabh Bachchan ! Language was never a problem for the Hindi lecturer at college, whose favorite author happened to be Premchand and who used to recite Madhushala from memory. He says in this interview about the common love of Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s poetry that even earned AB’s respect and admiration.
Update | 16 December 2011
Madhu had a surprise visitor at the 16 th International Film Festival, 2011 held at Thiruvanathapuram. It was Shahnaz Anand, his heroine from Saat Hindustani. Read all about that here.
And here is the Video of that Historic Moment !
Aandhi Aaye Ki Toofan Koyee Gam Nahin from Saat Hindustani (1969).
Madhu comes at 0:40 into the song.
From Bhargavi Nilayam to MT’s Murappennu in 1965 , which also became another landmark in Malayalam cinema, saw him partnering again with Prem Nazir, but again, on his own ‘independent terms’ as far as the character was concerned. Chemmeen (1965) followed soon after, which immortalised him across the international arena as an actor of exceptional caliber. PN Menon’s seminal Olavum Theeravum (1970) would once again go on to prove his mettle, and he followed it up with Adoor Gopalakrishnan‘s Swayamvaram in 1972. In retrospect, I think Madhu’s best roles came in the first two decades of his career, according to me, and he was very, very clear that he acted (most of the times) his age on screen. There were exceptions, I know, but he mostly stuck to that rule. The latter part mostly saw him playing his age when he was onscreen, with ‘patriarchal characters’ of every flavor, (think Ayanam, Kudumbasametham, Champakkulam Thachan  and Aayirappara  to know the difference), while there were some that stood out – as the Elder in 1921 or Oru Painkilikkatha (1984) ! Oh..its a long list.
A clipping from Kudumbasametham
Madhu turned director with Priya in 1970, a production that was daringly different in its time. Based on C Radhakrishnan’s novel, Thevidissikal, he played the anti-hero (!), with Adoor Bhasi playing the lead character. All in all, I guess he directed 12 movies, the entire list and a brief overview of which I have written about here. Madhu had started on his venture of a movie studio, in Trivandrum during the production time of Saat Hindustani and the first movie from Uma Studios, under the banner of Uma Arts was, I guess, Sathi in 1972, directed also by him. The last production to come out was Mini , in 1995. The Asianet Studio Complex at Puliyarakonam, Thiruvananthapuram stands now at the erstwhile studio premises, I think.
Madhu, close to completing his 50 years in movies would be probably the only actor other than GK Pillai, who actively pursues his passion and his chosen vocation on screen, be it films or television, happily alongside their generation to the present. Incidentally, GK Pillai is in 57th year as an actor, a fact that I guess paled under the ‘significance’ of juniors completing ‘300 movies’ or ’25 years’ , resulting in ‘mega celebrations!’
For a moment, reflect on this – As an actor, he was a part of some of the landmark productions in the history of Malayalam cinema, yet never a star. He was ALWAYS an actor. As a producer, he was instrumental in giving us singers like KS Chitra, KP Brahmanandan, introduced Shyam to Malayalam cinema as a full-fledged music director, and Captain Raju debuted through his production. P Chandrakumar and Mohan, his trusted associate directors went to blaze their own success stories in Malayalam cinema. As director, he brought about a new culture in film-making with a new concept of being a Film Maker – the capabilities and job knowledge of a director, actor, editor, cinematographer and producer rolled into one, and infused a new sense of professionalism never witnessed before in Malayalam cinema production. Whatever he did, he did it with a clear vision.
Here is to you Sir, may you keep regaling and entertaining us, as long as its possible for you, and as long as you deem fit.
Warm Birthday Wishes!
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