It’s been 8 years since the Professor left us. His anniversary falls on 3rd November.
The Professor seems to have been given a raw deal, though it was, according to me, the most prolific phase of his career. As he had carved a niche for himself in the ‘pantheon of villains in Malayalam cinema’ with his unique portrayal of roles that dispensed menace with a cold, calculated sneer, the producers were falling over themselves in getting him roles that looked straight off the factory conveyor belt. Everything looked, smelt, felt the same. Only some didn’t have his signature beard for company. The steely menace was milked dry for all it was worth. His mannerisms were all too familiar, and got even predictive. But even then, the patriarch from classical theater was never one to be cowed down. He went at times over-the-top, stamping even those roles with an individuality that could never be expected from anyone else. These are the ones that have stayed back with me, a delightful variety of roles that explored a new facet of the accomplished actor, even proving that he was equally at home making us smile.
Aayirappara , directed by Venu Nagavalli was also historic for the fact that it brought back the legendary Nagavally RS Kurup, veteran script writer and story teller of old Malayalam cinema back to his craft, one last time. It was the only time I guess the father and son came together to craft a movie for the first and last time. Prof. Narendra Prasad played Padmanabha Kaimal, the forlorn, genial, hapless, naive squire of the disintegrating, decaying farmlands, with Pappy, his Man Friday and shadow ( another brilliant role by Madhu ) at his side, supporting him as he flounders in his life’s journey. The professor excelled at the role, conveying the right mixture of despair, helplessness and dependency, and at one point, blames himself for the loss of his most trusted and dear friend’s untimely death, for a cause that had, by then, got muddied beyond comprehension. He gets lucky when everything seems to be slowly engulfed by darkness, in the form of Shauri, Pappy’s son ( Mammootty), who takes it upon himself to protect and serve the squire, just like his father did, but this time, he has his youthful demeanor to cut through the haze, and at times, sheer brawn to supplement it.
Yaathrayaayi from the movie, lyrics by Kavalam, music by Raveendran Master.
Vardhakya Puranam (1994)
I think director Rajasenen ought to be credited with giving Prof Narendra Prasad three of his most memorable roles in his career, that too in 3 consecutive years. It started with Meleparambil Aanveedu in 1993, Vardhakaya puranam in 1994 and Aniyan Bawa Chettan Bawa in 1995. The professor played Mahendran Thampi, one amongst the ‘governement-officials-just-retired-yet bosom buddies’ trio who want to celebrate life, post retirement in all its glory and perceived freedom. It is he who coerces everyone to stick with his ‘once-promptly-dismissed’ idea of starting a theater company, to which all of them finally agree to channel their retirement funds. I think there is a Mahendran Thampi in all of us, and maybe more in our immediate elders, our parents’ generation, I mean, a part which really, really wanted to pursue those things that were still close to their heart since the prime of their lives, but was kept under lock and key for far more ‘domestic requirements’. Maye, in our case, the degree and the choice might differ. Rajasenan succeeds in bringing out this mischievous, almost child-like humor and delightful naivete in all the three friends, the other two being Jagathy Sreekumar and Janardhanan.This movie is one close to my heart.
A clipping from the movie.
Sukrutham is one of those unforgettable, unbearable, excruciatingly painful movie experiences, ever, for me in world cinema. The main protagonist of this movie, for me, is the faceless entity called Death itself ( amazing, isn’t it, to craft a feature film on a faceless, intangible entity), with a host of characters circling around it in a deathly cadence, their mutual forces of attraction seemingly waning all the while. Mammootty seems to be leading the parade as the cancer-ravaged journalist Ravishankar. Prof Narendra Prasad played the doctor who provides a holistic approach to terminal diseases and through his method rejuvenates the entire body, from its microscopic level to rise and fight against the invaders. The professor’s character, to me, is the one, who, in an almost perverse way actually hastens the ‘ending’ of one of his best patients, the way MT portrays Death, in many levels. As he hastens the death and destruction of the cancerous cells of Ravishankar’s body, healing him and sending him on his way to open another chapter in productive living, he is also hastening the death of his closest bonds that that matter to him, as all of them have willfully broken them in the face of the impending ‘Finality.’
The Doctor enters Ravishankar’s universe. Starts from 6:00
Aniyan Bava Chettan Bava (1995)
The final in his Trilogy of Remarkable Roles by Rajasenan, tailor- made for Prof Narendra Prasad. Along with another veteran of the theater, Rajan P Dev, who was the ‘louder’ of the two insanely rich, loutish siblings who love each other to death and find themselves in a dilemma after finding their respective daughters in love with their young chauffeur ! The professor played the elder of the two Bawas, Kuttan Bava aka the Chettan Bava. and to me it was the final time he got to display his quirky, loud, humorous side. As the elder one, he was more paternal than fraternal to his younger brother, addressing their life’s predicaments with 70 pc rationale and 30 pc vanity. 🙂 Post this movie, for the next 8 years, we got to see the same face of the professor, microwaved and served in different platters, but basically that of the hassled parent/guardian and for a brief interlude, an incredulous repetition of the same ’embattled feudal lord’. Wasted, I would say.
A clipping from the movie.
Jayraj‘s clever adaptation of Othello, but without the ‘demands’ and ‘wracking discussions’ of its strong undercurrent on racism. Jayraj took the premise and spun it around, naturalised it, gave it the palette of the Malayali psyche and took off, running. What a feast for the eyes it was. I am yet to see Suresh Gopi rise up to the mentally overwrought, insecure Perumalayan, 14 years down the line. Prof Narendra Prasad played the role of Thampuran, Tamara’s ( Manju Warrier, intense as usual) father and the local feudal lord, the helpless and debilitated parent, an impotent lord in front of the community when it comes to witnessing her daughter’s love for the oracle, Perumalayan.
There is a tragi-comic, bizarre moment that is almost profound in its insane logic, when he confronts the Oracle, also his now son-in-law and addresses part divinity, part human with the question, “What should I do ? ” Beautiful.
Here is Velikku Veluppankalam from the movie.
Aaram Thamburan (1997)
The father of all ‘feudal gangsters’ in Malayalam cinema, courtesy Renjith, who must be credited with creating the ‘way-larger-than-life’ persona for Mohanlal that eventually left the average movie fan seething with anger and disgust at a flood of clones that have been released with more or less the same story line, with the same bunch of characters, but with different directors. It has been certainly a phenomenon. It started with Aaram Thamburan and his arch-nemesis, Kolapulli Appan ( Prof Narendra Prasad ), head of the local aristocracy and seat of feudal power – a confrontation was obvious as our hero intrudes into the latter’s life with loads of cash and loads more of sheer testosterone-laced chutzpah. As long as Jagannathan from Aaram Thamburaan will be remembered, Kolappulli Appan would be right there, riding shotgun, in a perverse way.
From the movie .
You will always hold a special place in our hearts, dear Professor.