Meena | My Favorites

Meena, KPAC Lalitha and Sukumari I At the sets of Sasneham
Pix rights : Taha Madayil

The above photograph, taken during the shooting of Sasneham beautifully illustrates the coming together of three schools of acting that has regaled with the different faces in the genres that they excelled in. I think this one of those rare instances when all of them came together to share screen space, and interestingly depicting characters that were pitted against each other resulting in memorable, yet hilarious outcomes, as per the screenplay envisaged. I remember Sukumari and Meena together in Kadathanaattu Maakam and Sthreedhanam from the recent past – if you remember all three of them together in a single movie, do write in. A list of them would make for an interesting topic of discussion. As with every other actor of her calibre, years of experience and a prolific rate of creative output, its next to impossible to even compile a list of her favorite roles without testing one’s patience, for the compiler and the reader. I have tried, as usual, to put together the ones that are memorable from the unique flavors and the ones that were representative of the umpteen ones she did in the same vein. Don’t forget to write in with yours too.

Viruthan Shanku (1968)

Meena in Viruthan Shanku
Meena as Bhargavi Amma | Evil personified in Viruthan Shanku

One of the best representations of her ‘evilness personified’ was in Viruthan Shanku, as Bhargavi amma, a peculiar amalgamation of a persona that is at the same time haughty, obtuse, over-bearing and borderline psychotic, she is blissfully oblivious of a world where she doesn’t hold all the aces, and is inevitably disoriented when she realizes that all that she really hold is a set of jokers.The part where she unceremoniously kicks out her meek, pliable and timid husband ( a sad and forlorn looking Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair) is brilliant.  Another memorable version of this consistent drivel comes in Sthreedhanam, a good two decades later, but the manic lashing never tones down a bit. So does the sneer.

Aaramamullakaley from Viruthan Shanku.

Rest House (1969)

Meena in Rest House Sasi Kumar’s movies are a bizarre, delightful riot. No, am not saying that all of them are ( Thommante Makkal surely wouldn’t be, for starters), but the ones that were, absolute fun capers. And another intersting common factor I have found with his class of “mindless explorations in celluloid” are the beautiful songs that somehow form a part of the movie, in most cases all of them. It is almost as if, he just did up a story right there on the sets to string up  a handful of wonderful songs on playback. Rest House is no different. Evey single song is memorable and are classics in themselves. The story ..umm..that would be another long story🙂

Meena played Professor Lakshmi, who comes to this popular hill-station for a Botany Class camp with her students (all girls..duh🙂 ) and camps at the only Rest House where Professor Das ( Adoor Bhasi) also has set up camp with his band of students ( all male !) and the many instances of how both the unruly bands try to get one up on each other, falling in love with each other in the process. [Adoor Bhasi is in a double with another version being one of the students !] Both the Professors, spinsters also gradually find themselves having a soft spot for each other. What also makes this memorable is the full-length presence of both these senior actors in pivotal roles that are carried to the very end and not as side kicks.

Paadatha Veenayum from Rest house.

Aranaazhikaneram (1970)

Meena in Aranaazhikaneram (1970) Meena  played Annamma in K  S Sethumadhavan’s classic, the eldest daughter-in-law of the patriarch, married to the richest of his sons, the most influential family of the place and living in her own private hell with her philandering and chauvinist husband ( N Govindankutty). There are two instances where she comes home to meet  her ailing father in his twilight years ( Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair as the brilliant  Kunjonaachan ) – first as the hapless daughter who seeks refuge in her father-in-law’s wisdom and experience for a way out of her predicament – ( to stay in the marriage or throw it all away), and the second time, with an amazing transformation that shakes  the patriarch to his foundations. Any father’s world who witnesses  a transformation such as that in his son’s perceived blissful marriage life would literally implode taking his sanity along with him. You have to watch the movie. No two ways about it.  The way she finishes off  in the end with, “അതേയ്, മക്കളെ ചൊവ്വിനു വളര്‍ത്തണം. അതെങ്ങിനെ, നിങ്ങള്‍ ചോവ്വായിരുന്നോ?” is fantastic.

Itha Ivide Vare (1977)

Meena in Itha Ivide Vare

I think this was her first association with P Padmarajan, here as the script writer. Itha Ivide Vare is Padmarajan‘s take on the “Hunter and Prey” genre – one of his favorites ( going by the number of screenplays he did in that genre), with revenge as the only emotion powering the movie, with a healthy dose of quirky eroticism and plain lust thrown in to further complicate the proceedings. With IV Sasi as the director, it can’t go wrong, can it? Meena played  Jaanu, (come to think of it, is Jaanu, as a dear friend put across once, the official name of  onscreen floozies in Malayalam cinema? ) the once comely and buxom but now retired village prostitute, which Padmarajan conveys with subtle nuances, whose only daughter is now coveted by Paili ( Madhu ), the resident evil-cum-stud hombre’ of the locality, who wears his testosterone on his sleeve and usually leaves his social conditioning at home before he leaves with his huge dover of ducks, which he breeds and sells for a living. The scene where Paili openly demands Jaanu to allow him to to sleep with her daughter, offers  a lot of money,  with an implied (and so hazy ) promise of marriage,  and Meena’s reactions is just so memorable. Living in abject poverty, it is the last thing she wants for her daughter’s life, but events take a very interesting turn. Meena was absolutely marvelous in the role.

The title track from the movie.

Rathinirvedam (1978)

Meena in Rathinirvedom Rathinirvedam  followed Itha ivide vare with respect to her association with Padmarajan‘s school of movies, and I think it was her second with him. I remember her making a   brief appearance in Lorry (1980) again with the same team of Padmarajan-Bharathan. Meena as Narayaniyamma, the mother of  Rathi ( Jayabharathi) didn’t have any 6 pages long harangue against the world or a pithy melodramatic spiel at any part of the movie. The handful of scenes that she appeared was enough to establish her part in one of the historic movies in Malayalam cinema. The final scene where she comes to realise the inevitability of the moment as she holds a sinking Rathi to her bosom, to me,  is one of the finest moments in the film.

Ithikkara Pakki (1980)

Meena in Ithikkara Pakki

This mention is a sort of tribute to the 80 early kitsch that was mainly dominated by Sasi Kumar, and the technicolor monstrosities that had you chuckling even in your sleep, action and soft-porn movies included. Meena played the long-suffering mother of Ithikkara Pakki ( Prem Nazir, if you please ), presumed to be dead by her family and loved ones, but kept locked away in the cellar of the local squire, a raging philanderer, who does this as she is the sole eye witness to his murder of his wife. Unlike the others, her presence is felt and shown throughout the movie, and the separation angle is overdone so as to make the audience undergo an emotional breakdown as the long separated ( and presumed dead ! ) mother and rebel son reunite, but all you can do is roll your eyes.

A Clipping from the movie. [ Jump straight to 5:05. ]

Vadakkan Paattukal and Period dramas

Meena in Kadathanaattu Maakam Meena, it seems, also wasn’t oblivious to the call of the Vadakkan Paattukal from Udaya studios :)  I can recall her in Thacholi Ambu (1978)  { it was  her first one amongst the Vadakkan Paattukal on film},  a  ‘period – costume’ drama AND Kamal Haasan‘s cold turkey Vayanaadan Thampaan (1978), Kadathanaattu Maakkam (1978), back to IV Sasi‘s desert caper Alavudeenum Athbhutha Vilakkum (1979), Navodaya’s Padayottam in 1982 and PV Thampi’s voodoo-tantric Sreekrishna Parunthu in 1984. What I recall best amongst all of these is her role in Kadathanaattu Makkam, as one of three sister-in-laws to Maakkam ( Sheela), whose only job from dawn to dusk is to rant against Maakkam  amongst themselves, consumed with jealousy and vanity.

A clipping from Kadathanaattu Maakkam. [ Starts at 4:05 ]

Marmaram (1982)

Meena in Marmmaram Based on Vijayan Karot‘s story, and screenplay by John Paul, Marmaram ( Rustle) was a short and sweet movie that also emerged the winner in the 1982 Kerala State Film Awards. 1982 must have been a very proud year for Bharathan to have two of his films ( the other being Ormakkaayi )sweep away most of the awards of the year between them ! The songs from Marmaram still brings goosebumps every time  I listen to it. Meena played the mother of the main protagonist ( Nedumudi Venu as Narayana Iyer ), fanatically orthodox in her Brahminical belief systems and caught between her immense love for his son and her traditions, every time she decides to get her mind to accommodate  another intrusion into her belief systems, it seems her personal integrity slides down a couple of notches. The moment she comes face to face with an unpleasant secret that her son had deliberately kept away from her, she does the unthinkable, and yet we can only sympathise and agree with her decision. Watch Marmaram, if you still haven’t watched it yet, before this X’mas season is over.

Her roles in Varavelpu (1989) and Mazhavilkaavadi (1989) would be discussed in a separate  post centered around her association with Sathyan Anthikkad’s movies, which I would post soon.

Om from Marmaram, one of my favorite songs.

Yodha (1992)

“അശോകന്‍ കുടിക്കണ്ട.അശോകന് ക്ഷീണമാകാം.അവശതയോടെ കളിച്ചാല്‍ മതി.”

Enough said !

Starts at 02:26.

Sthreedhanam (1993)

Meena in Sthreedhanam Maheshwariamma from Sthreedhanam (1993) has to be her most intense performance in her career as the archetypal mother-in-law, also the best ever portrayed on Malayalam screen. Sthreedhanam (1993) or ‘How Shanthan Gets His Spine Back‘  was the screen adaptation of CV Nirmala aka Joycy‘s syndicated novel of the same name that appeared in the Malayala Manorama Weekly and an immensely popular one of its  times. The entire plot and cast followed the expected, cliched curve but I guess that was what made even the screen version equally popular. Maheshwari amma’s chilling portrayal of the ‘all that can go wrong with a mother-in-law’ was ably balanced on the opposite end by Sukumari, as the ‘steeped-in-tears’ mother of the bride.The two extermeties were a delight to watch. Of course, Maheshwari amma gets her comeuppance in the last few minutes of the movie, as expected, but I am sure that if an online poll had invited suggestions from the dedicated readership regarding who would best portray the mother-in-law even before the movie was even conceived, the answer would have been unanimous ! Such was her supreme talent. Arguably, one of the best roles of her career, according to me.

Melepparambil Aanveedu (1994)

Meena in Melepparambil Aan Veedu To me, this has to be the top in the top three roles that I love of her onscreen ! None of her peers could ever, ever bring the right degree of maternal care, sarcasm, indifference, venom and abject frustration with biting humor in the exact proportion as her to bring alive Bhanumathy, the wife of the Hitleresque – Thrivikram Muthallali, an orthodox, feudal-inclined, crazy mix of “Hitler and Don Corleone”, father to three bachelor sons who seem to rule the family with a iron hand but has this deep, abiding love for his family ( Prof. Narendra Prasad in one his best roles of his career ). She  responded, matching every   single dead-pan delivery with an equal degree of disdain, matching Thrivikraman Muthalali, invective for invective. The abject terror she invokes in her elder sons and her spinster brother is a sight to behold. I think they were more terrified of her than their father🙂 Else, which son  could come out with that classic explanation for the external signs of  pregnancy, plumbing the depths of his rational thought, just to convince her and escape from her wrath, even if it comes out sounding like the most stupid man in the universe ? Jagathy‘s plaintive wail of

      ഞാനല്ലാ, എന്‍റെ ഗര്‍ഭം ഇങ്ങനല്ലാ…..!

ranks right up there with the legendary quotes in the history of Malayalam cinema. True, it just wouldn’t have been possible without the excellent screenplay and the development of the screen  characters by Raghunath Paleri, but think about it. Who else but Meena in Malayalam cinema at that time to pull it off ? Meena seemed to living the role, and I’m sure it must have been one of the roles that she immensely enjoyed playing, till the last frame.

Hop in !

Hon Mention : Aniyan Bawa Chettan Bawa ( 1995)

Related : Remembering Meena

24 thoughts on “Meena | My Favorites

  1. Dear All,
    I am Dr.Elizabeth Sunny the only daughter of this legendary actress MEENA. I will constantly update you on her life and give my inputs on the same. I am impressed by your admiration and the credit you have given her for the performances. It is fifteen years since we lost her. I still feel she lives with us because I keep seeing her on screen. I will update more about her henceforth. I am thinking of designing a website on her and also a Wiki page. am working on it. I am touched by the love and affection showered on my dear mother.
    Regards

    1. CM
      what better appreciation you need…than this one- by Meenamma’s daughter herself. And Dr. Elizabeth- why dont you publish a book about Meenamma’s life and times- website is one thing…but a book will be more welcomed by those who adore her

    2. Dear Doctor,

      Words fail in response to this note from you. I can only begin to explain what an absolute pleasure it is to hear from the legend’s immediate family. I recall reading a long time ago ( was it from Sathyan Anthikkad’s published memoirs, am not sure ) about how Meena shared about her singular passion in life – that of seeing he daughter graduate as a doctor, and here you are !🙂 Please do not hesitate in reaching out for ANY assistance in realising that website and the Wiki page that would be authentic sources of information on all about Meena. I wouldn’t be alone in expressing my warm wishes and support in all that you do in pursuit of realising them.And ofcourse, eagerly waiting to learn more and more about the legend, most of which are unknown to most. Thanks again, cinematters

  2. Dear CM,

    Happy that u have brought up Meena (Meena Kumari) here. Meena is always been remembered by the veteran actress of that time as their best friend (often by Sheela).There are few characters of Meena that makes her different from other actress of that Time.
    She has done a wonderful role in Sarvekallu.The Nair lady enacted by her is still been remembered by her fans.She has danced for LR Eswary song “Manasaradhi madhana”(a comedy mixed cabera) in Manyashree Viswa Mithran.And the third-with Universtity of Film(Adoor Bhasi) in Panchathanthram(i guess) in the ever loved comedy song …”Pancha vadiyile”.
    Also i expect u to write on Manyashee Viswamithran and Agni Mrigam(Udaya)

    With Regards
    Manu J.Krishnan

  3. Why the silence..
    i am in TVPM since Dec 7th..I had tried going to DD tvpm. twiice.failed..third attempt will happen soon.. meanwhile..i spent most of the time in my car..
    todayt i started from varkal around 7 30..reached aattingal at 8 15..reached kaniyapuram at 8 40.. from kniaypuram to kazhakootam it took me 40 minutes..around 1 km.. then from sreekariyam to pongumoodu another 30 minutes..pongumoodu to ulloor 30 mts.. uloor to keshava dasapuram around 20 mts.. on my way back some mahasammelanam at aatingal.. took diversions reached home at 8 00 pm.. .. luckily i have a driver… .it seems the number of vehicles have increased 1000 fold..but the roads have been widened only one more lane..the second lane is used for parking..by drivers..so in effect it is still one lane roads with 1000 time more vehicles than in 1990. i havent seen vyaparai or arabi ottakam…yet!!! the only bright sopt of the day was the chaaya and kadi at the MC road chayakada..
    this is why u dont see me here. …

  4. Meena truly excelled in comedy songs- the song mentioned by Gopalkrishnan (“Aradhanayile Rajesh Khannayo) and another funny song (forgot the lyrics)in MANYSASREE VISWAMITHRAN- paired this time with Bahadur is truly funny.
    I also remember her as the nurse in the movie MANGALAM VEETTIL MANASESWARI GUPTA. she is there in the movie just for around 5 minutes- but it was a hilarious role.
    and speaking of Sasikumar, the doyen director is now retired and setttled in Kazhakkottam in Trivandrum. There was an article about him in Manorama Sunday a couple of weeks back.

  5. while rememberinh meena.. a funny dialogue came to my mind from AYALATHE ADHEHAM, when gowthami asked meena’s help to arrange house hold things in their new home, meena was sitting idle on a sofa and her reply was very funny.. “NEE THANNE ANGU CHEYYU MOLE.. NINAKKARIYILLE.. EVIDEYENKILUM IRUNNAAL PINNE EZHUNELKKATHE AMMAYKKU ORU ADI POLUM NADAKKAN VAYYA ENNU” hope you guyz remember this situation…

  6. CM, the role in Meleparambil Aanveedu definitely comes to my mind especially a memorable dialogue like ‘ Kudumba mahatmyam paranju kuttiylakku parambil kuzhi kutthan vidumbol aalojikinnam ingane kolathil kenattilum engane oronnu oronnu pondhum ‘.

    Also comes to my mind a movie with Innocent where she plays a wife with a loose tongue and Jagathy is his PA..Remember a scene when an alliance offer comes and she derides Innocent’s family roots…

  7. cinematters, Meena does not rank among my favourite actresses – this has less to do with her talent than my intense dislike of the characters she played. One may argue of course, that that is the mark of a good actress!🙂

    One slight quibble – didn’t Itha, Ivide Vare star Soman? I vaguely remember watching this film when I was a child (I told you I watched some very age-inappropriate films, didn’t I?), and I do not remember Madhu in it at all. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    1. Dear Anu,🙂 You have the right to your opinions and I respect that😀 . yes, Itha Ivide Varey starred Soman as the son that returns to avenge his parent’s murder at the hands of Madhu, the local stud hombre’. Madhu himself has mentioned in one of his old interviews that it was one of his favorite roles – he seem to revel in those ! Only Padmarajan could create an entire brood on screen blissfully traversing the grey and send them off on crazy trajectories that make you like them even more. Thanks..cinematters

      PS: Hope the Flu has been let off with a stern warning .

      1. I have completely forgotten Madhu’s role in this. I only remember Soman, and the ducks and incessant rain nad his oft -repeated dialogue – ‘Itha, Ivide Vare’.

        Yes, the flu has gone. I am in no postion to give it a warning, stern or otherwise. It flattened me!🙂

      2. sadly no one made a comment on the comic roles played by meena during the 1970s era of malayalam movie especially AARADHANAYILE RAJESH KHANNAYO AAYIRATHIL ORUVAN MGRoo song from PADMAVYOOHAM were meena and adoor bhasi done a tremendous song… also the countless AMMAYIAMMA roles played by meena was a strong factor behind the success of many family dramas of that time…

        1. Dear Gopalji,

          I have included that AND the rare one in Madhu’s Manyashree Vishwamitran in the main article, Remembering Meena, two bookmarks that signify her strength in unbridled comedy. Agree with you on the Ammaayiyamma roles done by her in Malayalam cinema – there wasn’t an yone who could do equal justice to that ever, amongst her peers. One of the finest we had. Thanks..cinematters

  8. In my view Meleparambil Aanveedu was one among her best. And yes, sometime, someday you must make a retrospective of Sasikumar’s films.

    1. Dear Satish,
      Meleparambil Aanveedu surely merits amongst the top in her career bests. And yes, I will surely make a retrospective on Sasi Kumar. How can one escape that ‘Sensless Magic ” ?🙂.. Thank you for writing in..regards..cinematters

  9. 🙂 Awesome work, as usual!

    Meena’s sarcasm was best exemplified in Varnam, in a scene where Thilakan blurts out that he’d been at a bar and then tries to cover up. The way she calls him out is simply brilliant, and hilarious!

    Another memorable performance was in Vardhakya Puranam!

    1. Dear cram,
      The pleasure is mine. Isn’t it sad that Meena is one of the search terms that Google make Google throw its hands up ( I’m just speaking from the current wired generation’s point of view), and all that you get are photographs and links to Meena Durairaj’s wiki page ? This, for an actress who has been in the industry and left a body of work that spans close to 40 years !As I was just mentioning to Rajesh, her roles ( the sheer number and variety) – its so huge that it overwhelms you. Thank you for them wonderful links. Serves as another welcome addition to the bookmarks that we can keep in her memory..Regards..cinematters

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