Would it be wrong to call Maliampurackal Chacko Punnoose aka Navodaya Appachan, Malayalam Cinema’s Cecil B deMille ? I think he was much more daring than that. He was always flying with his “Bigger, Bolder, Better” philosophy for the 11 Movies ( if you take his 3-D Versions through the years ) and the most ambitious project anyone ever took for TV viewing for the times- Bible Ki Kahaaniyan, adapting The Bible for the small screen on a scale Indian TV has never witnessed ( no, don’t even think of Sagar’s Ramayana at this point ! ).
Even while operating on his “Bigger, Bolder, Better” credo, the canny businessman AND movie Producer that he was, never was averse to taking risks, and stand back to watch them despatch some more brahminical strictures and established notions in moviedom to kingdom come. To him, the ‘business’ was deftly worked into the ‘project’, and he was way ahead of his times when it came to marketing his wares too. A quick trip through the movies that were produced by the Navodaya Banner, you realise that each one had a very clearly defined USP, a certain branding in its times, and an insatiable level of hype, deftly blended with curiosity that made you be there at the cinema, come what may…err, maybe, except for Theekadal (1980).
Remember this Song ?
It was also the last movie he directed under the Navodaya banner. Though Navodaya packaged Theekkadal (1980 ) as the first multi-star film, there was also Angadi (1980 ) that somehow fit the bill more and compared to the former literally took blew up the box-office. Madhu and Ravi Kumar, at best could do was a loud burrp compared to that. But, that in no way, throws off-focus the legendary work that came out of Navodaya Studios. The Early years saw each one having a technical niche ( an often spectacular one) as its flagship USP and a budget and cast that somehow equaled its larger-than-life premises.
Thacholi Ambu (1978) was our first Cinemascope film ( a title that would have gone to IV Sasi’s Alavudeenum Adbudhavilakkum, had it got completed sooner ) , and the “Scale of Awesomeness” was racked up a few notches higher with the screen presence of Nadigar Tilakam Sivaji Ganesan, albeit in a brief appearance. ( Personally, he looked so effeminate that I still can”t watch him with a straight face 🙂 in that movie. )
Nadigar Thilagam in Thacholi Ambu (1978)
The first three productions from Navodaya were in the traditional production style of Udaya, but technically bigger and grandiose. Close to its heels came a move so unexpected and so sudden as he literally showed the industry his uncanny knack of spinning pure gold from raw yarn with Manjil Virinja Pookal (1980). That was sheer verve, if you ask me !
Mohanlal struts into Malayalam Cinema.
Imagine a scenario of Navodaya not taking that calculated risk !
|Manjil Virinja Pookkal||1980||Fazil|
|Ente Mamattykutty Ammaykku||1983||Fazil|
|My Dear Kuttichathan||1984||Jijo Punnoose|
|Onnu Muthal Poojyam Varey||1986||Raghunath Paleri|
|Chanakyan||1989||TK Rajeev Kumar|
|Bible ki Kahaaniyaan ( For TV )||1993||Raghunath Paleri, Isaac Thomas Kottukapally, T. K. Rajeev Kumar|
Navodaya Appachan always had three variables when came to his grandiose projects: :
1. technical prowess/novelty debuts as an USP
With a clever permutation and combination of these, he created sheer magic onscreen, there is no other way to describe that. Padayottam was India’s indigenous 70mm creation, the second in the country, but Appachan had managed to be the first mover in making a movie that was as grand and spell-binding as the desi-spaghetti-western Sholay, but at a fraction of the cost ! While Sholay needed London, Appachan made it possible with Prasad studios ! Fazil did a redux with Ente Mammattiluttiyammaykku, which also gave us the most popular “child-star” on the Malayalam screen, Baby Shalini. The lil one even spawned a genre of movies in the early 90’s, “Mammootty-Kutty-Petty” genre , powered by weepy melodramatic screenplays that came out of Kaloor Dennis‘ script factory. One just got to admit- M C Punnoose had a rare gift of turning calculated risks into money spinners.
Aalorungi Arangorungi from Ente Maattykutty Ammaykku (1983)
My Dear Kuttichathan must be the only movie on the planet that keeps getting refurbished and released with the latest technology of the times in movie-making ! Probably it must be the only movie in the world which keeps re-inventing itself with the same story, and a few added embellishments for the times, and still keep being successful as a product. And all these from a studio on a sliver of land in peninsular India, called Kerala. Think about it. Not even Hollywood has managed to outdo this ingenious marketing ploy.
Aalippazham Perukkan. Circa 1984.
Aalippazham Perukkan. Circa 2011.
Onnu Muthal Poojyam Varey has always been a movie that has been close to my heart, of which I have written about in detail here. It gave us Mohan Sithara, Raghunath Paleri, Geethu Mohandas and Asha Jayaram. Raghunath Paleri won the Best Debut Award as a Director for the movie, Shaji. N Karun received the the Best Cinematography Award, Geethu Mohandas, the Best Child Artiste (female) Award.
Unbelievable when you think about it, as Appachan had also done it with Baby Shalini 3 years back when she received the State Award for the Best Child Artist in 1983 ! has anyother Producer in India been able to do this? I don’t think so.
Chanakyan was the last film that came out of Navodaya – a movie with strangely no songs though the central protagonist was a music teacher ( had to be owing to the nature of the story ). It gave us the hugely talented TK Rajeev Kumar and paired Kamal Hasan and Urmila Matondkar for the first and last time on Indian screen. Bible ki Kahaniyan, an ambitious project that intended to cover both the Old and and New Testament – he wanted to complete what John Huston left off and take the story till its very end. few know that it was also the first in Asia that used Non-Linear Editing using Avid Technology and used Super-16 Cams for shooting. First in Asia, think about that. For a TV project.
Which also brings us to something very poignant – Navodaya has been instrumental in giving Malayalam cinema some of the best directors, actors and technicians who have, by themselves created milestones in the popular milieu of Malayalam cinema, inspired and encouraged others to chart their own blazing trails, and it all did good for Malayalam cinema !
Think about Malayalam Cinema without Mohanlal, Sibi Malayil, Fazil, Siddiq- Lal, TK Rajeev Kumar, Shanker, Poornima Jayaram, Baby Shalini, Geethu Mohandas, Raghunath Paleri, Guna Singh, Jerry Amaldev, Mohan Sitara, G Venugopal and the scores of movies and peers they inspired. And then try thinking about how it would have been, if not for the daring and vision of this diminutive producer who went by the name of Appachen in the film fraternity. Somehow the term Patriarch was there for a reason.
Rest in peace.