Remembering Navodaya Appachan (1924 – 23 April 2012 )

Navodaya Appachan
Pix Credit : The Hindu

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 !

MOVIES

YEAR

DIRECTED BY

Thacholi Ambu 1978 Appachen
Kadathanaattu Maakkam 1978 Appachen
Maamankam 1979 Appachen
Manjil Virinja Pookkal 1980 Fazil
Theekkadal 1980 Appachen
Padayottam 1982 Jijo Punnoose
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

2.the scale

3.the cast.

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.

Bible Ki Kahaniyan - Title Montage

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.

24 thoughts on “Remembering Navodaya Appachan (1924 – 23 April 2012 )

  1. truly a legend in his lifetime. At the same time I also wonder what prompted Jayaraj to portray in negative light the character enacted by SIddique (which had a striking resemblance to Navodaya Appachan (at least the innuendo was there). may the legend’s soul rest in peace

    1. Hi Jay,
      Glad it found some resonance🙂 Bible Kahaniyaan and DD is like from another planet. That was from memory. Issac Thomas is a brilliant Music Director and remember him seeing him in the credit titles for two ore three of the episodes. Mathew Paul, the veteran ad film maker was a Navodaya veteran, yes. Will reconfirm and update you on the details..regards..cm

      1. CM
        If my memory serves me right, the title score for it was scored by Karthik Raja and I remember that Louis Banks was one of the musicians (there was one another guy but i don’t remember his name though). Didn’t know Isaac Thomas was one of its music directors !!

        1. Hi Kevin,
          Listened to it again and it resembles Nitin Mukesh’s Voice. Will reconfirm and let you know for sure.Here is the title track for anyone who could help get to it sooner.🙂..thanks, cinematters.

          1. didn’t get the mail. But checking this from home. Yeah seems to be Nitin Mukesh. But cant confirm. Sounds better than his normal voice.

          2. Dear Vipin,
            Thank you for writing in.Am also hunting for a DVD pack locally from which I can reconfirm it , once and for all, and trying to reach out to the ones in the actual tech team to confirm it. With learned ones like you around, am sure we could safely go with Wadkar.Thanks again, cinematters

          3. Its a pleasure to know that a question which was on my mind that made me think and also a little bit perplexed have been able to make so many of you to go on a fact-finding drive. Also it has led to me feeling that doordarshan should seriously launch a youtube account where all old stuff from their archives could be accessed along with all the details associated with it.

            Btw, thanks Vipin Nair for giving the correct answer Suresh Wadkar :))

  2. He was truly an Icon. He might be Cecil deMille on the scale and the large canvas of projects he took but then he is also the Lucas and Spielberg for the innovation and entertainment value that was provided. He also played Walt Disney by creating Kishkinda. As you told, he was much more than these names.
    Read in Manorama today about so many secrets including why Bible serial was shelved which he had wrote in his un published auto biography.
    I vaguely remember the serial. Had seen all episodes. Had good production value (But Ramayana was just a start for this Genre). Remember Shammi Kapoor playing King of Babel

    Also when his landmark movies are mentioned, Manichithrathazhu should be right up there. Remember the fight he took against the piracy brigade that time?

    I also wonder about his son Jijo. What happened after directing Kuttichathan and Padayottam?

    1. Dear Rajesh,
      Couldn’t have put it anyway better than this. Manichithrathazhu was by Sargachithra Appachan, the Other Appachen in Malayalam film Industry, the man behind huge commercial hits like ( Chamaram, Chakkarayumma – Both are produced by another Appachen, Jagan Appachen! ) Poovinu Puthiya Poonthennal, Manivathooriley Aayiram Sivaraathrikal, Godfather, Vietnam Colony, Aniyathipravu among them. Recall recently reading an exhaustive interview on him, but forgot where. Desperately trying to relocate it online. Thanks so much..cm

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