Sarvakalashala (1987 ) | In the Mood for Melancholy

[ This is a guest post by Prakash Rajan, from Bangalore India, now residing in New Jersey, USA. Prakash is an inveterate cinephile and an 80’s -era Malayalam films junkie.”I love Sathyan Anthikad, Satajit Ray and Stanley Kubrick“, says Prakash. Touch base with Prakash here.]
Sarvakalashala (1987) -Title Card

‘Sarvakalshala’ is quintessential Venu Nagavalli. Why? This is because, like the man himself, the film is philosophical and brooding. There is a pervading sense of melancholy in the movie, just like our man who is known for his pensive image. However, there is more to Venu Nagavalli than what meets the eye. There are many rib-tickling moments in the movie, attributed mainly to those classics moments in which Shankaradi, Innocent and Jagathy rule the roost. This again, is the very reflection of the man, who inspite of his serious countenance, can conjure moments of great humour. (Remember he is the writer of the laugh riot – Kilukkam.)

The Cassocks of Kuttanad and Charachira butt heads.

Rare are movies in which pathos and humour mingle and reach such a heady mix as in Sarvakalashala, so much so that we are sucked right into the University atmosphere. What adds to the effect is the fact that the movie does not have a story at all. A linear story would have made us passive viewers, but Venu ingeniously strings together moments in a college life and invites us into the moods of its chief characters. A classic case illustrating this is, when we too end up being a part of the late-night drinking binge in which Nadumudi Venu croons “Athiru kakkum”, and the rest of the characters, including ourselves, silently listen to the song and ponder over our lives. Sukumaran’s character aptly sums things up when he says in the movie that, all of us have our tragic tales.

Athiru kaakkum from Sarvakalashala (1987)

The background score, use of slow motion at key moments and the flashbacks are the many cinematic devises that Venu Nagavalli uses to create a palpable mood. Talking of cinematic devises, in one of the best scenes in the movie, Chakkara tries to ape Venu Nagavalli himself. This self- deprecatory humour, for a moment, breaks the 4th wall so to say, and makes us conscious of the director.

Chakkara does a Venu Nagavalli.

We have seen movies where cities, due to their overwhelming atmosphere, become a virtual character in a movie. Be it New York in Taxi Driver, Mumbai in ‘Dhobi Ghat’ or Delhi in ‘Delhi 6’. In this movie, University is given an outright character. The movie begins and ends with voice-overs of Lal speaking to Muthachan – which is the University itself. How unique!

Some of my favorite scenes in the movie are the ones involving Lal courting Gayathri and his marriage proposal. Gayathri’s father nonchalantly regrets Lal’s marriage proposal. Lal is chagrined and hurt, but accepts the decision rather gracefully. The whole process of putting forth the proposal, the rejection, the dejection and the resumption is so dignified. (You cringe when you see the melodramatic and over-the-top courtships in movies of today)

Venu Nagavally’s mastery in portraying love’s desolation and helplessness.( Starts at 5 : 41)

Despite the underlying melancholy, the ending of the movie is not tragic, although it does almost totter at its very precipice. “Life ain’t so dark after all” – Venu seems to say, because Truth is the ray of hope which shines through the fog of despair and “Truth always prevails.”

The delightful Athintho from Sarvakalashala (1987)

Sarvakalashala’ is eventually a classic. It is a hidden gem amongst classic Malayalam movies and a classic example of why the 80’s will remain the golden period of Malayalam cinema. May writers and directors dig deep into the very recesses of their heart and make such movies – melancholic, satirical, tragic, comic -the genre does not matter, but honesty does.

‘Satyameva Jayate.’

Related : The Venu Nagavally Archive at Old Malayalam Cinema

11 thoughts on “Sarvakalashala (1987 ) | In the Mood for Melancholy

  1. a cult movie…and i think the first movie that made “the campus” itself a charachter….the phrase “Lalettan” became popular after this movie. I rmemebr reading in an interview that prior to this movie- Mohanla and Venu Nagavally had a fallout- and Venu knew that he was in the wrong. The final scene in the movie where the charavfhter essayed by Lal gets apologies- is in a a way Venu saying sorry to Mohanal the person- at least thats what Venu commented in an interview

    1. Interesting. I did not know about the fall-out. Also the way Lal is exonerated is worth noting. The thief is locked in the library. And when the library is re-opened, the thief is caught. In a way Muthachan – the University campus, rescues Lal from being wronged and misunderstood.

  2. Hi Prakash,
    Thank you so much for writing about this movie which is so much part and parcel of a whole generation’s growing up. the laughter and tears combined to perfection like only Venu Nagavally could… i could go on and on, quoting verse and chapter from this movie…so many many scenes that have passed into campus history and nostalgia. one of those movies that just sticks in your throat like a lump, and you are left wondering if you are laughing or crying. thank you!

    1. Aptly put Remitha. We don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Thanks.
      Sibi – I have not seen Swagatham, but will take your word for it. Difficult to get good malayalam CD/DVDs in the US….unless you watch them on various sites on the internet.

      1. Pakash if you are in DFW or Houston there are lots of stores with Indian videos. Some still have VHS. In the NY area you can find lots of stores in Queens, Jamaica area. In Florida too.

  3. interesting article about sarvakalasala… thanks a lot to the author…

    but CM… i can provide you better audio and video clarity clips of SARVAKALASALA. i have got its BEST QUALITY asianet DVD with me… why didnt you ask me? the clips you used was taken from the below average market vcd… and that’s the only fault in this article..

    1. LOL Gopalji. I don’t think I need to worry the day OMC goes High-Definition with you always around 🙂 Jokes apart, I never wanted to duplicate the whole process of making the video excerpts when there were ones that were relevant for the content that Prakash sent across already shared in Youtube. With two different commercial copies out in the market and with that its copyright owners, why get a bad after-taste if they ask you to take it down.That’s all.
      Thanks so much for keeping an eye out..regards..cinematters

  4. Cinematters….thanks for posting my thoughts on the movie in your blog. Appreciate it. You have taken the pains to add movie clips too…great!!
    Susie – Venu Nagavally was multi-faceted indeed. However a majority of malayalees remember him only for his brooding visage. Although definitely recognized as a talent ….I suppose he wasn’t a rage in the 80’s.(The period saw the emergence of the superstars M & M )

  5. I guess.. sarvakalashala had the right mix of characters..Back in the 80s when colleges were govt. owned and the fee was rs.15 a yea,r you could see lots of”chettan” characters pursuing double and triple PGs or failed ones just hanging around the campus sipping kattan and smoking beedi.. or sitting under those huge trees and pondering about nothing , or in the union offices advising junior comrades. Venu Nagavally had this mood in his other films Sukhamo Devi and Swagatham also.

  6. Cinematters,
    Thanks for the in depth article about Sarvakalasala. Seems like a cult movie of the times. Venu Nagavally was a real multi-talent with a heavenly voice. He was all the rage in the 80’s, wasn’t he?

    1. Dear Susie,
      You should be directing this to Prakash..I am just the facilitator.:D. It was indeed, a cult movie. amongst all the ones that I have seen that depicted College life in Kerala. It has endearing quality to it as compared to the contrived and stitled gags that came later disguised as Campus movies..It was more Campos :-P. regards..cinematters

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