The Sathyan Tribute | Chellappan from Anubhavangal Paalichakal (1971)

{ This part -personal, part incisive perspective on Anubhavangal Palichakal is by a dear friend who goes by the name of BlueGreenSalad :). Seriously.}
Anubhavangal Paalichakal Title (1971) I first saw this movie in my childhood, off a VHS cassette bought by Father during the early 80s, along with Yavanika, Muthassi, Vilaykyu Vangiya Veena, Kuttiydathey, Neelakuyil, Vivaahitha, Thulabhaaram, Elippathayam and a few other movies sold by V G Paneerdas in Bombay. My Dad and Mom were fans of actor Sathyan, having known him while residing in Madras during the mid-to-late 60s. Under their influence, I too, grew up to admire this actor and his quality and dedication to the art. When I saw this movie, I was struck by the reality it attempted to depict: gone were the tinsel sets, caked makeup, fancy costumes, bouffant hairdos, and even more fantastic stories. Here was a different story- something I grew to like.

This was the story, an end-game episode in the life of Chellappan ( Sathyan ), an ordinary mortal, one of those unknown Comrades at the grassroots of the Communist Revolution. The title song itself is one of those rousing, marching tunes often associated nowadays with North Korea and perhaps Cuba- with explicit Communist slogans worn on the shoulder ‘Workers of the World, Unite!” The title song sets the stage and flavor for the character of the main protagonist and a backdrop to the rest of the story, as it gets from the external pomp to the desolation of the personality, his loneliness, his personal hell.

Chellappan is idolized by his followers and supporters of the local Communist Party, but despised, feared and hated by his class enemies. Ironically, beneath his fierce exterior, when shorn of his shiny, one-pointed idealisms, he’s shown to be a most ordinary and common man who’s lionized by the world, but respected little at home. He has a pretty and comely wife, Bhavani ( Sheela ), but she despises him, his abusive, violent and tyrannical nature and his incapacity to provide for his family, and an overtly suspicious nature – one which lends to his character to openly dote on the daughter and ignore the son because he suspects that unfortunate boy to be not of his bloodline.

Sathyan and Prem Nazir in Anubhavangal Palichakal (1971) Chellappan is a worker at Chacko’s business, but he’s shown doing not much work- but organizing agitations, picketing and strikes, all against the class enemies. Chellappan, does not resist cocking an eye at a willing member of his admiring female fan-base and the dialogue shows a vulgar familiarity, something that contrasts sharply against his suspicions towards his wife. Chellappan nevertheless, gets fired from his job, for no apparent reason. That source of income’s gone as well; Chellappan wanders the countryside, ever dedicated towards spreading the Communist ideal. One day, he encounters his ex-employer Chacko in one of the country bylanes, and accosts him, insisting on settling the reason for his untimely termination. Chacko, now thoroughly frightened by an intimidating Chellappan, somehow escapes through a hole in the hedge and promptly files a report with the Police of a possible threat to his life from Chellappan.

The police set out a watch to capture against Chellappan, who, now in his element again, approach the senior cadre, who helps him abscond, lie low till the storm blows over before re-surfacing. His wife and kids are left to fend for themselves, and also to face the brutality and harassment of the Police, searching for Chellappan. Gopalan ( Prem Nazir ) is shown as one of the bystanders who then gets involved in the melee against the police. Bhavani now joins the ranks of day-labourers, leaving her children at home. Gopalan now presents himself as a friend, a shoulder for her to lean on to. Though apprehensive of his expression of affection at first, she and Gopalan enter into a relationship. Bhavani is shown as a woman of hard realism- one who has to fend for herself and her children. What I felt was that were many such incdents in the past where Chellappan would vanish, leaving everyone in the lurch, but this latest incident was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. She seems keen to make a clean break and in one scene she even chides a visibly scared Gopalan for not having the guts to give her real support. She approaches a local businessman who offers to buy out her house in lieu of another plot somewhere else, where she can construct a house of her own: an offer that’s grabbed up by Bhavani.In contrast to their hard-hearted mother, the children are shown as pining for their father, especially the young girl child, Kumari.

In the meantime, Chellappan, now underground, though the good offices of the Party, has been relocated to another village, where he has been assigned as guest, to stay with a family of humble working-class Communist Party sympathizers, under a new name ‘Prabhakaran’, to them, as yet unmarried. There’s a wonderful comic interlude here by Adoor Bhasi as a dandy, a hanger-on, a slacker, who does nothing but sing patriotic songs, comb his well-oiled and well-groomed hair, and wear freshly ironed clothes. He arrives with a marriage proposal, and the family, including Parvathy refuse to entertain him, as they prefer a real, working man. And in contrast with Prabhakaran, can he really cut any ice?

Chellappan on the run - Anubhavangal Palichakal (1971)

The family knows that Prabhakaran is an important person to their ‘Party’, and this turns him into a minor celebrity in the eyes of the family. The family members shower him with affection, especially their gown-up daughter Parvathy (KPAC Lalitha), who has in her innocent heart, a desire for matrimonial union with Prabhakaran. The wonderful song “Kalyani kalavani” comes forth, expressing the desires in the heart of a young woman. My Mom liked this song very much, remarking on her liking of KPAC Lalitha as an apt model for the role of Parvathy, her feeling depicted through this song.

Kalayani Kalavani from Anubhavangal Paalichakal  (1971)

However, Chellappan/Prabhakaran has noticed those signals, too, and one night he tries to seduce Parvathy. She, however, refuses and Prabhakaran is caught unawares- she’s obviously different from the other women of easy virtue, that he’s seduced before. This shock brings him back to reality of his children and wife. He abruptly leaves them the very next day going back home, incognito, avoiding the police who’re still on the lookout for him. To his shock he realizes that his wife has sold their home and moved to a new place along with Gopalan. Moreover she’s pregnant.

Here’s where I found things a bit opaque: Chellappan now gets despondent and goes back to Ernakulam, Why should he do that? He could have driven away Gopalan, and gone back to his children who would have welcomed him with open arms. His people would have welcomed him. Instead, he’s all alone. He’s remorseful and philosophical. The poignant song “Pravachakanmare” (O Prophets, do tell, is the Dawn close by? ) plays. A very ironic scene is shown where Chellappan walks outside the Ernakulum North police station. In real life, before commencing on his acting career, Sathyan master was an Inspector in the Travancore Police.

In Ernakulam town,while wandering the streets, he happens upon an agitation by Communists, protestors picketing outside a Mill. Chellappan’s attracted to the familiar Communist sloganeering and upright clenched fists: something very familiar and dear to him. The agitators are protesting against the Mill owner who they say, is responsible for the death of Paulose  whose comely daughter was coveted by the factory owner. But now, he’s not a seeker of justice, but has a death wish. Soon the agitation turns ugly, as two goons sent by the mill-owner raise tempers. Chellappan joins the melee and inflicts injuries on the goons. However the local communist agitation organisors are not too impressed by Chellappan- an allegation that these leaders themselves are probably in cahoots with their class enemies. But one guy’s impressed: Hamsa (Bahadoor) who has a small tea stall just outside the Mill gates. He’s particularly impressed and expresses his admiration for that unknown provider of punishment: those goons had long bullied him and free-booted off his stall.

The goons return, licking their wounds. They seem to have lost their sheen, in the eyes of Hamsa, who taunts them. As true with tyrants, they possess a streak of cowardice. Under cover of night they demolish and destroy his stall. The next morning, Hamsa rushes to see the ruins of his ramshackle business establishment and in a fit of passion, vows revenge upon the Mill owner and his goons. Its in this scene where Mammooty is seen present, a clean-shaven youth, in a white mundu. Chellappan/Prabhakaran’s hosts come to know that their Prabhakaran is none other than Chellappan, wanted by the Police. They also realize that he’s married with two kids. Parvathy is disconsolate. After a while, Prabhakaran is released from jail and is welcomed by the family with simple pomp, all sins forgiven.

Here again, was another one of those imponderables: After everyone’s gone to sleep, Parvathy goes to the sleeping Chellappan, and offers herself to him. Chellappan refuses this time, and he leaves the place. Why?

Chellappan now arrives at his wife’s new place. She has a new baby in her arms: Gopalan’s. They reunite, but Chellappan has no rancor and no desire to interfere. He enquires for his daughter, but learns that his daughter has died of jaundice and that till her last moments she pined for her father. Bhavani pleads with him to show love to his very own son, Kuttappan. A great change happens: Chellappan looks at the boy with great kindlness and compassion, and blesses him, telling him to study hard, work hard and become a great man. He then departs silently without even a word or a glance at his wife and son left behind.

Chellappan is arrested - Anubhavangal Palichakal (1971)

This was, what I felt a greatness of KS Sethumadhavan’s storytelling art – there’s no other unnecessary scene, just the news that Chellappan has been arrested for the murder of the mill-owner. At the trial, he accepts full blame and is charged guilty of murder, and sentenced to death by hanging. There are no close-ups- it showed how impersonal the whole trial was, and how much alienated Chellappan felt. He was all alone in the world- his wife had left him, so also his beloved daughter, he could not bring himself to touch Parvathy, the goons had destroyed Hamsa’s kiosk, and the real villain was the Mill-owner who needed to be destroyed.

Another reason for the long shots was something more profound- Sathyan Master was ill and a double had to be fitted in for his roles and probably, only long shots could be managed. At last he’s sentenced to death and borne away in a van. The scene shows his ex-wife Bhavani, disconsolately running behind the van, crying, restrained by Gopalan: a very poignant scene. Dad said that Sathyan Master had already passed away by then (he was a terminally-ill cancer patient) and a double actor had to be employed for the finals scenes of this movie, especially this scene. In retrospect the grief displayed by Sheela seems real.) The song “Agniparvatam puganju” (The volcano erupted, the horizons reddened) plays showing the silhouette of Chellappan pacing his cell, and then being taken away for the hanging.

Agniparvatham Pukanju from Anubhavangal Paalichakal (1971)

News of his sentencing brings together all those who were close to him: Bhavani, Gopalan, Kuttappan, so also Parvathy and her family, who truly lament the loss of their beloved hero. The sentence is carried out. Bhavani and Gopalan bear the body back home in a rented car (for which they had mortgaged their land and house). The final scene shows two mounds outside their house. A large mound- that of Chellappan, and next to him a smaller mound: that of his beloved daughter Kumari.

The Final Resting Place - Anubhavangal Palichakal (1971)

In this movie what I felt was the frailties of the men who were supposed to lead- the men, and the women who were cowed down, but turned out to have stronger characters. The Communist movement is praised for the simplicity of the original people, especially when compared to the fate of the movement these days, there needs to be more soul searching and questioning, self examination.

Post Script.

Here is a little treasure from the family archives, the invite to join in the Memorial Service on the eve of the First Year of Sathyan’s Passing. Priceless, for so many reasons.

Sathyan's Memorial Service Elegy
Sathyan’s Memorial Service Elegy
Sathyan's Memorial Service Invite
Sathyan’s Memorial Service Invite

What are your fond memories of Sathyan, the Actor ?

11 thoughts on “The Sathyan Tribute | Chellappan from Anubhavangal Paalichakal (1971)

  1. Culturally, beautiful woman was always equated to money and prosperity. That could explain Chellappan’s aversion towards his legally married wife, meaning publicly he was a communist. His occasional secret transgressions can thus be explained as his subconscious desire to have the comfort that wealth brings and his desire for power. Rejection by Parvathy was the wake-up call that brought the real communist in Chellappan, the idealist who always stands up for the down-fallen. That is why he came back to his wife. After seeing what happened to her (and his beloved child), he now fully accepted his mistakes and became the real idealistic communist who could resist the temptation of money (Parvathy’s willingness to accept him) and to avoid more temptation he left the place.

    Just a theory. This is KSS’s direction and so only he can give the real meaning of those scenes. But looking at the story is dynamics after those incidents that’s what I felt.

    1. Hi oldman,
      Thank you for writing in. I would consider that premise of “Culturally, beautiful woman was always equated to money and prosperity” alarmingly sexist. In fact, I am coming across something like this for the first time. Why do we need to pin the “blame” of Chellappan’s waywardness as a character trait on a hazy cultural axiom such as this, in effect, again putting the blame squarely back on Bhavani ! Why not accept the fact that even though he is a leader when it comes to his political ideologies, as a human being he is overtly chauvinist, a trait shared by his best friend Gopalan too. Let’s just accept him for his mortal failings as with any other human being rather than go around looking for possible avenues to shift the blame away from. 🙂 Also, the character was created by Thakazhi, and adapted for the screen by KSS. The layers that Thakazhi has so effectively built in words have been intepreted in a way that is the most effective way onscreen by Sathyan, and for other characters too. I also find an interesting kinship between the central characters of Chemmeen and AP, both by Thakazhi – both essentially discusses a beautiful woman torn between the two men she loves, one of which is a relation built on social binding. Am sure this will invite a whole lot of thoughts going forward. Thanks again, cinematters

      1. I am not even remotely insinuating it in any sexist way. There are so many places in the history of religion, literature and art where it is depicted that way. In Hinduism Laxmi is the goddess of wealth and in many places She is described as Chanchal. You see similar things in each and every cultures in the old world. I don’t think it is done to malign either of the sexes. It is just used as a metaphor. As the modern world is seeing more and more, relationship between man and woman is the most flickering thing. People of the yore also were well-aware of this and so chose to use that to describe all flickering relations. As I said in my original post, I wasn’t stating that to be the case, it was just my understanding of the dynamics and only since the person who wrote the article posed those as questions.

        1. Hi Oldman,
          🙂 There is absolutely no one or no thought sitting in judgement here, its just a spirited discussion. I am aware that its just your point of view based on what you read, it must be that I choose to approach it froma different perspective. That;s all. 🙂 Thanks so much for your clarification.regards.cinematters

  2. I mean ,nobody of the Indian actors can act like Sathyan Master.Because the acting containing real,natural,matuar,veriety, and range,

  3. no one…but no one can imitate the sathyan persona…there are many who mimics nazeer, mamootty and mohanlal on stage (sometimes the dupes re better than the original)- but no one has of date captured the true essence of Sathyan’s personality…the reason, i think, is that there is an element of raw naturality which is difficult to mime

  4. sathyan master is the emporrer of real acting in indian cinema. nobody can imitate the role of the films like Anupabhangal palichakal,1971/,karakanakkadal1971/,thacholi othenan,1964/ yakshi 1968/ kadalpalam 1969/mudiyanaya puthran 1961/sarasayya 1971/Orupenninte kadha 1971/Karinizhal 1971/Ningalenne kammyunistakki 1971/Vazhvemayam1967/Adimakal 1968/Odayil ninnu1965/chemmen 1965/Snehaseema 1954/.etc………….feel the veriety,range ,reality,in acting

  5. BlueGreenSalad and Cinematters

    I really enjoyed this article, really touching. I have always enjoyed the songs, never seen the movie. I could never bear to watch the final scene.

    I still remember, as an 8-year-old in a petticoat, watching with sadness the flower-bedecked lorry carrying the remains of Sathyan pass by the rice mill near my home in Manacaud.

    Ageless memories.


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