Of Malayasian plantations, thatched cinemas and hating Sathyan

Traditional Cinema Interiors of KeralaThe silver screen had always fascinated me right from childhood. I have heard stories about my mother’s childhood in the late 40s, when my uncle took his sisters, my mother and her siblings, for a “devotional/mythological” movie which released in the first talkies in their neighborhood. It was a tribute to bamboo pylons, teak struts, thatched roof and smelly Rexine seat backs for the privileged. And not knowing what a cinema really was, they sat facing the projector thinking that that’s where the action is. My uncle was so embarrassed that he didn’t know where to look. 🙂

Brought up in an plantation in Malaysia, I still remember the movies that were shown at the open air cinema. Apart from some Hollywood classics, Hindi and Tamil movies, I can vividly recall watching two Malayalam movies as well. One was Kidappaadam and the other Bharya (1962) . I must’ve slept through Kidappadam (1954) – don’t remember much about it. But Bhaarya is one movie which actually shook me.

Raagini in Bharya ( 1962)
Raagini in Bharya ( 1962)

I still remember that I hated Sathyan. I would rather stay at home and watch television or play with my childhood friend, than join my mother and her friends for a movie starring Sathyan. Such was the impact Sathyan had on me. While enroute to the cinema to watch Chemmeen (1965), Mom said that Sathyan was not there in the cast and still remember the racket I created in the cinema :). Now when I look back, it’s not the movies or the actor that I hated, it’s the role – and how convincing he had been !

My mother has always been a great Sathyan fan. According to her, even in the era where drama had a major influence on movies, Sathyan was very natural in his acting. He practically lived in every role that he essayed. Today, I totally agree with her. Have been watching quite a few Sathyan movies of late. Ashwamedham (1968), Oru Penninte Kadha (1971), Karinizhal ( 1971 ), Thettu (1971), Thaara (1970), Sharashayya (1971) are a few of them.

Sathyan in Kuttyedathi (1971)

Sathyan in Kuttyedathi (1971)
Sathyan in Kuttyedathi (1971)

Here I would like to mention about a classic Sathyan movie Kuttiyedathi (1971). When we relocated to Kerala from Malaysia in the early 70’s, Kuttiyedathi’s movie adaptation had just got released in one of the talkies nearby. Mom as usual had gone to watch this movie with her sister-in-law and friends. For some reason, we kids were not taken. Maybe because she had already read Kuttiyedathi and found that the story doesn’t suit us kids. I remember overhearing her talking about the movie to one of our neighbors.

Vilasini as Kuttyedathi (1971)
Vilasini as Kuttyedathi (1971)

I still very clearly remember about the sibling rivalry and the relationship between Sathyan and Vilasini that she was talking about. And one scene that stuck ever since is when Sathyan lights a beedi leaning on the axe, taking a break. Mom said that she could never imagine another actor doing that sequence with so much authenticity. Today I have the digital version of the movie. But could never bring myself to watch it. Maybe because I wanted the sketches etched by my mother to last.

What if I get disappointed?

Prapancha chethana from Kuttyedathi (1971)

Also read : MT’s Films | Kuttyedathi (1971)

Also Read : Kuttyedathi (1971) | Memorable character sketches

43 thoughts on “Of Malayasian plantations, thatched cinemas and hating Sathyan

  1. I think sathyan had a Malaysian connection . I believe he had served in the british army in Malaya in the pre independence days . So when Neelakuyil came about there were special screenings in Singapore and Kuala lumpur (both places had a sizable malayalee population then also ) according to my father who too was there in the fifties and sixties . A few of his other films were Bharya , Snehaseemam Thacholi othenan , Odayil ninne and vazhe mayam . Never really enjoyed much of Satyan while i was very young although i was dragged to see his films .Maybe i was too young then to appreciate it then

    1. Thanks again Dr Krishnadas for your valuable comments. My dad was in the Royal Airforce in Singapore during the pre independence days and later on moved to Malaysia. We almost have similar experiences with Malayalam movies. Though was a little boy and though I never enjoyed any movies as such those days, but still remember. Excepting maybe Snehaseema, I have seen all the movies you mentioned from Malaysia. I’m sure I had opted to stay home with my cousins instead. 🙂

      1. what was yr dads name . my dad was in ici in singapore and later kuala lumpur in the fifties and sixties . my uncle was in singapore amy after singapores independence and retired as ministry of defence spokesman there .
        coming back to movies i think have heard my father telling his brothers that neelakuyil was released in singapore ahead of centres like calicut . i am not very sure though .

  2. Viju,
    My mom and your mom and all of us sat watching these movies in the plantations in Malaysia. Missed your mom and you guys when you moved away back to India. You have brought out so much nostalgia with your narration. It seems like only yesterday we ate dinner and went to the open air and watched these movies. I remember we used to fall asleep half way through – you and Suja esp. Our dads had to carry you both back.

    1. Thanks a ton Ammu!!!After all my memories are still so clear ain’t it? And my childhood memories are not complete without you all..Thanks for passing by.. It really made my day.. 🙂

  3. Haven’t seen too many movies in my childhood or even till late. 😦 Living in tiny Pallavur, lack of transport facilities and even theatres around – am sad I missed watching so many classic movies in the wide screens. But have always been a great lover of old film songs, Malayalam, Tamil and of course, Hindi. Will read your blog regularly to get insights that will help me fill in the missing blanks, Viju.
    Keep writing & great post… 🙂

  4. The best character Sathyan ever made is in Karakaanakadal, the real man, no heroism lived with nature, true man struggling for existence………………..then by Anubhavangal Paalichakal……………………..we are not lucky enough to have seen his matured expressions in different characters………………….

  5. Uncle,Call me when u going to watch the movie,maybe i will drop by with some
    napkin,since u r alone and i have no job.

  6. Sathyan,can be called as the most versatile actor of all times. I liked the way you have interwoven our mother’s admiration towards the legendary Actor and his ability to live in his character in an easy manner . Keep writing ,my dear brother…This is just a beginning and you have very much in store!!!! My prayers and best wishes are always with you….

  7. hi Viju,
    excellent work that stirred up some nostalgic moments and the characters you picked were the most appropriate. You know what i think of Bharath awards and national awards??? All crap. How a right judgement could be arrived without having an idea of the cultural fabric of our diverse regions. Awards in the field of acting will not hold water beyond the state borders…. You agree???
    keep going…. Good work da.

    1. Thanks Binoy That was very encouraging.. 🙂 Even I feel so about the national awards… We’ve had many actors who have missed out the award for 1 mark they say.. 😦

  8. WOW!!! Nice …. I love Sathyan’s films … My father was a huge fan of Sathyan and I started watching/enjoying Sathyan movies since I was 10. Now at age 30, I am still a huge fan. It’s amazing that your mother admired Sathyan’s acting style when most women were all about Nazeer!!! Absolutely amazing!!!

  9. Wow! enjoyed and cherished the nostalgic experiences you so profoundly and picturesquely portrayed Vijukutta. Waiting to hear more from you,your Chechi.

    1. Thanks Chechi…. what more can I say? You know my interests 🙂 Got lots of nostalgic memories about our childhood!!! 🙂

  10. NIZHALATTOM was the 1st released film of BALAN K NAIR..31st july 1970 where as KUTTYEDATHI released later in late 1970s or early 1971 or so.. but shooting of KUTTYEDATHI was over much before NIZHALATTOM began. there were no takers for the film initially and ie why it had a delayed release.

      1. NINAMANIJA KAALPAADUKAL released 1st.. feb 17 1963 followed by MOODUPADAM in may 19 1963

  11. Hi Viju

    Fascinating reading. You should see Kuttyedathi. You won’t be disappointed. I owned the CD for a couple of years before i got up enough courage to watch it! Ideally I would have liked Sathyan’s character and Vilasini’s character to get married and live together happily ever after….But…this is real life….

  12. Hii….I cannot comment about any of the films mentioned probaboly coz i started to watch movies seriously from the year 1995 onwards omly…i was 14 by then….However i enjoyed reading ypur article because of its simplicity and the story telling mood….Good work Mr. Vijayan….looking forward to more

  13. I caught Kuttyedathi when it was shown on TV. for that matter, i saw none of those old movies on the big screen. the reason: i used to watch only devotional/mythological movies as a kid. and those documentary type ‘animal Kingdom’ kind of movies! i refused to go for other movies. ( ok, now that you have had your laugh, you can forget i said that;) what a big loss it was, is something i came to realize much much later:( it was only when my interest in music grew that i started watching movies… i am trying to make up for all those hours i missed in hot theaters, sweltering away in rexine seats after making sure that it wasn’t behind a pillar… i have caught up with quite a few movies, but have missed out on the ‘whole experience’ nonetheless.

    1. Remitha, many titles are available in the VCD format though with a lot of cuts….But nothing like watching them on the wide screen…. Wish I could rewind and go back… Yes!!! Music was the main reason for my interest in old movies… nothing to beat them… still lingers…. 🙂

  14. One of the finest movies in Sathyan’s oeuvre, and that is saying a lot. This was a sad movie in many ways; sad, without the aid of glycerine or overt melodrama. To see this is to also realise just how underutilised Jayabharati became in later years, as she also succumbed to the ‘glamour’ tag. This was a collection of characters on screen, not actors ‘playing’ a part, and that is what made the screenplay come alive! Thanks for bringing back memories. (Of having watched ‘inappropriate’ films at inapproriate times. 🙂 )

    1. Thanks Anu.. Yes I agree… it was all about having watched inappropriate films at inappropriate times… 🙂 . Jayabharathi is one of the finest actors that we have. Even in glamour roles… like the one in Rathinirvedham and Punerjanmam ( just to name a couple) she excelled in her roles.

  15. i remember KUTTYEDATHI for only one reason and ie the presence of SATHYAN master (ofcourse) and BALAN K NAIR. it was his 1st film as baddie. and the climax where balan k nair is meeting sathyan and their interaction was made absolutely brilliantly by MENON and M T. before that BALAN K NAIR was acted as stunt dupe for many artist and tit was in this film, as a villain he hit a hero and it happened to be SATHYAN master and that too with a long rod and hit from from sathyan’s behind. one of the realistic stunt scene and villain was overpowering the hero.

      1. I always thought Balan K. Nair’s debut was in P.N. Menon’s Udayam Kizhakku Thanne. Thanks Gopal for correcting this. And CM, I thought Nizhalaattam was directed by Vincent. Or am I wrong there as well? There is a reason to remember Nizhalaattam, an otherwise forgettable movie. It’s the song Swargaputhree navaraathree.

  16. kuttyedathi vilasini- the actress couldnt make her presence felt in malayalam cineam post this movie. i remember seeing her as Tabala Ayyapan’s wife in YAVANIKA- and a couple of other movies. subsequently she was reduced to playing mother roles in Shakeela movies….(guess there should be another story in that the athapathanam of some of our major actors- who took to light porn movies when chances dwindled- i am speaking about ratheesh, shankar, hari, sathar, tg ravi, charmila et al)

    1. Had Satyam Sivam Sundaram been Zeenat Aman’s debut movie, same would have been her fate I feel. Maybe because Vilasini had a totally deglamourised role, she couldn’t find a foothold in the industry. Yes I totally agree with you Narayanji, there should be other stories as well!!!

    2. Yes also a story on also actors of OMC who were in small roles..but vanished later. I saw Vilasini in a “home cinema” yesterday..home productions made mostly for malabar expats living in the gulf. These movies are not too bad..just family oriented themes with unknown actors. Meanwhile I ham having so much fun watching OMC collected from Gopalakrishnan.

      1. Really? Never watched any home movies so far in spite of living in the Gulf. Could you suggest some titles? Same here, having great fun watching some old missed out movies from Gopalakrishnan’s collections… 🙂 Actually amazed at his knowledge and memory on Golden Oldies…. 🙂

        1. Yes Viju Sir, Gopal is the Google of Malayalam cinema and the numero uno film archivist in the state. If you go to Lulu Quisais near the TV section on the second floor there is a library of dvds and vcds. There should be plenty of OMC and also home cinemas. Most home cinemas are directed by Salam Kodiyathoor. These are family oriented plots of Mapilah families in a rural Malabar setting. The slang is very Malappuram-Kannur like. .Ex: Basheer may be pronounced Bassseer. If you are familiar with this particular culture you may be able to understand the themes better. Anyway I found them much better than what is being churned out these days as regular cinema. One title is “Parethan tirichuvarunnu”.

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