Srividya’s acting career, both in Tamil and in Malayalam, along with the two Hindi productions she acted in (AVM‘s Jaise ko Taisa/1973 and Hrishida‘s Arjun Pandit/ 1976 ) can only be termed the most diverse range an actor could ever get, across two languages.It had to be her sheer talent, an enviable mix of beauty, brains, grace and finesse that also had her genes to thank for, but let’s face it, no one had ever put it to good use like she did. And she was automatically on the radar of all the top film makers of the times as she was just starting up, imagine collaborating with Balachander on one side of the border and with A Vincent on the other ! And that was just the beginning. Her early appearances, till Chenda in 1973, had more to do with her dancing talent and sheer screen presence than anything else, there were Kumarasambhavam and Chattambikavala in 1969, and Swapnangal in 1970. Chenda was the movie that set her on the path to the popularity that she had so dreamed about, right from childhood.
Thoppil Bhasi was a genius when it came to thinking up narratives for performing arts – be it theater or the movies. I guess this must have been the only movie whose main protagonists were based around two intangible elements in creativity – percussive arts and classical dance. Though the protagonists’ ( Madhu‘s Appu and Srividya‘s Sumathi)lives go through the usual tribulations, it was the way in which A Vincent dressed up the entire film, based on Thoppil Bhasi‘s screenplay that made it one of the most sought-after classics in Malayalam, ever. What makes it all the more special is that Srividya never got a role close to her heart, as someone who had learned classical dance, as this one. As the Mohiniyattam dancer, Srividya got to do three dance-centric compositions in the film, all of which I have written about here. I got to speak with Jayanan Vincent, acclaimed cinematographer, who recalled fondly the memories associated with Chenda’s production – it was him who did the “Switch-On” of the project, and Srividya always used to address him as “baby”, him being in the sixth or seventh standard at that time. It never changed even when he was behind the camera, years later for as he worked with her in movies like Meen (1980), Aarante Mulla, Kochu Mulla (1984)and Udayam Padinjaaru (1986), to name a few. Chenda also had a cameo, (some say his actual debut) of Oduvil Unnikrishnan in Malayalam Cinema.
Thalathil, thalathil from Chenda (1973)
Thumbolarcha and everything Mythological (1974 – 1984 )
Srividya, in her interview with John Brittas on Kairali TV, recalled this one senior actor colleague of hers who used to berate her for reasons unknown, in her early years, who had publicly declared that he would ensure that she be thrown out of Malayalam films. The very same actor who saw her playing the character of Chottanikkara Amma (1976) had to try very hard to keep his jaws from dragging on the floor, and is said to have remarked to her, ” It’s as if the Goddess herself is holding court!”
In a way, this was exactly the sentiment that ran behind most of her performances in the kitschy mythological/Vadakkan Pattukal productions that had her. Her prowess as a dancer and that indescribable charm were all that mattered as she did those roles. It must have been a pleasant coincidence that she started her career in Malayalam as the celestial dancer Menaka in Kumarasambhavam (1969). P Sumbramniyam went ahead and cast her in the lead role in their 1976 production, Amba, Ambika, Ambalika, though I still feel the casting looked a little skewed with Rani Chandra, who looked much elder to Srividya was cast as her younger sister. Then again, its my opinion. Think about her roles in Thumbolarcha (1974), Thacholi Matumakan Chanthu (1974), Swami Ayyappan (1975), Amba, Ambika, Ambalika (1976), Srimad Bhagavad Gita (1977), Velainkanni Mathavu (1977), Krishnaparunthu (1979), Amme Narayana (1984), Kadamattathachan (1984), Krishna Guruvayoorappa (1984) and I’m sure you would be able to find the ‘big picture’. My personal favorite amongst them all has to be Kunjunnooli from Thumbolarcha (1974) – with the script being the usual N Govindankutty-staple, she easili eclipsed the reigning House Queen of the Udaya productions Sheela and shared equal screen presence, a luxury afforded to only Vijaysree at Udaya. She essayed the role of Panchali in Srimad Bhagavad Gita (1977), and Gopalji informs me that the screen version of “Ellam neeye Sourye” was sung by her for the movie, though the LP/Tape released version was S Janaki‘s. Maybe Sajith Bhaskaran, our dear resident archivist :) would have more on this. Have I missed anything from her roles in these genre? Do write in.
Also, for the zillionth time, here is Kannan thalir muttam from Thumbolarcha (1974)
Idavazhiyile Poocha Minda Poocha (1979)
Srividya’s first brush with the tight, quirky, riveting screenplays and characters of MT Vasudevan Nair, brought to life onscreen by Hariharan. Srividya‘s Rohini was a protagonist of the likes Malayalam cinema had never witnessed onscreen. After all, discussing sexual mores and preferences on screen, especially from a woman’s point of view wasn’t something you came across often in Malayalam cinema. Rohini, as the college lecturer, had a strange and inexplicable bunch of feelings that ranged from a desire to be independent, sexual repression, and hidden angst that begs for reaction – together running as a strong undercurrent in her married life to Madhu’s Dr Raja. After all, how many times in Malayalam cinema have you witnessed a lady college lecturer being faced with the question by her students on “the exact meaning of the word nymphomaniac” onscreen. Soman completed the excruciating triangle of relationships, discussed in a way that was a first for us, I guess. It also showed the amazing dexterity of Srividya’s talent to mold herself in the exact way the role was conceived by the creator, and by virtue of her portraying it, gave it an extra dimension that only accentuated what was already there. It was this same capability to make the average movie-goer go queasy and squeamish that she later proved very well with Adaminte Variyellu (1984) and Irakal (1985). Her performance in Edavazhiyile Poocha Mindapoocha, together with the one in Jeevitham Oru Ganam also ensured her first Kerala State Award for the Best Actress.
Viswamahakshethra from Edavazhiyile Poocha Mindapoocha (1979)
Puthiya Velicham (1979) and Chaakara (1980).
Of the ones with Jayan, these two are my personal favorites. In Puthiya Velicham – the home-grown version of Dharmendra’s Phool aur Pathar, she was the ever-suffering ‘widow’ Lakshmi who falls in love with the ‘hired-muscle and small-time thief’ Venu ( Jayan, duh ! ), who influences his life so strongly as the narrative progresses that he ultimately decides to leave his life of crime, to the surprise of his long-term girlfriend and his ” Baass”. The ‘incredulous’ element is much evident in the borrowed theme- this cloyingly sweet, straight-as-an-arrow plot but one couldn’t think of a better pair of eyes to express those tears than Srividya :) And they made a perfect pair. Which brings us to my next movie, Chakara ( produced by TG Ravi who played the villain too ), where she played Nimmy who ends up being the villian’s life-partner after he conspires and gets the love of her life Sethu( Jayan, duh !) put away on false charges. P G Vishwambaran doesn’t stress your brain usually, and you know where its headed right from the first scene in the movie. What makes it memorable is the “Young Lovers” in the first few minutes of the movie. Srividya who seem to have left her dancing days far behind by the 80’s even makes fun of herself in one of the early scenes as Sethu teases her on her ‘consistent poor performance in the tests’ . It goes this way, reminiscent of the self-deprecatory way Venu Nagavally laughs at himself in Sarvakalashala,
നിമ്മി : എനിക്കൊന്നും തലയില് നില്ക്കുന്നില്ല സേതു . തല നിറച്ചും കളിമണ് ആണെന്ന് തോന്നുന്നു.
സേതു : ഏതായാലും നല്ല വളക്കൂറുള്ള മണ്ണാണ് . തലമുടി തഴച്ചു വളരുന്നത് കണ്ടില്ലേ !
നിമ്മി : തലമുടി മാത്രമല്ല, ശരീരവും.
Needless to say, she got to play Jayan’s mother in Meen (1980) in the same year too. Now, that’s what makes me respect her more, as an actress.
Here is Manasse nin Ponnambalam from Puthiya Velicham (1979)
Based on a story by Antony Eastman and scripted by John Paul, this has to be easily one of the ‘densest’ scripts he has ever produced and with a set of characters that have become milestones in the main protagonists’ acting career. Be it Bharath Gopi’s succesful novelist SriPrasad, his wife Sarada, brilliantly portrayed by Srividya or for that matter Nedumudi Venu’s Achyuthan Unni, like any other film by Mohan, this too explored the extremities of our conditioned psyche, of where we are prepared to take human relationships. Sarada subtly seduces the new addition at her office, Naïve, overtly sensitive, impressionable and highly malleable Acyuthan Unni, who falls for it hook, line and sinker. Little does he know that he was the guinea pig for an organic experiment in human relationships devised by the novelist Sriprasad to which his effervescent wife happily joins in. Sarada also happens to be Unni’s boss. Things turn heart-wrenchingly convoluted when Unni comes to know that he has been taken for a ride. Sarada by now increasingly worried about Unni’s mental state becomes equally distraught at the way she played around with a fellow human being’s feelings and it is not long before it turns to a frightening ordeal and an equally chilling turn of events. I consider this one in my favorite four of the Bharat Gopi – Srividya onscreen portrayals, the others being Kattathe Kilikkoodu (1983), Panchavadipaalam (1984) , Adaminte Variyellu ( 1984) and Onathumbikkoroonjaal (1985). Rachana also helped her win the Best Actress Award by the Kerala State for 1983.
Kaattathe Kilikkodu (1983)
Bharathan‘s Kattathe Kilikkoodu was one of those finest bunch of movies that came out of the Bharathan – John Paul collaborations in the 80’s, as they churned out one successful movie after the other, both at the box-office and for its themes. In Kaattathe Kilikkodu, John Paul took the commonplace infatuation and added some high-octane fuel into it, just to see what happens and it turned out to be a highly memorable one at that. Bharat Gopi as Professor ‘Shakespeare’ Kirishna Pillai, Srividya as his wife Sarada, and Revathy‘s debut as Asha Thampi, a student of Literature who becomes the subject of the professor’s infatuation. As it dangerously crosses over from being mere puppy love to serious yearning and possession, he is oblivious to his decade-old marriage and a perfect married life falling apart . And just when relationships reach breaking point, it is put back on course in an interesting climax nay showdown. Srividya was brilliant as Sarada who goes out tooth and nail to protect her marriage and her nest, pleading, cajoling and when her patience runs out, lashing out with fury drawn from that reserve that is often mistaken for timidity and naivete. The role seemed to have been tailor-made for Srividya who plays the mature yet playful, loving wife with a natural affinity to music. Who can ever forget Johnson Master‘s Gopikey from the movie ? Bharathan also remade this in Tamil as Oonjalaadum Uravukal with Srividya reprising the role in Tamil too. The movie won the Kerala State Award for Best Actor ( Bharath Gopi) and Best Female Playback ( S Janaki).
Gopike nin viral from Kattathe Kilikkoodu (1983)
Panchavadipalam, to me, is the finest political black satire film creation ever produced in Indian cinema.The movie has a universal theme than could be applied to any part of India, and it would fit in like a glove. This was interestingly, the first in the trilogy that Srividya collaborated with the director KG George. Srividya also happens to be the ONLY Actress that KG George has ‘repeated’ in his 3 consecutive movies.The movie that took its characters’ names from the Mahabharata featured a cuckolded president of the Panchavadi panchayat who wants to demolish a perfectly healthy bridge that connects to ‘civilisation, and construct a new one its place bearing his name. Srividya played the over-bearing, steely, thick-hided Mandodhari,the president’s wife, who makes it her mission in life to involve and interfere in every single moment of her husband’s life – be it personal or political, and she is a riot !She is the one who eggs him o, in a way leading the narrative by its nose, and its a delight to watch their chemistry as she berate, cajole, abuse and berate some more. As mentioned earlier, I am sure this effortless sense of enacting humor with exaggeration must have been handed over from her father! The only other film that I saw her talent at humor was in Balachandra Menon‘s Aarante Mulla, Kochu Mulla. Were there others too ? Let me know. Just like KG George’s Yavanika is celebrated as pioneer in the thriller genre, Panchavadipaalam sits, mostly alone, at the summit as far as black humor is concerned, in Malayalam cinema.
A Conspiracy gets underway.
KG George’s Irakal (1985), even after 27 years remains the finest in its genre ( a microscopic one at that) in Malayalam. It must have been the first time the Malayalam movie viewer came face –to-face with the spawn of a dysfunctional family, so like their own or one they knew of, who tried setting his world in order with a garotte. Srividya played the elder sister of the twisted protagonist ( KB Ganesh Kumar in his chilling debut), who is just cannot suppress the suppressed carnality in her anymore and finds its release in her midnight trysts with the family’s farmhand. I think she was incomparable when it came to portraying characters from the Syrian Christian milieu – Ayanam and Poomukhappadiyil Ninneyum Kaathu are the first that come to mind – her nuances and her intonations with respect to dialect, accent were all spot on. Also some of her finest portrayals were all ‘version perspectives’ of the pent-up sexuality and unrequited desire driving the character on an unexpected path in the narrative. If you have watched and remember Irakal (1985), I am sure you can never forget the “Confrontation at the Breakfast Table” scene between the straying sister-in-law and the catatonic, murdering younger brother-in-law. The verbal attack was swift, merciless and short like knife-slashes. Minimal, steely but with resolute intent . The faces did the rest of the talking.
An Interview with KG George.