Remembering Malayalam cinema’s irreverent and outspoken performer, MG Soman.

MG Soman- A Tribute
Courtesy : Nostalgia Magazine

MG Soman had always been that, right from his very first movie Gayatri (1973), written by Malayattoor Ramakrishnan for PN Menon. His irreverence remained only for the characters that he brought alive onscreen, in real life he displayed those exceptional qualities that one would come to expect of an officer of the Indian Airforce – self-confident, assertive yet with a surprising sense of empathy and a taste for simple living. Born 28th October, 1941, the only son of Mannadiparambil Govinda Panicker and Bhavani Amma from Thiruvalla, Soman always had a liking for theatre even from his college days. I remember reading about him writing and staging a play called Mantharikal Garjjikkunnu even before he left to join the Indian Airforce right after his pre-University studies. He was hugely popular in the services for his brilliant one act plays and short skits, in close to a decade he served in the Services, a story that has delightful parallels with the service days of another of our popular onscreen thespians, GK Pillai. Having left Air Force in 1970, back home, he actively plunged into the vibrant theatre culture of the times, associating with amateur and professional productions,chief amongst the former being the Kollam Amateur group, giving his best to every single role that came his way.

His first recognition as a professional actor came in the form of the Best Actor Award for “Crime – 302”, which was soon followed by the Vikraman Nair Trophy for the Best Actor in “Maram”. He had by now become a highly prized and sought-after actor in Kerala’s professional theatre circuit. Chief among them were Jai Sree theatres ( owned and headed by Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair ) and Kerala Arts Theatres ( owned by Kakkanatt Bhaskaran Pillai, lyricist AP Gopalan and Prof MR Rajashekharan ) based out of Kayankulam which had KPAC Sulochana as its star attraction, after she parted ways with KPAC. It was the latter’s second production “Ramarajyam” that proved to be the turning point for MG Soman who had started working with Kerala Arts theatres after two of their main cast disappeared overnight over a standing dispute on an unreasonable raise of pay. During one of its shows at Karthika Thirunal theatre at Thiruvananthapuram, Malayattoor Ramakrishnan and Sridhar Ilayidom, who were in the audience were floored by his performance, and  decided on this young firebrand on stage, who played a trade-union leader as a part of their cast for their new movie project ! And that new project was Gayatri, which went on to win the National Award for the  Best Feature Film in Malayalam for 1973. It was the very same year Nirmalayam was honored with the Best Feature Film Award and PJ Antony got his Bharat recognition. Gayatri also won KJ Yesudas the National Award for best Playback Singer ( Male ). MG Soman played Rajamani, the angsty, rebellious son of Sahsranama Iyer, a puritanical, orthodox Brahmin priest who was all that his son wasn’t.

Thankathalikayil from Gayatri (1973)

Most of the roles that came his way for the next two years were all supporting roles, but everyone of them had the indelible stamp of  this unique onscreen personality who swept you away with a deft mix of voice modulation , body language natural emoting. In almost all the instances, he managed to rise above the “supportive” nature of his role and delivered performances that at times even overshadowed the ones in leading roles. He was quite comfortable in the niche he was in, sailing on with his unflappable self-confidence and dedication, natural qualities that seemed to have been embellished through his tenure as a gentleman officer in the Armed Services. Though he had to endure another 5 years before he was offered a leading role ( KG Rajashekharan‘s Velluvili /1978 ), it was IV Sasi‘s Itha Ivide Vare that was released in 1977 that became his first movie in a leading role. Scripted by P Padmarajan, it was a revenge the kind of which one had rarely seen on the Malayalam screen.

Itha ivide Vare Theme ) from Itha Ivide Vare (1977)

But these early years were quite fulfilling as an actor, with an envious body of work across a range of characters created by the best directors, both populist and alternative, winning the Kerala State Film Award for Second Best Actor in 1975 for his roles in Swapnadanam ( KG George’s Debut )  and Chuvanna Sandhyakal ( KS Sethumadhavan ) ! He also bagged the Best Actor Award by the State for his performances in Thanal (Rajeev Nath) and Pallavi ( N Sankaran Nair ) in 1976. I personally feel it  was Itha Ivide Varey that actually propelled him into the big league, making him one of the most prolific actors of his generation for the next two decades.

Poovukalkku punyakaalam from Chuvanna Sandhyakal (1975)

In three decades, till his last film Lelam (197), MG Soman, along with a prolific, steady rate of output that would amaze any professional in the business also ensured that he got to work with the best craftsman in Malayalam cinema, some roles so miniscule that you would wonder how he agreed to, in the first place, and every time surprised us a wee bit more, displaying a facet of his onscreen unknown to us.Over and above his brilliant award-winning performances, my personal favorites include Chattakkari (1974), Guruvayoor Kesavan (1977), Avalude Raavukal (1978), Nakshathrangale Kaaval  (1978), Eetta (1978), Beedi Kunjamma (1982), Mahabali (1983), Poochaykkoru Mookkuthi (1984), Sukhamo Devi (1986), Panchagni (1986), Thalavattom (1986), Manivathoorile Aayiram Sivaraathrikal (1987), Rithubhedom (1987), Vellaanakalude Naadu (1988), No 20 Madras Mail ( 1990 ), Njaan Gandharvan ( 1991),  Advaitham (1992), Pakshe (1994), Hitler ( 1996 ) and  Lelam ( 1997 ), when one looks back at his 360-odd movies.

There is also something else about his roles that make it quite a difficult exercise in finding generalisations in the “same-old” ones that came his way, especially during the final years, each one a repetition of a previous character. But he deftly maneouvred around everyone of them, making each one remarkably different than the one that we remembered of him, realising that it took a different tangent when compared to a similar role that had come around earlier on. It could only be termed ironic or karmic, that his final role onscreen, was in a way, the summary of his life onscreen and off screen, as one of the most enduring and outspoken performers in Malayalam cinema.

Anakattil Eappachan becomes immortal on celluloid – from Lelam (1997)

23 thoughts on “Remembering Malayalam cinema’s irreverent and outspoken performer, MG Soman.

  1. He was a good actor and there are so many memorable roles that he essayed so well. However, I recollect a Soman movie where he rides a Bullet bike and he has fixed rifles on the handle as well as the silencers and this rifle keeps firing as he rides on. It looked dumb and hilarious. Any idea which was this movie.

  2. The late Sridharan Ilayidom who produced the movie Gayatri is a relative of mine.
    It was not a commercial hit even though everyone associated with it made it big, while the producer went almost totally broke. Mr. Ilayadom was at one time having vast business interests including owning more than 36 buses that ran profitable routes and had to sell it all after the movie went bust. He never recovered from it all financially and died on the way to Trivandrum to get the movie rights of Gayatri handed to Doordarshan for screening.

  3. sir soman is very articulate actor, he had the aura of a authoritative person, i can still remember the shot in akkare akkare malayalam movie where he comes to usa and runs out in his lungi when mohanlal and sreenivasan steal his suitcase……

    1. Hi Jason,
      That was a memorable sequence.Maybe the “authoritative” aura came from his Air Force days as a gentleman officer.I think the popular directors exploited it to the hilt also. Just think of his role in Commissioner (1994), as an example.Thank you for writing in. Here is wishing you a merry Xmas and a wonderful new year ahead.Thanks, cinematters

  4. Hey, brilliant article..
    a small issue though : Tamil Brahmin (pattar) aayirunna “Malayattoor”-ine “Malyattoor Ramakrishnan Nair” ennakkiyathu askhanthavyamaya thettaanu.. please correct it.. He was a gr8 author.

  5. Great write-up, CM. Thanks for shining the spotlight on one of our finest actors. (I hated him in Itha Ivide Vare. As usual, I watched it when I was 8 or 9, I think.Most of the plot went over my head. I only have a very strong recollection of a lot of ducks being herded, and Soman repeating Itha. Ivide Vare… multiple times in the film.

    He was a co-passenger on the train from Ekm to Trivandrum. My MIL was very impressed, and kept nudging me to look at the man.🙂

    The clip from Gayatri? Isn’t that Raghavan with Jayabharati?

    1. ” I only have a very strong recollection of a lot of ducks being herded, and Soman repeating Itha. Ivide Vare… multiple times in the film. ” 😀.I guess that imagery was a strong visual bookmark to reinforce Madhu’s outlook on life😛 And yes, it is Raghavan, as it was the only one I could find and had it there for representation, and nothing more. Intend to really go through all my fav characters of his soon, some of it even having our gentleman officer pirouetting like a cat on hot tin roof.Thanks , cinematters.

  6. Soman wass the only actor who had acted 48 films in an year(1978) .This record was still existing.And in one onam time almost 10 films of soman was realeased. The greatest heroic role of soman was I.V.Sasi-Padmarajan teams itha ivide vare . In that film soman scored more than madhu. Similarly some of the premnazir films like Tholkkanenneikku manassilla,Panchamridham and Randhulokam soman’s dialoge delivery was excellent .
    Aval Vishosthayayirunnu,Aniyara,Lovely,Ezham kadalinnakkare,choola,adimakkachavadam,Aa ratri,Idavelakku shesham,karthavyam,ethiralikal,Mukkuvane snehicha bhootham,Thuramukham,dhooram arike all are good movies of soman.

    1. Dear Regi,
      That of MG Soman with his 48 movies a year is news to me. Wow !A movie a week, for a year. Maaan !Thank you so much.The list that I mentioned were my favorites, though am sure from his long list of movies, there would be the lesser known ones that had some of his best performances, yet got lost in the “noise.” Thanks again, cinematters

  7. His Akkare Akkare role is also good to mention. The scene where he walks in with his wig and lungi was really good. Not to forget the name Kurosawa and mosquito killing.
    To enjoy Lelam, you really had to see it in Pala. Dont know why but you feel like you were in middle of action because of the person whom the character was based on. If you happen to be in Pala Maharani, look at the walls to see Mannarkad Pappan’s photo. Has good similarity to Soman. That was his last movie right? I think his funeral scene was bit elaborate in the movie.

    I wonder who casted him as Naradan in Mahabali.🙂

    Asianet Movies is having ‘Soman week’ now

    1. Dear Rajesh,
      Akkare Akkare was one of those “unintentional comedies” that he found himself in, and I always suspect he did that with a crazy twinkle in his eyes🙂 He could do deadpan comedy and have you shaking with glee :)Well, I missed watching it in the land of Papaan’s, though was in the neighborhood – at Kottayam.And yes, this was his last movie.Naradan ? Man, that was epic. I guess we had mentioned this aspect over at the Mahabali movie post https://oldmalayalamcinema.wordpress.com/2011/09/08/onam-special-show-mahabali-1983/#comment-1292. Checked out the Asianet special, nothing that I haven’t seen😦 Regards, cm

  8. Wow!! That was indeed a nice article covering all the major landmarks. So it was around the same time the 2 greats had their debut… Soman and Sukumaran… Both almost the similar kind of roles but had a definite stamp on the characters they portrayed. Both as the rebellious sons in 2 different movies and both the movies were landmarks in Malayalam- Nirmalyam and Gayatri…😀

    1. Soman and Sukumaran made their debut in 1973…..and i think they were good friends off screen also. Both left us in 1997. Both their son’s made their debut together in the same movie STOP VIOLENCE. Prithiviraj is still going strong…but Saji Soman lost his track after 2 or 3 movies.
      After the Sathyan- Nazerer- Madhu era – in the Seventies some new heroes found their way to Malayaalm cinema. Jose, Ravikumar, Ravi Menon, Raghavan, Sudheer and Jayan belonged to this new tharangam. Jayan had an untimely demise. The others called it a day after the arrival of Mammootty and Mohanlal. (The same was the fate for Rathhesh, Shankar, Ravindran, Rajkumar also). Only Soman and Sukumaran could remain active in the Eighties and the Nineties as good character actors and in the case of Soman, even do comedy.
      good article can believe its now 15 years since he passed away.

    2. Dear Viju,
      To me, Sukumaran always embodied those roles which had a darker shade of arrogance and abrasiveness, while with Soman, it was more of “staying within the guidelines” and still give you the middle finger :)His characters had more empathy even while being vengeful, and MG Soman managed to make it all work.The reason why he still remains a favorite. Thanks, cm

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