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.