X’mas Flashbacks | The drop-dead handsome Snapaka Yohannan (1963) and the memorable Kanyakumari trio

[ Remitha on X’mas and its movies, from her Wonder Years.]

Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur
Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur

Thanks to fourteen years in a school run by nuns, Christmas inevitably brings to mind Charlton Heston angrily parting the Red Sea or trying to give water to Jesus struggling with the Cross. (As an aside, I simply loved how they never showed Jesus’ face throughout Ben-Hur, but just gave visual clues. It all seems pretty obvious now, but as a little kid, my puzzle-loving mind was thrilled to make the connection.)

Later, much later, when Doordarshan eventually entered our lives, I was in high school. That’s when Snapaha Yohannaan happened. It was one of the first Christmas movies that Doordarshan screened. If I am not mistaken, this was the first film in Malayalam to be based on the Bible and had a handsome, young, Jose Prakash playing a rather cute, John the Baptist, goatee, brown curly locks and all. Yes, the movie is in black and white, but somehow you could tell that those were brown locks.

Jose Prakash in Snapaka Yohannan (1963)
Jose Prakash in Snapaka Yohannan (1963)

It was when I watched that movie that I realized that Salome was actually the name of a character in the Bible – she of the infamous ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’. I could never associate that femme fatale with the Salome I knew. The Salome that everyone in our neighbourhood knew. She was a mentally imbalanced woman, unkindly referred to as ‘Kirukki Salome,’ who begged on our streets.

Now, this new Salome I got to know in the movie, as she went through seven costume doffings, to the seven veils, could charm a besotted Thikkurissi hamming it up as King Herod Antipas ready to gift her with ‘anything.’ I mean who wouldn’t, if someone did this slow strip-tease, seven times over? Again, after all the precedents, you’d think that wish granters would pause to think before promising ‘anything’. But no, they never learn do they?

Salome asks for the head of Yohannan on a platter, under the instigation of her scheming mother Herodias, played to perfection by Pankajavalli, one of those women who have raised over the top sneering and villainy into a fine art. Oh, and the movie also has a boyish Prem Nazir playing Salome’s love ineterst.

A quick Google search reveals another tidbit that is of immense personal interest to me. The lyrics of most of the songs were penned by Thirunayinarkurichi Madhavan Nair, music for the movie was composed by Br Lakshmanan and Kamukara lent his voice to Oshana, Daveedin. The trio along with Thikkurissy Sukumaran Nair makes up a quartet of fellow Kanyakumari-ites. We simply rock ! (Pun intended.)

Oshana from Snapaka Yohannan (1963)

Over here, Christmas has come to be associated with shopping for gifts more than anything else. But I come from a time and place where Christmas meant the thrill of browsing for that perfect greeting card, waiting for the postman to deliver the day’s new batch of greeting cards, chilly mornings of what passes as winter for us, the luxury of half-yearly exam break, carolers on the streets, an atrocious Santa Claus  (No, I should say Christmas Papa), Nativity cribs, our neighbour’s luscious fruit cake and of course, catching some Biblical movies on TV.

Merry X’mas, everyone.

5 thoughts on “X’mas Flashbacks | The drop-dead handsome Snapaka Yohannan (1963) and the memorable Kanyakumari trio

  1. Enjoyed your Christmas memories Remy and Susie and it was interesting to read the difference in the nature of celebrations between the East and West.

  2. Remitha
    Thanks for the memories. For me Christmas meant a set of new clothes for all of us, and a feast, and taking a pack of snacks to all our neighbours. (At Onam we got it all back ten fold 😀 ) Velleppam and Stew, Achappam, Kuzhalappam, Lamb Biriyani. And the most important Christmas Cake with lots of icing, and the Christmas Carols. It was only many many years later that movies were associated with the celebrations. We were also shown movies by the nuns at school. Ten Commandments and Jesus. By the Stations of the Cross scenes, it was a wailing fest in the hall. 🙂

    I only got to see Jose Prakash’s charismatic and handsome Yohannan only recently, although I had heard, and have always been fascinated by the story told in “Daivaputhranu Veedhiyorukkuvaan” from Aranaazhikaneram. I thought his performance in it was perfect to a T.

    As you said, the highly commercialised Christmas here is all about sales and Santa Claus and the presents he brings. Celebrating Jesus and his birth is mostly forgotten.

    Festive greetings, A very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year to all.


    1. Thank you Susie Chechi! i can imagine that wail fest;) Jose Prakash.. such delicate features:)
      Christmas movies in the US are all about Its a Wonderful Life and The Miracle on 34th Street.
      And a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you too!

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