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