Do you remember watching the Shankar-Gowri love story-based on a screenplay by MT Vasudevan Nair unfolding on the big screen?
A poignant tale of two lovers kept in captivity, who were made to dance to the cruel tunes of their masters ? Two lovers who decided to escape from the chains and clutches of the evil villians, to everlasting freedom. Produced by Gandhimathi Balan, the movie was a runaway hit when released in 1985 and most probably every 33+ kid out here might have watched this movie. Shankar and Gowri- the hit pair, were newcomers and to the best of my knowledge, their only screen outing ever. Here is a clue if its still hazy – Shankar and Gowri were monkeys, and the movie was Kaadinte Makkal, released in 1985.
As a kid living in Thiruvananthapuram during the 80’s, the highlight was going to Sreekumar theatre to see live action movies in which animals were the stars. I remember seeing some of the Lassie movies, a few in the Benji series, The Ugly Dachshund, The Cat From Outer Space, Monkeys Go Home, The Horse in the Grey Flannel Suit, That Darn Cat, Zebra in the Kitchen, Clarence the Cross-eyed Lion, The Last Giraffe, Bedtime for Bonzo and its sequel Bonzo Goes to College, Digby: The Biggest Dog in the World, Born Free, Living Free, The Shaggy Dog and its sequel The Shaggy DA, The Million Dollar Duck, The Black Stallion Part I and II, The Golden Seal etc. Dean Jones (not the cricketer) was my Hollywood hero.
I also was a serious reader cum collector of the Enid Blyton animal books like Shadow the Sheepdog, Bimbo and Topsy, and of course of our Aithihyamala and Panchathantra stories. However, as I entered my teens, I deemed these things “kids stuff” and went into more serious movies! These days, I am a closet connoisseur of these types of movies- I buy them ‘for my kids’ and the movies that I ‘casually happened to buy’ include DVD’s of Black Beauty, Babe I & II, Racing Stripes, Bringing Up Baby, National Velvet, Beethoven Pentalogy, K-9 Trilogy, Dr. Dolittle series, Flipper, Horse Whisperer, Free Willy series, 101 Dalmatians, 102 Dalmatians, Dunston Checks In, Turner & Hooch, See Spot Run and more recently Furry Vengeance and Mr. Popper’s Penguins.
Dunston Checks In Movie Trailer (1996)
But animal movies, it seems, have been given a clean go by as far as the Malayalam film industry is concerned, and for that matter Indian film industry as a whole. This is most surprising because the most popular of the international animal movies – the classic Jungle Book (and a sequel Jungle Book II released almost 35 years after the original) is set in India. I still believe we haven’t yet exploited this genre to its fullest. Most often, animals were shown in the background of circus movies like Nayaru Pidicha Pulival (1958), Valarthu Mrugangal (1981)and Joker or in movies like My Dear Karadi, The Guard, Bhoomiyude Avakashikal, Ezhamathe Varavu etc. Actually, ‘background’ might be a phrase too mild to express their presence.
Who can imagine a movie like Itha Ivide Vare without the താറാവുകൾ; or Vijayanum Veeranum without Jose Prakash and his മുതല കുഞ്ഞുങ്ങൾ; My Dear Karadi without the കരടി and the recent movie Pigman without Suraj Venjaramoodu and the പന്നികൾ. How can one explain the psyche of one of the protagonists without the presence of the tiger in Ezhamathe Varavu? And who was the real anti-hero in Mrigaya- the leopard of course. And what made Ividam Swargamanu truly divine? It was Mathews (Mohanlal) and his farm with all types of cattle. Still remember Mohanlal’s dialogue “അവള്ക്കെ..ഒരു പശുവിൻറെ മുഖമോണ്ട്…അതാ എനിക്കവളെ ഇഷ്ടമായത്…” But in all these movies the animals themselves were never the stars- and sometimes (e.g.:- Nayaru Pidicha Pulival) they became a tool just to show the brawn and bravery of the hero. They were just there – that’s it. That said; there have been sporadic instances in which animals became the real stars on screen.
Jose Praksh’s Epic Muthalakunju Scene
Which was our first “Beautiful People” starrer ? Subject to correction I believe that Aana Valarthiya Vanambadi (1959) was our first animal- jungle movie. Though Miss Kumari played the titular role- the honours went to Bheeman (elephant) and Pedro aka Aadiyappan the monkey. The movie was followed 12 years later with the sequel Aana Valarthiya Vanambadiyude Makan.
The ‘Elephant’ Decade in Malayalam cinema
The 70’s had some interesting ‘Elephant movies’ hitting the screen. Sindhooracheppu (1971) with Madhu in the lead; Aanappachan (1978) with Prem Nazir and the classic Guruvayur Keshavan (1977) won accolades and were super hits. And Malayalees have always had a special liking for elephants and every two or three years an elephant movie used to hit the screens. Later years had movies like Kolakkomban, Aanakkorumma, Adiverukal, Aanchantham, the classic Gajakesariyogam, Prayikkara Pappan, Gajarajamanthram, Pattabhishekam – all had elephants playing a very important role. The love that exists between the protagonist and the elephant; or the concept of “an elephant never forgets” (!) had been convincingly exploited by the makers of these movies. I must also mention that elephant movies have also been popular in other parts of India. Who can forget the classic Haathi Mera Sathi starring Rajesh Khanna and the 1990 Tamil movie Durga (starring Baby Shyamili); or the popular television serial Appu aur Pappu – but by and large it has been the Malayalam film industry which has exploited the psyche of elephant love.
Guruvayur Keshavan (1977)
Ramu Kariyattu experimented with Ammuvinte Aattinkutyy – released in 1978. As the title suggests- the love and affection between a young girl and her goat is the crux of the plot. Based on a poem by KSK Thalikkulam, the movie moved on sentimental lines – with the buyer of the goat who had intended to have it for supper returning it to Ammu seeing her love and affection for it. The upcoming movie Aadu Oru Bheekara Jeevi Alla – it seems will also have a goat in the leading role. Let’s wait and see how the movie fares.
At this juncture, I must also mention a beautiful people movie that still languishing in the cans. ‘Snehapakshikal’ – a movie for kids, by the late Beypore Mani (2004 – his last movie) that couldn’t see the light of day because it was mired in Censor controversy was the tale of a warm, loving family and the three main protagonists – Chikku the rooster, Chinnu the hen, and Manikutty the calf. Problems over its release arose from the moment the film was submitted to the Censors – particularly over a scene where the character says that the hen has been killed and eaten. The Censor Board was insistent that the producer ‘produce’ the hen before them to show that no animals were harmed or killed during the shooting of the movie ! By that time the owner of the hen had sold the same, and nobody had any idea what happened to it – and to this day Snehapakshikal languishes in the can.
However, “Man’s best friend” – the dog, has not been shown as heroes on screen. Save for Jimmy (1978) a horror-cum- investigative thriller in which the title role was portrayed by a dog; Mudramothiram ( 1978 ) with Julie the dog who was the only friend of the orphaned child protagonist; and years later with CID Mososa- with the German Shepherd Arjun helping Moosa in his investigations – dogs seldom have taken centre space in Malayalam movies. Kummatti (1979) is another movie which deserves mention. A Kummatti, as part of his shape shifting magic changes children of a village into animals for a brief time. Within minutes he reverts them to their original- save for a young boy whom he misses out. How the boy/ dog – goes after the Kummatti to get back his original figure is the story of this Aravindan movie.
Daivathin Veedevide from Mudramothiram ( 1978 )
Kummatti and the aforementioned Ammuvinte Aattinkutty were a part of the double feature of Doordarshan way back in the Eighties on Children’s day – but am not sure that a Vcd/Dvd of the same is available. And as I write this, the Dileep movie Ringmaster is creating a box-office ruckus – with Toby (a St. Bernard) and Diana (a German Shepherd) playing a pivotal role in the success of this movie. Being a dog lover myself – I for one would sure like more canines onscreen in leading roles, and frankly would welcome a movie franchise like that of Benji or Lassie in Malayalam.
But the best ’Beautiful People’ movie in Malayalam, still happens to be Kaadinte Makkal and will remain so. This is the best animal movie I saw – way back in the mid – 80’s as a 8 or 9 year old kid with my parents. And I hope one day I would be able to enjoy this movie with my kids – sooner than later.