Koottukudumbam ( The Joint Family) was KPAC’s (read Thoppil Bhasi) statement against the existing rot that had set in social structure of the Joint Family system (the matriarchal kind) that was the foundation of Kerala’s traditional family system. Thoppil Bhasi‘s aim was to incite a re-look into the entire concept (which was already beginning to sway against the socialist winds of change that was blowing across the state), and was reasonably successful in translating what he had in mind on stage. Koottukudumbam’s screen version also saw the debut of one of the fantastic actors Malayalam cinema has been blessed to have, that of KPAC Lalitha. She played the same part of Saraswathi, the youngest daughter of the Joint Family on screen too, the silent, suffering woman who at last lashes out against her husband, as she is pushed to her limits. The film was memorable for her fabulous songs set to music by G Devarajan for lyrics by Vayalar.
The first in the series of the KPAC plays to be adapted on to the silver screen, the popularity of KPAC’s play which debuted in 1957 helped in its own way fuel up the popularity of its screen version too. The movie was produced by TK Pareekutty for his Chandrathara Productions, and was the debut of Ramu Kariat, Adoor Bhasi and S.Konnat – the art director who would later become a staple for all of Udaya’s productions, specially the Vadakkan Pattukal. The main roles of the village rebel Rajan was played by Sathyan ( O Madhavan in the stage version), his lady love Chellamma was Miss Kumari( KPAC Sulocahana in the stage adaptation), and the play had even won the the Kerala Sahitya Academy award for best literary work in the drama category in 1959.
There is some confusion regarding these two drama productions included in the KPAC compilation of Drama Songs. For one, they DO NOT feature in the “official KPAC List of Dramas” as published on their website.
Update : 15 July 2010 The celebrated musicologist, columnist and Malayalam Cinema archivist B.Vijaykumar , confirmed that these two productions were from Kerala Theaters and had nothing to do with KPAC !!!!
The probable reason was that both the productions, Visharikku Kaattu Venda and Kathirukanakkili were creations of Ponkunnam Varkey, the enfant terrible of Malayalam Literature, and as such were very, very popular on the drama circuit. Maybe HMV was milking the franchise dry with stuffing the last soundbyte on vinyl and getting the ‘maximum dough’ out of it.
But then again, there were songs that were equally popular in the KPAC dramas selected, like Neram Mangiya from Mudiyanaya Puthran that didn’t make the cut.
Ningal Enne Communistakki ( You made me a Communist )
Of the 12-odd dramas that were adapted to film, the ones that were the most popular had to be Mudiyanaya Puthran and Ningalenne Communistaakki. And amongst the duo, this had the upper hand. If not for anything, but for the fact that Prem Nazir, Sathyan shared space with KT Ummer, a veteran from KPAC , who would go on to become one of the most handsome villians, made all the more better with his signature style of dialogue delivery and mannerisms.
The drama was the defining production that dexterously weaved in the principles of collective ownership, struck against the fiefdoms created by caste strictures and the ensuing poverty in Kerala’s prevailing social system, exhorting people to rise up and fight it, portrayed through the lives of a crumbling, gone-to-seed Illam (a sort of Manor House ) whose head was still stuck on past glory, and the son who was unemployed, firebrand and ripe for a revolution with a cause.
Playwright – Thoppil Bhasi
Lyrics- Vayalar Ramavarma
Music- MB Sreenivasan and K Raghavan
Direction- Thoppil Bhasi
Ashwamedham and the one that followed, Sarasayya addressed the same issue through the drama – the social stigma surrounding Leprosy as a contagion. Though the drama was instrumental in increasing the awareness of the “rights” of a section of the society which was deliberately kept out of the mainstream, the film version was a far cry from the original script, wallowing in melodrama and pithy glycerine histrionics. The movie adaptation was shot entirely in the Leprosy Sanatorium in Nooranadu, the only one in Asia. Even the drama was freely staged for the inmates of the Sanatorium by Thoppil Bhasi.
Playwright – Thoppil Bhasi
Lyrics – ONV Kurup
Music – G Devarajan
Direction – Thoppil Bhasi
One interesting fact about all the KPAC dramas which were adapted for the screen was the fact that none of the songs that made it such a social phenomenon and contributed to the popularity in the first place, were NEVER repeated on screen! For Mudiyanaya Puthran ( The Prodigal Son), a new set was written by P. Bhaskaran, released in 1961.
Lyrics : ONV Kurup | Music : G.Devarajan.
1. Chillimulam Kaadukalil ~ Sung by : K S George.
The song was about the naughty, playful breeze rustling up the neighborhood bamboo thicket with a tune on its lips. A sliver of thought that takes a lot of time getting used to, in this age of almost zero patience thresholds, more like – “You got time to chat up with the evening breeze?!!!!” Bah!
I don’t think there has been any other theater movement or for that matter any movement in any state in India, that has entertained, and with it sown the seeds of social rethinking and transformation the way KPAC (Kerala Peoples Arts Club) did for Kerala. I guess along with the central theme of the subjects that stalwarts like Thoppil Bhasi chose for the productions, the songs composed by the popular team of ONV-Devarajan was a big draw that brought people to watch them. Even though the compilation from HMV of KPAC’s drama songs is now on CD, I can never thank those audio engineers enough for leaving the hiss, the scratches and the rumble intact. All I have to do is close my eyes, and its as if KPAC Sulochana is right there on stage, rocking the stage with Cheppu kilukkana changathi ( from Mudiyanaya Puthran, 1960) . In an interview with The Hindu in 2005, Devarajan Master has shared some interesting details on the efforts that went in to produce the compilation.