In 1988, actor Kaduvakkulam Antony had brought out a Directory on the Actors and Actresses of Malayalam Film Industry quaintly titled, “മലയാള സിനിമ : ആരംഭം മുതല് ഇന്ന് വരെയുള്ള താരങ്ങളുടെ ജീവ ചരിത്രം.” Vijayasree‘s profile starts off this way,
The early editions of Vadakkan pattukal that came out from Udaya studios had a delightful set of commonalities. The scripts were either by TK Sarangapani or N Govindankutty, and until Sheela came along, it was Ragini who brought to life the women-centric ballads onscreen. I have tried to feature the ones that TK Sarangapani and Ragini came together in this post, and then go on to the similar roles Ragini did in other Malayalam Cinema productions (both for Udaya and others), and onto the Vadakkan Pattukal scripted by N Govindankutty.
The genre of Vadakkan pattukal in Malayalam cinema as we know it, starts with Udaya Studio’s Unniyarcha (1961). In addition to creating a genre out of thin air, Sarangapani also set the template for all the future ones to follow. Iwould say with some reasonable amount of conviction that even Unniyarcha (1961) was the blueprint for Hariharan‘s magnum opus Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha (1989), even to the point of borrowing sequences and scenes, but with a far greater sensibility of the medium than its Black and White predecessor.
With TK Sarangapani’s passing, Malayalam cinema lost something significant that it would have never even realised in the first place (or though realised, callously relegated it to those places where one normally stores stuff which don’t have ‘dollar’ value) – he was the last living custodian of Udaya studio’s history, one who was Udaya Studio’s soul-keeper (I know that sounds tacky but that comes close to it). Sarangapani, who was virtually whisked away in his work clothes from his ‘lowly’ existence as a seamster at the Alleppey South Indian Rubber Works to the the hallowed portals of Udaya Studio bowled over Kunchacko, the reigning emperor of Malayalam Cinema ( read Udaya Films) with his very first attempt in rewriting a couple of lines of Moidu Padiyath‘s screen adaptation of Umma (1960).
Another artiste that was a part of the Malayalam Cinema for five decades, passed away silently into the dusty public memory archives. Five decades, ladies and gentlemen ! ( Read that against the shelf life of the current crop of actors who do not go beyond single digits). As the famous Adoor Sisters of Malayalam Cinema, with the elder sibling, Adoor Bhavani, they were a delightful combination, whose characterizations was almost pigeonholed for their roles on screen. As the elder one brought the vile, acerbic mother-in-law or the brooding, muttering Granny to life on screen, Pankajam was the brash, spunky and loud wife/grandmother – and the duo, regardless of whatever the demands of the script, mostly rendered their lines in the sing-song tone of central Travancore, something that was always a delight to listen to. It must also have been because of the fact that Adoor was a stone’ throw away from our little hamlet.
Though the Northern Ballads and its variations had been adapted to local folk theater, I think the reigning God of Malayalam film production Sri. Kunchacko who owned the biggest studio of those times, Udaya saw the mother lode of a possibility by translating them on screen. Sri.Kunchacko, I think, was the Yash Chopra of the Malayalam film industry.He started off the filmi ballads with Unniarcha, a B& W production, in 1961.
Sri.Kunchacko added variations, brought in new characters, spun off sub-stories, all of them wrapped up in the same gaudy, kitschy costume trains and ornaments borrowed straight from the local theater. I always thought there was a divine connection between the bright and flaring silk embellishments to its ‘original’ counterparts across the sea, the Samurais of Japan! 🙂
Way back in the mid-60’s, Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone transformed spaghetti westerns to such a degree that these movies walked right out of Hollywood and caught the fancy of millions of cine-goers all around the world. It still maintains its chunk of admirers in India – the Texan drawl, the ‘fastest draw’ and a fancy for Louis L’Amour – all of them pointers to the fascination for the sheer effect of incredulity and larger-than-life characters who were progeny of a harsh, unforgiving landscape and glorified the underdog’s tilt at social class windmills.