Iruttinte Athmavu ( The Soul of Darkness ) has to be probably the first mainstream Malayalam film which highlighted the travails of the unsound mind on the silver screen through its main protagonist, Velayudhan, brought to life by Prem Nazir. At a time when candyfloss romances and insanely skewed and delightful CID capers were ruling the marquee, P Bhaskaran’s attempt in bringing this “social malaise’’ was a daring effort, similar to what he attempted with Ramu Kariat in Neelakkuyil (1954), bringing untouchability to the fore. I say social malaise from a broad perspective, as, even in this age of advanced medicine, our basic mindset of an unsound mind is still a “life, doomed”, to be lived in chains.
Padayottam, (Military Advance / Military Assault ), unlike its Anglicized pasty synonym, carries with it a churning, lethal, powerful force of dynamism, more like a virtual, deadly juggernaut promising fury, death and destruction. N Govindankutty, in his inspired screenplay from Dumas‘ The Count of Monte Cristo, ingeniously packs it all under the weary, steely visage of a lone being, back from the dead.Its a one-man revenge-machine, and unlike its parent story, the stakes are higher, much higher. Also, the primary emotions are vengeance and justice. Hope, mercy and forgiveness which seemed to have been buried along with the ‘former life’ of Udayan Thamburan ( Prem Nazir) thankfully appears for a crucial moment and disappears forever. Even if you take the list of the costume dramas aka screen adaptations from the Vadakkan Pattukal that came out of Navodaya ( and Udaya for that matter), this walked the fine line between the clunky, kitschy opulence and a unique story line that actually engaged you.
Prem Nazir, to me, shone with a eerie glow and exuded this creepy chill every time he chose to take those roles that lived in the twilight zone – that grey area where morality for reasons best know to itself, chose to rest behind closed doors. I think he could have been one of the finest ‘villians‘ ( a rather broad term, if you please ) of Malayalam cinema, had he gravitated towards those, than the treacle-covered ones that we are all so familiar with and have come to love, but then, it wouldn’t have been the same story altogether. It is surprising that this facet of his gets hardly any mention, save for the oft-repeated role from Azhakulla Celina in 1973, as the movie scribes snow you down with his roles that had his trademark characteristics that regaled us. [ The movie title in English spells Saleena, but try as I might, just didn’t have the heart to spell it that way here ]
I know it doesn’t get cheesier than this. but just couldn’t help it I somehow felt that I really had to get my hands on this movie by Sasi Kumar and watch it this Onam. With the movie produced in the early 80’s, the color palette was another compelling reason, and of course another chance to see our leading men in tights ! Though Sreekumaran Thampi had directed and produced one called Thiruvonam (1975), I doubt whether it had anything to do with Kerala’s favorite myth.
Knowing him, he would have been metaphorically speaking. (Note to self : Need to watch that too.) I think this was one of the rare movies where you saw MG Soman in a mythological role.
CID Nazir (1971) is arguably the best (smiling here) movie of that genre – the script was the perfect template, the actors outdid themselves in their parts as ‘secret’ agents, moving around in costumes that were awesomely chucklicious and they mouthed lines that would send any self-respecting script-writer into self-loathing. But mind you, it was pure fun. As I mentioned earlier, this was Venu’s second attempt at the CID ( The Crime Investigation Department ) genre and he did get it right this time around. Every time I watch this movie, my desire to own a pair of that vintage Rayban Olympian II shades rides up a notch. Man, what a pair of exotic coolers is that !
Thank God for James Bond and Dr No in 1962!
Else, as a genre, we would have terribly missed the Indian version of the 007 brand of bravado and panache, though by the time it transferred onto our Malayalam cinema screens, it was more of frothy, kitschy, cheesy, senseless, crazy mayhem ! It was, in all respects, a far cry from the ‘controlled exaggeration’ of the Hollywood version. By the time our directors finished with their versions, one left the hall seriously questioning one’s sanity and social tolerance levels. Our desi James Bonds were a sight to see, literally.
Of course, they were Abdul Khader and Sathyaneshan Nadar then. Aswathy Karnaver of the Indian Express has tracked down Indira Bayi Thankachi, the heroine of Thyagaseema (1951), the ill-fated debut movie of Sathyan, rolled out by Kaumudi Chief Editor K. Balakrishnan. It was also, sadly, her first and last stint under the arc lights performing for the silver screen. But what she has revealed to Ashwathy about the project is what surprised the pants off me. Apparently, along with Sathyaneshan Nadar, there was another incredibly handsome young man who went by the name of Abdul Khader in the project – our very own Prem Nazir !
There were seven songs in all composed for Bhargavi Nilayam, written by P Bhaskaran and set to music by MS Baburaj and its rare to find an entire set from a movie becoming perennial favorites, even after, 46 years ! It would be hard to find someone who loves Malayalam movies who hasn’t sang Thamasamenthe Varuvan to his dreamgirl, in his solitary, pining moments atleast once! Or for that matter, the Nightingale’s silken Pottithakarnna Kinavu never fails to tug at your heartstrings. I guess the only composition that got ‘overshadowed’ by the rest had to be the dance number, Anuraaga Madhuchashakam, but that, is also something that has its own uniqueness which I will share in a bit. There is a school of thought that leans towards the very fact that MS Baburaj adapted an already existing melody structure to his own style for Thamasamenthe varuvan and Vasantha Panchami nalil, but I don’t care. The compositions were pure genius, and if you haven’t heard them by now, do yourself a favor and do it.
The Beypore Sultan’s
only first Screenplay in Malayalam.
If only the Sultan wrote more Screenplays than short-stories and novellas. If only. This has to be one of the rare horror films in the history of cinema which is an absolute delight to watch with a half-smile on your lips. It is a movie that carries you away with its simplicity in narration ( yet regally eloquent if you think about it). Bhargavi Nilayam (Bhargavi’s Mansion), produced by PK Pareekkutty‘s Chandrathara Productions, was the debut directorial venture of the legendary cinematographer A Vincent, and had the screenplay written by the one and only Sultan of Beypore, Vaikom Muhammed Basheer. Shobhana Parameshwaran Nair, fondly recalls the journey they took to meet Vaikom Muhammed Basheer and coerce him to write a screenplay for them in the seminal documentary, Cinemayudey Kaalpadkual (more on that later!).
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).
MT Vasudevan Nair remembers Prem Nazir.
This is an article that appeared in Malayala Manorama‘s Onam Special, 2008 edition, where MT Vasudevan Nair remembers his dear friend, Prem Nazir. It also brings to for the warm and caring side of this literary colossus ( I just couldn’t find another expression), who recalls a friend who was always around in need and did deeds that helped many of his fellow beings rise above penury, pain and being paupers.