70 YEARS OF MALAYALAM CINEMA
 
 
K.L. Sreekrishna Das
 
 
    Malayalam Cinema completes 70 years . The first Malayalam film  'Vigatha Kumaran' was produced by Shri J.C. Daniel in 1928. It was a silent film . The next film was 'Marthanda Varma' produced in 1933 by Shri B. V. Rao. The first sound film in Malayalam, 'Balan', was produced in 1938 by Shri S. Nottani.

    The progress of production of Malayalam films was very slow during the next few years. One film each was produced in 1940, 1941, 1948 and 1949.
 

Growth

    1950 saw a great leap forward, with production of six films. The first major film studio, Udaya, was set up at Alleppey in 1947 followed by P. Subramaniam's Merryland at Thiruvananthapuram. The early Tamil-Hindi films dealt with mythological themes, whereas Malayalam films showed an inclination for handling social issues. The first social film was "Jeevitha Nauka" released in 1951.

    The President's Silver Medal for the second best film was won in 1954 by the film 'Neela Kuyil'. Scripted by the prominent novelist P.C. Kuttikrishnan, the film dealt with the subject of untouchability. It had a number of excellent songs done by P. Bhaskaran who was to become one of the popular lyricists in the coming years. Henceforth, Malayalam cinema started establishing its own cultural identity.

    The film 'Newspaper Boy' produced in 1955 was another important milestone. This was a realistic film based on the story of an orphaned boy. Though it was not a commercial success, it paved way for serious film makers.

    From the early 1960s, Malayalam film makers began making films based on popular novels and dramas. This trend was more visible in the late 60s and early 70s. The general production standards were also improved and out-door shooting became frequent. Popular literary works of Thakazhi, P. Kesava Dev, Muttathu Varkey, Thoppil Bhasi, S.L. Puram and Vaikom Muhammad Basheer were taken up for production of Malayalam films.

    In 1966, the Malayalam film "'Chemmeen" (Prawn) based on Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai's famous novel of the same name, directed by Ramu Kariat received the President's Gold Medal for the best film.

    Other acclaimed films were 'Iruttinte Athmavu' (soul of Darkness) - 1967, scripted by M.T. Vasudevan Nair and directed by P. Bhaskaran; 'Olavum Theeravum' (Waves and the Shore) scripted again by M.T. Vasudevan Nair and directed by P.N. Menon.
 

Music

    In the initial years, the lyricists used to write songs according to the tunes of popular Hindi and Tamil songs. However, the arrival of popular poets like P. Bhaskaran (1950), O.N.V. Kurup (1955), Vayalar Rama Varma (1956) and brilliant music directors like V.Dakshinamurthy (1950), K. Raghavan (1954), G.Devarajan (1955) and M.S. Babu Raj (1957) on the scene changed the scenario.

    This welcome trend was followed by poets like Sreekumaran Thampy and Yusaf Ali Kecheri. Among the early playback singers were Kanukara Purushothaman, K.P. Udayabhanu and A.M. Raja. Popular female playback singers included P. Leela, Santha P.Nair, P. Susheela and Janaki.

    Even though A.M. Raja, P. Susheela and Janaki hailed from Andhra Pradesh, Malayalis had no hesitation in accepting them as Kerala's own singers. Later on many such singers from outside Kerala, like Manna Dey, Talat Mehmood, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle and S.P. Balasubramanian lent their voice to Malayalam films. Even music directors like Naushad, Usha Khanna, Ravi Bombay and Ilaya Raja from other states composed music for Malayalam films.

    The uncrowned king of Malayalam playback singers, Yesudas, continues to be the most popular singer of Kerala even at the age of 58 and has, in fact, become a living legend.
 

Eminent Directors

    Adoor Gopalakrishnan who appeared on the scene with Chitralekha Film Society, directed the film "Swayam Varam' in 1972. Later, he made 'Kodiyettam', 'Elipathayam', 'Mukha Mukham', 'Mathilukal', 'Vidheyan', and 'Katha Purushan', which won national and international acclaim.

    Aravindan was another important film director, who started his career with the film 'Utharayanam'. His other films'Kanjana Seetha', 'Thampu', Kummatti', 'Esthapan', 'Pokku Veyil', and 'Chidambaram' also won universal recognition.

    M.T. Vasudevan Nair's directorial venture 'Nirmalyam' won national honours. Most of the films scripted by him were masterpieces, like 'Vaisali', 'Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha', 'Perumthachan', and 'Parinayam'.

    Among other important film directors are Padmarajan, Bharathan, Shaji N. Karun, Sibi Malayil, K.G. George, T.V. Chandran, K.R. Mohanan, Lenin Rajendran, Pridyadarshan, I.V. Sasi and John Abraham.
 

Actors and Actresses

    Thikkurisi Sukumaran Nair was a father figure of Malayalam films. He was a script writer, lyricist, director and versatile actor. The heroes who ruled over Malayalam film kingdom were Sathyan and Prem Nazir. Raghavan, Sudheer, Vincent, Sukumaran and M.G. Soman came later. Some of the popular heroes of the present day are Mohan Lal, Mammutty and Suresh Gopy, Jayaram and Mukesh . Among the earlier notable heroines were Padmini, Madhu, Ragini, Sheela, Sarada and Jaya Bharati. Then came Ambika, Menaka, Manisha, Sobhana, Manju Warrier and Divya Unny.

    There has been no dearth of brilliant character actors and comedians in Malayalam films. The very concept of romantic hero was shattered to pieces by the appearance of Gopi as the hero in 'Kodiyettam'.
 

Governmental Support

    The State Government has instituted annual film awards, and provided concessions in the form of tax exemption for deserving films, and subsidy and package programmes for films shot in studios. The State-owned Chitranjali Studio has all facilities. A State Film Academy has just been started to help the film industry in the State.

    Central Board of Film Certification and the National Film Archives of India, Pune, have their Regional Offices at Trivandrum. The Films Division and the National Film Development Corporation also have branch offices at Trivandrum. The State Government owns three theatres in the capital city and a few in other towns.

    In addition to the Kerala Film Chambers, film artistes have an association called 'AMMA' and film technicians have an organisation called 'MACTA'. These organisations look after the interests of the film industry in Kerala. There are a number of popular journals in Malayalam.
 

National Recognition

    Some of the best films in India have been produced in Malayalam. National awards for the best film were won by 'Chemmeen'(1965), 'Swayamvaram' ( 1972), 'Nirmalyam'(1973), 'Chidambaram' ( 1985), 'Piravai' ( 1988), and 'Kathaporushan'. Malayalam film actors P J Antony, Balan K Nair, Gopi Premji, Mammutty, Mohan Lal, Suresh Gopi and Balachandra Menon have won national awards for best acting, while Sarada, Monisha and Sobhana bagged best actress awards. Yesudas, Jayachandran and Chitra have won best singer awards and Vayalar and O.N.V. Kurup , best lyricist award at the national level. Aranmula Ponnamma, Santha Devi, Nedumudi Venu and Tilakan have also won national awards in acting. Best cameraman awards were won by Santhosh Sivan, Mankada Ravi Varma and Venu while Sound recording awards were won by Devadas and Krishna Unni.

    Children's films like 'My Dear Kuttichathan', 'Kummatti' 'Manu Uncle' and 'Kochaniyan' have won national awards. The awards for the Best Director were won by Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Aravindan, Shaji, T.V. Chandran and Jayaraj.

    Many persons working in this field are men of eminence. Prem Nazir was a recipient of Padma Bhushan Award and Thikkurissai had received Padma Sree. Padma Sree was also conferred on Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Gopi, O.N.V. Kurup, and Mammutty. M.T. Vasudevan Nair is a Gyan Pith Award winner. Even though Cable TV has made strong inroads in Kerala, the number of theatre audience has not shown any significant decline. Malayalam films have come a long way since 1928 by providing wholesome entertainment and meaningful cinema to its viewers.