Monday, May 13, 2013


“You have been blogging about old and new Malayalam movies, evergreen songs, posting reviews of the new Malayalam releases etc all these days. Now, tell me something, which according to you are the two best ever Malayalam Movies made to date?” my friend and colleague Mohan Kumar from Kochi posed this question to me suddenly out of the blue. I could sense an underlying tinge of challenge in his poser, a subtle attempt to have me stymied. This set me thinking for a long time. Yes, there are many good Malayalam movies, some very good Malayalam movies and a few superb movies but which are the two best ever Movies made to date in Malayalam? Now what are the attributes of a best ever movie in any language, I pondered.

I enjoyed the movie; I came out of the cinema, discussed about it and recommended it to my friends. No, not good enough because I remembered the movie only till I see the next good movie and the previous movie I have seen took a backseat and slowly faded out of my mind. I realized that the best ever movie should touch a chord in me, make an impact on me and I should remember the movie for a long time to come. How long? A year, five years, ten years, twenty years or forever?

Suddenly the puzzle cleared and two of the best ever Malayalam Movies made (in my opinion) came to my mind. Yes, both these movies touched a chord in me, made an impact on me and I remember these movies for decades, the first one for nearly forty years and the second for more than thirty years. It cannot get better than this, can it?

The Movies are “Nirmalyam” (1973) and “Elippathayam” (1981) and both these movies stand apart from the runoff the mill Movies you get to see every other day.

 നിര്‍മ്മാല്യം NIRMALYAM (1973)

‘Nirmalyam’ means Darshan of the Deity in the Temple early in the morning before the Deity is adorned with flowers and jewels for the devotees to see and worship during the day i.e. seeing the Idol exactly the same way as it was left at the time of closure, the previous night. In the movie the meaning of ‘Nirmalyam’ denotes the leftovers of previous day’s offerings.

‘Nirmalyam’ was based on M. T. Vasudevan Nair’s short story ‘Pallivaalum Kaal chilambum and MT himself wrote the script, dialogues and directed the film.  The film was shot in Mookkuthala, a nondescript village in South Malabar District. The film is about Kerala at the crossroads of modernization and focused on the neglect of old Temples in remote villages and hardships faced by the families dependent on temples. ‘Nirmalyam’ also pointed an accusing finger at dire neglect of the traditional arts of Kerala.


Nirmalyam is all about veteran actor P.J. Antony’s stunning performance as Melekkavu Velichapad, who despite his abject poverty firmly believes that Goddess Melekkavu Bhagavathi has the bigger picture in Her mind and will alleviate his distress. It is P.J. Antony all the way and his brilliant histrionics as Velichpad is visible in every frame of Nirmalyam and one cannot have enough of it.
The Movie starts with the Melsanthi (Chief Priest) of the Melekkavu Bhagavathi Kshetram quitting his post as the dilapidated Temple is devoid of funds to conduct regular Poojas or pay salary or rice to the Priest. A new Priest is appointed in a hurry so that the daily Poojas don’t come to a standstill and Brahmadattan (Ravi Menon) a young Nampoothiri arrives and takes charge as Melsanthi.
The Velichapad’s family lives in abject poverty as with the changing times people have lost faith in the old traditions of Kerala and there are no takers for the Velichapad or his soothsaying skills. The Velichapad’s unemployed son Appu turns into a rebel and speaks and acts against temple traditions to the extend of defying his father who is dedicated to his job at the Temple. The Velichapad’s wife Narayani (Kaviyoor Ponnamma) struggles to run the household what with the meager income they get from the temple has also stopped. This drives the Velichapad to go around the village begging for alms to feed his starving family.
In a very emotional scene where the Velichapad is insulted for begging he cringes and longingly reminisces about the good old days when he and his family were living in abundance and listens to a Pulluvan and his wife singing 'Naavaru' in his courtyard in praise of his Unni (son). Please take a moment to savor this Pulluvan Paattu a brilliant composition by Maestro K. Raghavan to Edasseri’s lyric mellifluously rendered by K. P. Brahmanandan and Padmini.
Music: K. Raghavan, Lyric: Edasseri, Singers: Brahmanandan and Padmini

It is indeed unfortunate that the traditional Pulluvan Paattu is totally neglected and this folk art is dying a slow death.
The new priest Bhrammadattan falls in love with Ammini (Sumitra) the Velichapad’s daughter. Poverty hits the family hard and the Velichapad’s son Appu triess to sell his father’s Sacred Sword and Chilambu which are meant for performing the temple rituals, and an altercation breaks out between father and son that results in Appu being thrown out of the house and he leaves the village forever.
A deadly disease hits the village and the villagers believe that the disease is a manifestation of the curse of the Goddess who is angered because of the neglect of Her temple. The Velichapad decides to conduct a Kuruthi to appease the goddess and the villagers start flocking to the temple much to his delight and preparations for the ‘Kuruthi' festival begin. The new priest Brahmadattan seduces Ammini and runs away from the village. To make matters worse, on the day of the Kuruthi the Velichapad is shocked to find out that his wife Narayani has been selling her body to Kunjandi the local loan shark to keep the home fire burning.
Nirmalyam ends with an emotion packed scene where the Velichapad gets into frenzy, dances in front of the Goddess, spits at Her face, violently strikes his own body with the sacred sword, till he falls down dead. Please view this scene as a mark of standing ovation to the Late actor P.J. Antony for his brilliant effort in touching the ultimate in histrionics:
Nirmalyam was the debut film for the Late Sukumaran, Ravi Menon and Sumitra. The cast also includes Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair, Kaviyoor Ponnamma, Sankaradi, Santha Devi and Kuthiravattom Pappu in a cameo. It is said that the Velichapad’s role was first offered to Sankaradi who declined it saying he did not have the body structure or the agility that the role demanded and he himself recommended P.J. Antony for that role. 
Nirmalyam won a galore of awards including the National Award for the best Feature Film in 1973, Kerala State Film Award for the Best film, Kerala State Film Award for the Best Dialogues besides the National Film Award to P.J. Antony for the Best Actor.

 എലിപ്പത്തായം ELIPPATTHAYAM (1981) 

‘Elippathayam’ written and Directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan is still considered to be one of the most outstanding pieces in Adoor Gopalakrishnan's filmography to date. The Film portrays Unni, the last male descendant of an erstwhile disintegrating feudal system, as a rat caught in a trap because he is either unable to accept the changes taking place in the society around him or does not want to accept these changes. Unni avoids confrontation with the changing reality taking refuge under his false-pride and self-imposed silence. Now, only the shadows remain, and Unni and his sisters, Janamma (Rajam K. Nair), Rajamma (Sarada) and Sreedevi (Jalaja) languish in the shadows.


Elippathayam is set in a derelict house of an aristocratic family that has seen better days. Unni is brilliantly portrayed by Karamana Janardhanan Nair by subtly underplaying the character of the patriarch who spends most of his day in idleness and sleeping. His only activities are reading the newspaper and oiling himself. He is incapable of taking care of himself without his sisters, and cannot face the taunts and the insults of his extended family and the villagers. He needs to be propped up by his sisters who cook for him, clean for him, and do chores for him. He is unable to come to terms with the changing world outside. The characteristics of Unni is demonstrated by the way he treats his servants, the way he scoffs at and insults a visiting young man who is employed in the Gulf and how he treats Rajamma, his sister who takes care of him. 

The Video clip below from Elippathayam showcases Unni’s character perfectly to a T. Unni grooms himself by removing the grey hairs from his mustache, gets dressed and leaves home to attend a marriage and when he had to cross a muddy bog on the way, he cancels his trip and returns home for fear of dirtying his feet and clothes. This clip also demonstrates Unni’s laziness and when a stray cow enters his courtyard looking for some feed, how he does not not even bother to get up from his seat to shoo away the cow and shouts for his sister Rajamma who promptly swings into action to chase the cow away.
Janamma, the eldest of the three sisters is street-smart as she has survived within the patriarchy by marriage and bearing children. Her main concern is to claim her share of the family property and income for which Unni has disowned any responsibility and the ancestral property and income there from is managed by an old retainer for whom Unni has no respect. Janamma is portrayed as intransigent and selfish woman.

Rajamma the second sister, a spinster in her early forties, is gentle, submissive and is incapable of charting her life on her own outside the patriarchy. She constantly works for and faithfully looks after her brother Unni. Rajamma’s life is destroyed by the inaction and cowardice of her brother, who turns down an alliance for her when she wants to get married because in his false sense of feudal ego he feels that his sister should not marry a widower and he stands as a mute spectator doing nothing when Rajamma is ailing and dying because of his cowardice.

Sridevi, the youngest sister symbolizes revolt, youth and life. She is pretty and highly concerned about her looks. She realizes that her life will be doomed within the patriarchy because of the false sense of ego and cowardice of her brother and runs away from the family with her lover to carve a life for herself. Unni does not even bother to look for his sister Sridevi.

Rajamma helplessly watches Unni’s all encompassing paranoia and ultimately collapses under her physical and mental strain. Unni just watches his sister’s unconscious condition as a mute spectator and it is the SOS call from the milkmaid that prompts the villagers to carry her dead body like carrying away a dead rat right under the guilty eyes of her brother.
Left all alone to fend for himself, Unni locks the house and refuses to communicate with the outside world. In the darkness of the house he waits for his doom like a trapped rat. In the last scene unknown hands drag Unni to the pond where Sridevi used to drown the rats she trapped and standing in the water Unni cringes begging his imaginary assailants for mercy and the curtain closes.

Elippathayam won the Silver Lotus Award for Adoor Gopalakrishnan for the Best Regional Film (Malayalam) and another  Silver Lotus Award for the Best Audiography, both in 1982. It also won the British Film Institute (UK) Award for the Most Original imaginative Film at the National Film Theater besides the Sutherland Trophy at the 1982 London film Festival. 

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