6 Iconic Scenes From Malayalam Cinema (Late 80s – 90s)

6 Iconic Scenes From Malayalam Cinema (Late 80s – 90s)

During summer vacations when I was in school, I used to spend most of my time indoors. My brother would be out playing cricket with his buddies. But I didn’t have any friends in the locality and used to just curl up with a book. I also used to watch one B&W movie a day with Pappu thatha, my paternal grandfather -these were classics from the 60s and 70s and used to be aired every morning at around 11AM on DD Malayalam (if my memory serves me right.) Some of the most memorable ones include Aswamedham, Pareeksha, School Master, Kavyamela, and Murappennu.

I suspect my love for Malayalam cinema stems from these matinee experiences I had as a child. Even today, after a tough day at work, my favourite way of relaxing is to watch an old Malayalam movie (the period depends on my mood for the day) – sometimes I skip through the songs to the parts I love most; sometimes, I read up trivia about the movie or its actors or crew. For those few hours, I am transported back to those days – the Keralam of those times. And it is truly an escape.

In this post, I am compiling some of the most poignant scenes from Malayalam movies, in which there is some fine, nuanced moments of acting. These scenes have moved me – sometimes to tears, sometimes not – but they are powerful, and make you forget for those few moments that it is acting that you are seeing. That Maya and Siddharthan and Ammukkutty are not real people, but simply, characters brought to life by very talented actors.

So, here goes.

1. Oru Yatramozhi (A Final Goodbye) – 1997

Think about this movie, and the names that come to mind are those of stalwarts Sivaji Ganesan and Mohanlal. No doubt they have done a brilliant job of portraying Periyavar and Govindan Kutty. And they have received enough and more praise for their acting. But for me, the truly tragic figure in this movie is the character Appu Mama played by Nedumudi Venu. Here is a man whose life has been spent pining away for a woman who will never love him back. He hates himself for this weakness, but still, he cannot keep away from her. Knowing that till the very end, her heart belongs to someone else, being mocked and ostracized by his own relatives, knowing that she is using him for her own selfish needs time and again, Appu is unable to tear himself away.

In this scene, in which Gowri asks Appu to meet Periyavar and tell him to leave the village, you see all these emotions flit across Appu’s face: shock, angst, anger, and self-loathing. Because as much as he protests, “Should I be the one to do this too?”, he knows he will do it again – for her.

Oru Yatramozhi

Watch the scene here:
Oru Yatra Mozhi – Nedumudi, Bharathi

2. Ente Sooryaputhrikku (To My Unacknowledged Daughter) – 1991

Every time I watch this movie, SR has a wry grin on his face. He really doesn’t get why I would want to watch such a tragic movie. What captivates me really is Maya Vinodini, the character played by Amala. She is like a wounded animal – hurt and vulnerable because she doesn’t know who her parents are. Then again, she is a typical college girl, wanting to have fun, play pranks, and dally in a little romance. In the hands of a poorer script writer or actress, Maya Vinodini could have become a melodramatic and shallow caricature. But scripted by Fazil and acted out to perfection by Amala, she is in safe hands.

One of my favourite scenes in this movie is the one in which Maya comes to meet her mother, Vasundhara Devi, played by the beautiful Srividya. The soul stirring background score of this scene – punctuated by a harsh discordant note that embodies Vasundhara Devi’s shock – is simply brilliant. At first, it looks like Maya has the upper hand – she walks in as cool as a cucumber, and her mother is shaken. She gives out a false name – thereby, letting her mother know that she knows. But a little while after she leaves the room, she turns into this little girl who desperately wants her mother to acknowledge her. When Maya makes that call from the booth, her trembling fingers and the downturned corners of her mouth betray her desperate hopefulness, which dissolves into frustrated tears and anger as she is rejected again.

Ente Suryaputhrikku

Watch this scene here:

Ente Sooryaputhrikku – Srividya, Amala

3. Dasharatham (The Fate Of Dasharatha) – 1989

This is not one of my favourite movies, and I have watched it in its entirety perhaps only once. But what remains etched in my mind is the very last scene. Rajiv asks his maid Maggie, “Do all mothers love their children as much as Annie loves her son?” The disturbed Maggie replies in the affirmative. Then, unexpectedly, Rajiv asks her, “Can you love me, Maggie?” Maggie is shocked.

In the few seconds after asking this question, Mohanlal shows just how brilliant an actor he is. Various emotions flit through his face – a bit of a laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation, his deep sadness, a ‘squaring up his shoulders’ and getting ready to move on decision… So much that is said in a span of 3-4 seconds.

Watch the scene here:

Dasharatham – Mohanlal, Sukumari

4. Devasuram (Of Gods & Demons) – 1993

This movie has a larger-than-life hero, songs, action, romance, and a happy ending. By all definitions, it is a wholesome entertainer. But definitely not shallow or superficial. There is not even a modicum of melodrama: the dramatic element in this movie is tuned to that fine heightened pitch where it is most appealing. A trifle more: an extra word in the dialogue, an additional gesture or expression on an actor’s face, a different background score – could have ruined the scene. But Devasuram triumphs on every count.

My favourite scene in this movie is the one in which Oduvil Unnikrishnan comes to meet his fallen hero and friend. He refuses to step into the courtyard, confessing that he does not have the courage to see the fallen Mangalassery Neelakantan. He would rather hold on to the image he has been carrying about in his mind.

Before leaving, he recites a six line poem that is a poignant elegy to Krishna who is lying wounded by a hunter’s treacherous arrow. Sung in MG Radhakrishnan’s voice, this is the poem.

Vande mukunda hare, jaya shaure,

Sandapa hari murare!

Greetings, O Mukunda, brave warrior, destroyer of all sorrows!

Dwapara chandrika charchithamaam ninte

Dwaraka puri evide?

Where is your kingdom Dwaraka, where the moon of the Dwapara Yuga used to rise?

Peeli thilakkavum, kolakkuzhal paattum,

Ambadi paikkalum evide?

Where is the sheen of peacock feathers, the song of your flute, and the grazing cattle of Ambadi?

Kroora nishadha sharam kondu neerumee

Nenjil en aatma pranam

I bow to your heart that is bleeding from the cruel arrow of the nishada

Prema swaroopanam sneha sateerthyante

Kaalkalen kanneer pranamam

I bow, tearfully, at the feet of my dear friend, who is the very embodiment of love

Watch the scene here:

Devasuram: Oduvil Unnikrishnan, Mohanlal

5. Aalkoottathil Thaniye (Alone In A Crowd) – 1984

My father had a book of the collected scripts of MT Vasudevan Nair, and I have spent many hot summer days lying on my stomach in the upstairs bedroom, reading Kuttyedathi, Perunthachan, and Nirmalyam. Funnily enough, I still have not watched any of these movies – yet, the characters and the dialogues and the scenes are imprinted in my mind.

Aalkoottathil Thaniye is an MT movie that is neither an outright entertainer (like Pazhassi Raja or Oru Vadakkan Veera Gadha) nor a tragic drama (like Nirmalyam or Kuttyedathi). It doesn’t have a particularly detailed story – everything revolves around the anticipated death of Balan K Nair – nor memorable songs. In fact, it actually has a reasonably happy ending. But the one character that remains in your mind long after the movie ends is that of Ammukkutty, played by Seema. We see her evolve from an innocent and playful lover, to a mature and supportive woman, and finally, a tragic figure who proudly refuses to let you point out the tragedy of her life or pity her.

In this scene, Vinod (an old friend of Rajan, the character played by Mammootty) comes to meet him, and mistakes Ammukkutty for Rajan’s wife. She manages to correct his presumption, and cautiously, he asks Ammukkuty, “So, then you…?” Ammukkutty replies, “Me? I… I live here by myself…”

She says so much by saying so little, and Vinod’s sense of disbelief and pity is palpable. He goes away, disillusioned, no longer keen on meeting Rajan.

Aalkoottathil Thaniye

Watch the scene here:

Aalkoottathil Thaniye: Seema, Mohanlal

6. Paithrukam (Heritage or Legacy) – 1993

This is a movie in which the story and script outshine the perfectly adequate acting. The scene I have chosen here is also similar – more than the acting, it is the dialogue and the direction that take centrestage.

The radical atheist Somadathan (Suresh Gopi) has learned that he has just had a son. He tells his father, the priest Chemmathirippadu (Narendra Prasad) that he doesn’t want his son to be brought up according to Vedic beliefs, because he himself doesn’t believe in any of them.

“My son must grow up according to my wishes – I want my son to be like me!!” he declares arrogantly. To which the Chemmathirippadu replies sadly, almost paintively, “But I did not insist thus about my own son!”

The stricken Somadathan turns away, speechless.

Watch the scene here:

Paithrukam – Suresh Gopi, Narendra Prasad


12 thoughts on “6 Iconic Scenes From Malayalam Cinema (Late 80s – 90s)

  1. Dear Gowri,
    I felt as if someone was describing the deep connection I have with malayalam films. It is so delightful to have run into this blog. I just wrote my first book on malayalam cinema and the book will be released shortly. It is titled ‘Reel to Real’, and I have basically attempted an exploration of the human mind through an analysis of the characters in malayalam cinema. If you are interested, please let me know. I have sent you a text on facebook. Thank you!

    1. Hi Vidya, I am so sorry for such a long delay in responding. I was on a hiatus and it is sheer delight to connect with someone like you when I got back on the blog. It makes me feel that there are others like me and that I should go on writing. I would love to read your book – how can I get hold of it?

      1. Dear Gowri, Glad to see your reply! I thought I was being very hasty and impulsive in posting a comment that seemed to advertise my book 🙂 There was a time I would go about hunting for people who wanted to talk about old malayalam cinema- the 80s and 90s. I have never really been able to get myself off those, and I suppose my book was an outcome of that. So it was such a delight to stumble on your blog here. Please keep writing! My book is available at https://notionpress.com/read/reel-to-real

  2. Hi Gowri,

    Just came across your article. Very nice pick, and beautiful write up.
    BTW, may I ask you are you the daughter of writer T.P Kishore? In his book, I had read his daughter’s name was Gowri N Kishore.


    1. Thanks for sharing these, Madhavi.
      The climax scenes of Thaniyavarthanam and Yatra are both powerful, I agree. But I would not put them on my list because I feel they are heavy on drama.
      The situations are inherently melodramatic and the scenes involve overt emoting, strong colours and loud background scores. I’m not saying these are bad or don’t work – just that my list is about scenes in which minimalism in everything (dialogue, situation, emoting, background score) is key.
      Thanks for reading and commenting – I appreciate you stopping by! 🙂

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