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.
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.
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.
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