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The art and cinema of Padmarajan

Remembering the iconic Malayalam film director, P Padmarajan, on the year of his 75th birth anniversary

P C Muralidharan
Sep 07, 2021
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January harks the beginning of a new year. A beginning of hope and possibilities. Back in 1991, for fans of the genius Malayalam auteur and writer, Padmarajan, January couldn’t have been more bleak. He passed away in his mid-40s’, on January 24, 1991. Leaving behind a legacy of great literature and a range of fabulous movies. Padmarajan didn’t fall under the art embracing cinema of Aravindan, Adoor, or John Abraham. Neither did he go completely mainstream. His movies (along with Bharathan’s and KG George’s films), strode a mid-path. Resonating with the cerebral viewer and the common man alike.

A Writer Par Excellence

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Mohanlal as Jayakrishnan and Sumalatha as Clara in Thoovanathumbikal

Padmarajan was a writer first and a director next. He won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi award for his novel Nakshatrangale Kaaval in 1972, when he was only 27. Small wonder, the dialogues, and screenplay in his films, all written by him, used to sparkle with such brilliance.

Malayalam cinema has seldom heard a better proposal line than one that comes in Namakku Parkkan Munthirithopukkal: “Solomonde Song of Songs-il parayunna pole namukku gramangalil chennu rapaarkam, athikalathu ezhunette munthirithottangalil poyi munthirivalli thalirthu poovidukayum mathalanarakam pookukkayum cheytho ennu nokkaam…”.

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Mohanlal as Solomon and Shari as Sofia in Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal

Even a cinematic climax became poetic and poignant at the same time. Case in point: The hero’s last few lines in Season: “Veendum eniku therivu vilakkukal nashtamaagan pokunnu. Ithavana ethra kalathekku ennariyilla.”

The Artist And His Muse

And if you have watched these films, you might have noticed that both these lines were spoken by Mohanlal. Padmarajan and Mohanlal shared a special bond. The movies they made together, especially the ones between ’86 and ’89, brought the best out of Mohanlal, helping him become one of the finest actors, this country has seen. So was Padmarajan versatile? You bet.

A quick glance at some of the genres he touched upon, stand testimony to his range as a writer/director:

Thrillers — Season, Aparan.

Romance — Thoovanathumbikal, Namakku Parkkan Munthirithopukkal.

Psychoanalysis / Revenge — Peruvazhiambalam.

Folk idiom — Oridathu Oru Phayalvaan.

Identity Issues — Aparan and Innale.

Strong Women Characters

Another facet that remains etched in all his films are the women characters. Sofia in Namakku Parkan Munthirithopukkal, Clara in Thoovanathumbikal, Nimmi, and Sally in Deshadanakili Karayarilla and many others in his films were honest, strong, passionate, real, and powerful women. Only a master storyteller with a strong understanding of human emotions could have shaped such characters and anointed them with a variety of shades and hues.

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Karthika and Shari in Deshadanakili Karayarilla

Padmarajan was an anomaly among the luminaries who took Malayalam cinema to great heights in the ’70s and the ’80s. He was a consummate artist. A gifted writer, who left behind a plethora of great short stories and novels. His passing, 30 years ago, left a huge void that cannot be filled. Thankfully, we have his body of work that keeps lapping at us like waves on the shore, in all its eternal splendour.

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