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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Padmarajan: A Loss in January

[Malayalam Movie director and writer 1945 - 1991]

Padmarajan died in a cold January, untimely. He was in a hotel at calicut, in the middle of a celebration of his latest film Njaan Gandharvan (I, the celestial enchanter), in 1991. It was as if audience of the show was subjected to a dismayed silence, and the show was stalled. I for one who had just begun waking upto adolescence and the charm of his creative genius, felt the void, instantly.

Padmarajan started his career as a writer. Unfortunately I have not read any of his books. I know him from his films. If the literary quality of his films is anything to go by, they must be a world to discover. In fact like most of the films, his first film was based on his own novel Peruvazhiyambalam (The grand roadway Inn, 1979). The movie tore down the mythical fence between popular and art house movies. He pioneered the middle of the road solution for commercially succesfull good films and began a short lived golden period of malayalam films alongside Bharathan, Aravindan and M.T. Vasudevan Nair.

The plot of Peruvazhiyambalam was set in a non-descript village somewhere in kerala. It revolved around Raman, an adolescent who inadvertantly killed Prabhakaran Pillai in a scuffle. Pillai, a local bully persecuted him and coveted his sister. After the incident Raman lived in hiding with the help of a truck driver and a prostitute. The movie ended with Raman's realization of his persona as a ravager of Pillai's hapless family. We find the extra-ordinary circumstances in the lives of ordinary people and the choices they made to deal with them.

However the movie was a riot in a deeper sense when Padmarajan ever so subtly slipped in the psychoanalytical threads to metatag the life of Raman in lieu of his insecurities as a teenager, his perceptions of sexuality and growth in a seemingly hostile world. Another aspect of the movie was the use of violence as a leitmotif, which later became an identity of his oeu·vre. He was perhaps the only indian director to deal with psychosis and clinical psychology with some competence. Its interesting to watch him map the animalistic psychological behaviour of his characters to the spatial fields of social consciousness, with an amazing flair for story telling.

Padmarajan is known for his native and localized plots and characters. It is a little unfair on the non-native viewer to pick up on the nuances, but then so was Faulkner's art and so was Ozu's art. I have marvelled at this comparison for sometime. Faulkner's southerner retard Benjy imparted a shock to the readers and similarly viewers were shaken by Padmarajan's blend of anarchist and sexually challenged protagonists.

He made Oridathu Oru Phayalvaan (There lived a wrestler, 1982), a folk parable about the success and failure in the life of a wrestler whose successes in the wrestling arena were starkly contrasted with his sexual impotency. This film portrayed the marginal characters (like the frog catchers) with such brilliance that the movie had an organic existence delineated in a multi dimensional narrative. It provoked an urgent and instant response from the audience. Kallan Pavithran (Pavithran, the thief, 1981) and Arappatta kettiya gramathil (The village with a waist band, 1986) - the story of a bunch of prostitutes and pimps in a village) had the stamp of his magic with precision, warmth and an empathy devoid of prejudice. It was life unclassified.

Like Ozu, Padmarajan was a story teller and relied on the total impact rather than partial brilliance. Philosophically he seemed to share Ozu's social conservatism and perennially interested in the concepts of epic and lyrical times. He even made a movie similar to Ozu's Tokyo Story, Thinkalazcha, Nalla Divasam (Monday, the Good Day).

He went on to make major movies such as Namukku Parkan Munthiri Thoppukal (1986) (Vineyards for us to live), Thoovanathumpikal (1987), Moonnaam Pakkam (The third day) (1988), Aparan (1988), Innale (1989) and finally Njan Gandharvan - 1991 (The Celestial Lover). Each movie followed a different genre in themes, techniques and plots. If the movie, Vineyards to live was an inspired take off on Solomon's song and a beautifull thought on the biblical promise of vineyard for each other by lovers, The Celestial lover was about the phantasmagoric life of a nubile where she found her heavenly lover out of the blue sky, only to be punished by higher powers.

Ironically Padmarajan vanished abruptly, amid life's celebration and at the peak of his almost ethereal creative powers. His films spanned a little over a decade. In the first half he displayed an exceptional ability to bring raw power and subliminal nature of human relationships and the next half lingered more on his liking for variety and experimentation. He endeared most of the viewers like myself with his earlier movies. I was hoping to watch him cover unchartered waters, with the unprecedented support from almost all sections of movie goers. Everything looked perfectly set. But then there was this intervention of death.

43 Comments:

Blogger Dev Kumar said...

Rajesh: Thanks for introducing me to Padmarajan and his work. I remember seeing Thinkalazcha, Nalla Divasam (Monday the Good Day) on Indian Television (Doordarshan) many years ago. I must say it shook me. Today I live with my parents - something very unplanned (life is what happens while you are busy making other plans!). But as I lend a hand to my mother by just being near my father and her I often remember this film. A few days ago I was thinking that the noise of Malayalam channels like Asianet and Surya keep me in touch with Kerala but they prevent me from seeing the real Kerala. On TV I see a Kerala trying to open out to the world outside. But I want to see the Kerala I saw before the advent of satellite channels. I should not be unreasonable in my demands. I must see what is. But I do remember a spate of good Malayalam (and other regional)films I saw from the mid eighties to the early nineties. I also remember a meeting with Sunny Joseph at the FTII Pune in 1991. Sunny had shot Aravindan's last film Vastuhara. Padmarajan's early death reminded me of John Abraham and his premature death. Those whom the gods love...

3:01 PM  
Blogger vatakara said...

Hi Rajesh, after seeing your fine posting on padmarajan on your blog, we have introduced it on our calicutnet.com blog forum binsar.com under "our opinion". how come there is no way to contact you from within the blog.

10:26 PM  
Blogger Rajesh said...

Dev, glad to see you here. Those were some relevent thoughts.

So you met up with Sunny Joseph. He did Piravi too. Vaasthuhara was not a typical Aravindan film. But I can see why he did it.

John Abraham is another guy we missed out to death rather unfairly. Early nineties saw the demise of nfdc/ksfdc supported art endeavours and the emergence of satellite channels and we know the results :)

Aravindan died in the same year, I think. Some kind of omen that was, on hindsight. Might I say, passing of an era.

Hey vatakara -kkaran, I am glad to find a fellow mallu. Never knew about the site binsar.com, impressive it is. I certainly don't mind a few more readers :)

11:16 PM  
Blogger Rajesh said...

vatakara, I have activated email link on my profile. Thanks for pointing that out.

11:20 PM  
Blogger bottled-imp said...

hey rajesh, i have not seem many Malayalam movies but from what i have heard from people, I think Malayalam movies must be way ahead of the rest of the S.Indian movies in the same genre. The only malayalam movie I saw was Swathi Tirunal that too on Doorsharshan on a Sunday afternoon.
I will see if any of these movies are at our local video rental.

8:51 AM  
Blogger Ubermensch said...

Seems agreat loss.I am totally at ignorant sea here.I wish I had an oppurtunity to grow up in an india far more keen on intercultural exchanges, so I would not have to regret missing gems like him and his works.Now I need to wade through million obscure sands to dig any water at all.
Thank you for this.You seem to have a knack to impose this type of kind cruelty about homeland upon us, ignorant souls.
~Ubermensch

8:37 AM  
Blogger Rajesh said...

Suresh, welcome back. Here is a link I googled out on Padmarajan which has a brief intro on him and his work.
http://www.cinemaofmalayalam.net/padmarajan.html
Malayalam cinema used to be ahead, from middle to top. Not anymore. In fact I don't even know what is happening now. It looks more like a lost dream.

Uber, fact is we wallow in the din of pop and lose grounds to appreciate the qualities of native culture. It is that difficult to wade through stereotypes.

If Europe could do the inter exchanges between multiple language and culture, why can't we? why don't we?
I plead guilty.

11:51 AM  
Blogger Ardra said...

"Januvary-yude nashtam"...vaayichhu...still ruminating, savouring ...was reminded of similar exchange of thoughts with another friend years ago...sitting in the hostel common room- let me just conmtinue to ruminate...
thank u rajesh...
ardra

12:33 AM  
Blogger Rajesh said...

Ardra chechi, vayichathinu nanni.
Veendum varanam :)

I know it was not just me, but every movie goers of our time felt this loss.

9:46 AM  
Anonymous amenon said...

rajesh,

thanks for stopping by, which is the only way i'd have reached your blog. i consider myself cinematically challenged, but this post has caused me to make a mental bookmark to try and locate njan gandharvan.... thoroughly enjoyed your writing.

warm regs.....

3:00 AM  
Blogger Abdullah said...

Hai!
Thank you for providing information about Padmarajan.I'm a Padmarajan fan!
visit
http:\\abdulla-ck.blogspot.com

9:48 AM  
Blogger Rajesh said...

Ajit and Abdullah, thanks for visiting.

Ajit, Njaan Gandharvan is probably the least impressive, though good in its own right. But Padmarajan had nothing to prove by then :)

7:30 PM  
Blogger Rajeev Gopalakrishnan said...

Padmarajan was (and is) also my favourite directors. May I call him a story teller. One of his strengths is in giving the titles for his films. The titles are really captivating. Njan Gandharvan! Say it loud and you can feel the echo!

Malayalam cinema really misses him.

9:44 AM  
Blogger santhoshmathoor said...

nice piece of writing on Padmarajan, congrats Dev.I have been a great admirer of padmarajan for last some years as most of the malayalam film lovers,i suppose.
I have seen most of the 18 films(i think)padmarajan directed himself, and many others he scripted for i.v.sasi, bharathan and even for joshi(oru thanutha veluppan kalathu).Only film which disappointed me was "parannu parannu parannu "starring rahman, rohini etc. I think bharathan and padmarajan were two gratly gifted film makers. If bharathan was splendid in the artistic beuty of film, padmarajan had marvellous stories to tell , not letting down scenic beuty,songs and extracting the best from actors.
May be because he is a genius thinker with full of story in mind, the name he put for his films is also praise worthy.Dev, you put "Padmarajan: A Loss in January " as title and i want to tell one haunting and nostalgic title padmarajan put for his film "Novemberinte Nashtam"(loss of November).Those are the kind of films which always rosed my interest.In hindi there is gulzar, basu bhattacharya and hrishikesh mukherjee. I think i am going wild, so its up for now.

4:39 AM  
Blogger santhoshmathoor said...

nice piece of writing on Padmarajan, congrats Dev.I have been a great admirer of padmarajan for last some years as most of the malayalam film lovers,i suppose.
I have seen most of the 18 films(i think)padmarajan directed himself, and many others he scripted for i.v.sasi, bharathan and even for joshi(oru thanutha veluppan kalathu).Only film which disappointed me was "parannu parannu parannu "starring rahman, rohini etc. I think bharathan and padmarajan were two gratly gifted film makers. If bharathan was splendid in the artistic beuty of film, padmarajan had marvellous stories to tell , not letting down scenic beuty,songs and extracting the best from actors.
May be because he is a genius thinker with full of story in mind, the name he put for his films is also praise worthy.Dev, you put "Padmarajan: A Loss in January " as title and i want to tell one haunting and nostalgic title padmarajan put for his film "Novemberinte Nashtam"(loss of November).Those are the kind of films which always rosed my interest.In hindi there is gulzar, basu bhattacharya and hrishikesh mukherjee. I think i am going wild, so its up for now.

5:03 AM  
Blogger Swanima said...

Beautiful Blog . Stirred something deep down in the heart. Real tribute to Padmarajan. His movies were as poetic as the titles. "Namukku Paarkaan MundhiriThoppukal " for example. I loved the way he narrated the love story, with references to the Bible. Was he referring to "Song of the Songs".
"Toovanathumbikal" is another movie I completely enjoyed. That was also Padmarajan's right? Or am I mistaken?

This is the first time I am reading a blog on a Malayali director. Must confess I am not a regular blogger, but still.

I am a total Malayalam Literature freak and now reading M. T . Novels - finished "Manju" and "Bandhanam". Reading "Kutyedathi" now. Please keep writing more about all these Malayalam literature geniuses !! Manninde Manam Kaathu Sookshikkaan.

Swanima

3:44 AM  
Blogger bodhappayi said...

Interesting Read...
Try this link. Not sure if u r in the grp already... :)

4:30 AM  
Blogger avan said...

Padmarajan seems to be a hot favourite of discerning Malayalam movie watchers. Here is a link to something we wrote about him.

avalude ravukal, avanteyum: Padmarajan trip

9:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Rajesh. Its always a pleasure to read about Padmarajan. I am a huge fan , though I havent seen all his movies.
My favorites are Innale, Thoovanthumbikkal. Suresh Gopi's cameo in Innale is one of his best...in the last scene of the movie his sorrow is so painful to watch...so well crafted by that genius , Padmarajan.
I like Thoovanthumbikkal for the unusual theme plus Mohanlal in that wild & reckless spirit of a typical Trchur youth of the 80's is so apt. Not to forget the background score which is so hauntigly melodious.

Thanks Rajesh , once again for the wonderful post.


JM

4:00 AM  
Blogger Rajesh said...

Santhosh Mathoor, Swanima, Kuttappai, avan & JM:

Thanks for dropping by. I share the same excitement about Padmarajan's movies and the grief of his loss with you guys.

I must tell you something now. Almost 50% of the traffic to this site is because of this single write up on Padmarajan. I realized how much we, especially malayali film lovers miss him. The increased frequency of web searches on him betray almost a desperate kind of unhappiness over the present mindlessness pervaded in current movies and how much more Padmarajan could have done and more importantly inspire the right kind of people in the movie-dom had he lived for a bit longer.

There must be someone hopefully sooner than later.

9:31 AM  
Anonymous sreekanth said...

Hello,

Could anyone suggest where to buy the DVD/VCD of Vasthuhara and Chidambaram? I live in the United States and have looked around the usual websites but haven't had any luck.

Thanks,
Sreekanth

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Mohan said...

Another death anniversary of the great Padmarajan has gone by.
He was indeed a great & irrepairable loss to the film community

2:13 PM  
Blogger coolmallu said...

I am honored to read the post you made about the genius. I have been watching Hollywood and foreign movies for past several years and have grown to love the art form. Always enthralled to watch the masters at work like Ingmar Bergman, Quentin Tarantino, Akira Kurosowa, Stanely Kubrick, David Lynch, Coen Brothers, Polanski, Serge Leone, Ray, Ang Lee, etc...

I confess that I never was impressed by Indian films until just one month back, when I saw the genius's 'Deshadanakili Karayarilla'. I was SHOCKED to see such characters in Malayalam cinema. The movie touched some of the deepest chords in my heart, the music that emerged was most beautiful. I sweat and panted while watching the movie and ended up in utter dismay. Since then I have seen six movies of his and I want to buy his entire collection on DVD. I hope it is available. I am willing to chip out any amount of money to do that.

I am also going to post something on my blog about the genius as well. Thanks for writing a great article. Helped me know more about the genius.

12:08 PM  
Anonymous Sarath said...

To all Pdmarajan Fans,
Visit Malayalamanoram special on Padmarajan. Manual George's articles provide wealth of information about this raconteur.

http://www.manoramaonline.com/cgi-bin/MMOnline.dll/portal/ep/home.do?tabId=4&BV_ID=@@@&channelId=-1073751205

12:51 AM  
Blogger Bonchi Buji said...

Padmarajan is one person that Malayalam cinema will never get again. He has his simple way of telling complex stories. He also made the art of portraying sex and female beauty without making it vulgar. Mostly, when he died on the day of release of Njan Gandharvan, the Gandharvas would have descended from heaven and took him with them..

7:21 AM  
Anonymous lal said...

THE GREATEST WRITER OF THE TIME...CANNOT BE COMPARED...AN ATTEMPT FOR THAT IS FOOLISHNESS BECAUSE HIS WRITINGS MADE HIM ABOVE ALL IN VERY VERY SHORT SPAN OF TIME.....I WISH FOR ONEDAY HE BE WITH MALAYALAM FILM INDUSTRY AGAIN.......

3:25 AM  
Blogger Nidhin said...

i dont know what to tell.if he is there ,that only my ................

11:37 AM  
Anonymous lekshmi said...

wow..nice write up on padmarajan..i am a die hard fan of padmarajan movies-thoovanathumbikal being my all time favorite...kudos to you rajesh for putting this together..it really brought back the nostalgic feeling i have for his movies...the music and the background score is simply out of the world..we lost another jem recently in music director..raveendran..
i have every major composition of his..i may be swaying away from the topic of discussion..let me tell u tht padmarajan,bharathan,raveendran are stalwarts and their loss is evident from the crap we come across these days..

2:59 AM  
Anonymous lekshmi said...

wow..nice write up on padmarajan..i am a die hard fan of padmarajan movies-thoovanathumbikal being my all time favorite...kudos to you rajesh for putting this together..it really brought back the nostalgic feeling i have for his movies...the music and the background score is simply out of the world..we lost another jem recently in music director..raveendran..
i have every major composition of his..i may be swaying away from the topic of discussion..let me tell u tht padmarajan,bharathan,raveendran are stalwarts and their loss is evident from the crap we come across these days..

3:00 AM  
Blogger Jobin said...

Excellent post!
Padmarajan's untimely death was a great loss for Malayalam cinema. His movies especially Thoovanathumbikal and Namukku parkkan munthirithoppukal were amazingly brilliant...!

3:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Films

1. Peruvazhiyambalam [Highway shelter] (adapted from his novel) (1979)
2. Oridaththoru phayalvaan [At some place, a wrestler] (1981)
3. Kallan Pavithran [Pavithran, the thief] (1981)
4. Novemberintaey nashtam [November's loss] (1982)
5. Koodevide [Whither the nest] (adapted from the Tamil novel Moongil pookkal by Vaasanthi) (1983)
6. Parannu parannu parannu [Soaring soaring soaring] (1984)
7. Thinkalaazhcha nalla divasam [Monday, an auspicious day] (1985)
8. Nammukku paarkkaan munthiri thoppukal [Vineyards for us to dwell] (adapted from the novel Nammukku graamangalil chennu raappaarkkaam [Let us go and dwell in the villages] by K. K. Sudhakaran) (1986)
9. Kariyilakkaattu polaey [Like a zephyr of dry leaves] (1986)
10. Arappatta kettiya graamaththil [In the village which wears a warrior's belt] (1986)
11. Deshaadanakkili karayaarilla [The migratory bird never cries] (1986)
12. Nombaraththippoovu [The sorrowful flower] (1987)
13. Thoovaanathumbikal [Butterflies of the spraying rain] (adapted from his novel Udhakappola [A bubble in water]) (1987)
14. Aparan [The other] (adapted from his short story) (1988)
15. Moonnaampakkam [On the third day] (1988)
16. Season (1989)
17. Innalaey [Yesterday] (adapted from the Tamil novel Jananam [Birth] by Vaasanthi) (1990)
18. Njaan gandharvan [I, the celestial lover] (1991)

4:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://img176.imageshack.us/img176/8292/editedfinaljpg2hh6.jpg

8:57 PM  
Anonymous govind said...

a view of the tittle makes tears roll down my cheek.such is the love respect and admiration i have for this blessed film maker.if he lived now we could be proud and say to the worldthat we are belonging to a state where padmarajan makes films.really miss this legend of legends

3:09 AM  
Blogger Raneesh Chitootharayil said...

It was a painful nostalgic feeling always whenever I listen the theme music of thoovanathumpikal, also the scenes were touching and at the same time its beyond our imaginations; the perfect director the great padmarajan
the tricky mohanlal (mother superior) writing a letter to the family...the scenes were superb with all perfections, the lighting, expressions of actor and the nature with the everlasting theme music and they way he has directed the scene, only he can shoot a scene like that
padmarajan you are really a gandharvan

12:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

season is the best film done padmarajan. i love the background score of that movie a lot.

3:18 AM  
Blogger vivek said...

hello Rajesh...
"Padmarajan: A Loss in January"...
i know this article was written about 6 years ago. I am a great fan of padamarajan... today i saw the movie "desaadanakkili karayaarilla" for first time. I really liked that movie. after saw that movie, i have realized that what is missing in malayalam films on this time. by the inspiration of the movie when i searched in Google, the first result was link to your blog. The article was really nice...I must say that Im not a regular blogger, still i couldn't leave from this page without leaving a comment. good work. thanx

1:23 PM  
Anonymous Manju said...

I was listening to Poo Veno from Deshadanakkili, googled about the movie, and ended up on your blog. Excellent tribute to the legend. Most of his works are timeless classics.

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

simply one of the greatest malayai movie maker

2:01 AM  
Blogger noufal ahamed said...

p padmarajan is my all time favorite director and script writer,His 1987 movie "thoovanathumbigal" is my favorite and still popular among the people of my age(i am 21).I find the same movie to be be 100% genuine in storyline and scripting,not to mention the amazing act by mohanlal,sumalatha,asokan,jagathy sreekumar and "BABU"(dont know that guy's name).no doubt his movies would inspire film makers of the coming generations too.
NOUFAl AHAMED

12:03 PM  
Blogger Anish Panicker said...

I admire the most influential and phenomenal person in Malayalam cinema, especially his written books are class apart.

Salute to Padmarajan sir..

www.mollywoodframes.com

4:55 AM  
Blogger mervin mathew said...

I am a huge fan of padmarajan movies. Such a genius.

12:53 AM  
Blogger mervin mathew said...

padmarajan such a genius, thx.

12:56 AM  
Anonymous Anish Panicker said...

My new memoir about this fabulous intellectual persona...

http://www.mollywoodframes.com/2014/01/p-padmarajan-invaluable-intellectual.html

Thanks....

8:34 AM  

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