Released in 1964, ‘School Master' focused on undesirable practices of school managements. A successful social film it propagated integral morals and glorified teacher-student relationship.
The story, on which a series of films were made, was originally written by the popular Marathi poet, actor, scenarist and lyricist, Gajanan Digambar Madgulkar popularly known as G. D. Madgulkar. The first film version was ‘Oon Paoos' (1954) in Marathi. The film was a tremendous success and went on to become a landmark in Marathi cinema.
Popular Kannada film producer, actor, director and founder of ‘Padmini Pictures,' B. R. Panthulu came up with film versions of this story in various languages. In 1958 ‘School Master' (Kannada), ‘Engal Kudumbam Perisu' (Tamil) and ‘Badi Pantulu' (Telugu) were directed by him. In 1959 ALS Productions remade the story in Hindi as ‘School Master,' again directed of Panthulu. In 1973 once again the same story was filmed in Tamil.
All the film versions about an old school master and his noble attempt to transform the students of his native village were hits at the box office. B. R. Panthulu himself acted in the role of the central character of the school master and the popular Kannada-Tamil actress M. V. Rajamma as his wife in all the films except the 1973 Tamil version in which Gemini Ganeshan and Sowcar Janaki took the main roles.
Dialogues for the Malayalam film was written by the noted novelist Ponkunnam Varkey. It closely followed the original script and dialogues written by Kanagal Prabhakara Shastry for the 1958 Kannada version as it was in the case of the other film versions of the story.
Popular stars of the time, like Prem Nazir, Balaji, Ragini, Ambika, Muthiah etc. were roped in for the film. Thikkurissi Sukumaran Nair played the central character, the school master and Aranmula Ponnamma was cast in the role of his wife.
This film saw the Malayalam debut of popular Tamil actors Balaji, Sivaji Ganeshan and Sowcar Janaki. Vidhubala also began her film career in this film, as a child artiste.
The film was a huge hit. This despite the fact that both the 1958 Tamil version ‘Engal Kudumbam Perisu' and the 1959 Hindi version ‘School Master' also did extremely well in Kerala. The music composed by G. Devarajan was certainly the high point of the film.
Raman Pillai (Thikkurissi) is a committed headmaster of an upper primary school in a small village. The teacher and his wife (Aranmula Ponnamma) struggle hard to bring up and educate their sons Aniyan (Prem Nazir), Murali (Balaji) and daughter Vasanthi (Kalpana). He borrows money from private financiers and even pledges the house to raise money.
Sekharan Nair (T. S. Muthiah), the manager of the school is a crooked man. All his plans to manipulate the school activities and make money is defeated by the timely intervention of Raman Pillai. By his hard and dedicated work, Raman Pillai succeeds in upgrading the institution to a high school. But by that time, he reaches the age of retirement, and has to bid goodbye to his beloved school.
Murali and Aniyan get good jobs after their studies and they live separately in their houses with their wives. Raman Pillai conducts the marriage of his daughter Vasanthi. Now the poor school master is in abject penury and sadly his children abandon him. Creditors sue him and Raman Pillai's house is placed for auction by the court.
The school master and his wife are forced to seek shelter with their sons, the school master with one son and his wife with another.
The pangs of separation becomes too much for the aged couple to bear. They leave their shelter and wander in the streets in search of each other.
Johnny (Sivaji Ganeshan), an old student of Raman Pillai, finds his school master on the railway platform. Johnny, now a police officer, remembers with gratitude how his old teacher had led him through the right path during his school days. He buys his school master's house. Johnny and his wife (Sowcar Janaki) take Raman Pillai and his wife to the house. The school master is overwhelmed with joy when he realises that he can now live in his own house which he thought was lost forever.
Thikkurissi and Aranmula Ponnamma excelled in their roles. Prem Nazir, Balaji and Kannada actress Kalpana also came up with impressive performances. Ragini and Ambika, as the school master's daughters-in-law did justice to their small roles. A dance sequence featuring Baby Padmini went well with the audience.
Devarajan's music was simply out of the world. All the eight songs, written by Vayalar Rama Varma, turned chartbusters. The patriotic song, ‘Jaya jaya jaya janmabhoomi…' sung by K. J. Yesudas, P. Leela and A. P. Komala was the most popular of them. A children's song sung by M. S. Rajeswari, ‘Kilukilukkum kilukilukkum...' is widely considered as one of the best by the singer in Malayalam. The other hits include ‘Paravakalai pirannirunnenkil...' (P. Susheela), ‘Ini ente inakkilikkenthu venam...' (Yesudas-Susheela), ‘Thamara kulakkadavil...' (A. M. Raja-Susheela ), the dance number ‘Vaikom kayalil olam...' (Yesudas-Leela), ‘Zindabad zindabad...' (A. P. Komala and chorus) and the haunting ‘Niranja kannukalode...' by P. B. Srinivas).
Will be remembered: As the debut film of director S. R. Puttanna, actress Vidhubala. As the first Malayalam film of Sivaji Ganeshan, Balaji, Sowcar Janaki and Kalpana. For its strong social message and for its excellent music.