In Memoriam Padmarajan's stories, in print and on film, immortalised the writer-filmmaker whose death anniversary falls on January 23.
It is unbelievable that almost two decades have passed since Padmarajan left us! It may be because the enchanting words and images he created never lost their charm and are still close to our heart.
Although his life was short, Padmarajan (1945-1991) was prolific as a writer and filmmaker. He was one of the youngest authors to receive Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for his very first novel ‘Nakshathrangale Kaval' at the age of 27.
Prolific writer, filmmaker
He went on to publish around 17 books of fiction, wrote as many highly successful scripts for filmmakers such as Bharathan, K.G. George, I.V. Sasi and Mohan, and directed 18 films during the brief period between 1979 (‘Peruvazhiyambalam') and 1991 (‘Njan Gandharvan'), apart from editing many of his own films! And even when he was busy making films, he continued to write till the end.
In literature, he belonged to a generation of writers who were in many ways the midnight's children: born into a period of great hope they matured into an era of utter loss of belief. Devoid of the baggage of ideologies or legacies, they vociferously quarrelled with everything, though they were not sure about their dreams.
In their works was a virtual and ‘literal' explosion of sensuality. Padmarajan's works of fiction such as ‘Nanmakalude Sooryan,' ‘Shavavahangalum Thedi,' ‘Manjukalam notta Kuthira,' ‘Prathimayum Rajakumariyum,' ‘Pukakkannada,' ‘Syphilisinte Nadakkavu' and ‘Rithubhedhangalude Paarithoshikam' belong to that tradition and were charged with existential angst and carnal yearnings.
In the mid-70's, Padmarajan started writing film scripts, and established enduring partnerships with film directors Bharathan, Mohan and I.V. Sasi, whose films ushered in a new sensuality in Malayalam cinema. Even after becoming a director himself, he didn't stop writing for others. Starting in 1975 with ‘Prayanam' for Bharathan, Padmarajan went on to write scripts for other directors till the end: his last script was ‘Eee Thanutha Veluppankalathu' in 1990 for Joshi. And all his screenplays invariably dealt with his favourite themes: desire, passion, memory, love, sex and violence.
He was a storyteller par excellence. Though apparently, his stories and films teem with ‘ordinary' men and women, and very ‘local' cityscapes and villages, these people and places are charged with a raw and explosive kind of passion and desire; they lie dormant within them and is aroused at the slightest instance: it can be the arrival of a man or woman, an unexpected turn of events or an accident.
His first film ‘Peruvazhiambalam' (1979), one of the finest films in Malayalam, is an incisive examination of how violence or totalitarianism works in our society; it dealt with disturbing questions relating to masculinity and how people adore and dread it at the same time.
In ‘Oridaththoru Phayalvaan' (1981), which won an award at the Asian Film Festival, it is the arrival of a wrestler that creates ripples in the village, and sets passions in motion. His towering body is an alien object that triggers desire, admiration, jealousy and also avarice. In the end, the village throws him out, and regains its calm, but in the process, several hearts have been wounded and minds set aflame.
Both ‘Kallan Pavithran' (1981) and ‘Arappattakettiya Gramathil' (1986) are voyages into another world. While Pavithran, a small-time thief, is accidentally transported into a world of wealth and luxury, in the latter, the escapade of a group of youth all of a sudden turns into a nightmare of sorts. ‘Transgressive' love is a recurring theme in Padmarajan. Both in ‘Prayanam' and ‘Rathinirvedam' (both directed by Bharathan) love breaks the barriers of age and caste. In ‘Thoovanathumpikal' (1987) and ‘Desadanakili Karayarilla' (1986) Padmarajan explores the polymorphous dimension of desire, always placing the female at the centre of the narrative.
In ‘Thoovanathumpikal,' one of the most romantic of Padmarajan films, it is Clara who enters the hero's life like rain and exits it as easily to break away and seek freedom. Similarly, ‘Desadanakili Karayarilla' deals with two school girls who elope from school to seek their own freedom – social and sexual. ‘Namukkuparkkan Munthirithoppukal' (1986) revisits the theme of sexuality in both its forms – that of inhuman lust and romantic love, weaving the evocative Songs of Solomon into its narrative.
In Padmarajan's narratives, male and female sexualities, though fatally attracted towards each other, follow different trajectories, often to tragic effect. While male sexuality easily tends towards violence and aggressive possession, female sexuality is almost always enigmatic and mysterious, breaking out into freedom and exuberance. Characters like Clara or Shali, Sophia or Savitri, Chakkara or Gouri rebel and provoke, yearn and splurge, never afraid of taking control of their lives and destinies.
It is men who come in the way, coercing them into violence, like in ‘Novemberinte Nashtam' (1982) and ‘Koodevide' (1983), or force them to run away to freedom like in ‘Nombarathipoovu' (1987) and ‘Parannu parannu parannu' (1984).
More than relationships themselves, what Padmarajan's films deal with is the havoc that these fatal attractions wreak upon the person. And it is female desire that stretches the narratives into a triangle, as they almost invariably break out of their prisons (‘Prayanam,' ‘Arappattakettiya Gramathil,' ‘Namukkuparkkan Munthirithoppukal,' ‘Thoovanathumpikal' and ‘Oridathoru Phayalvan').
‘Aparan,' ‘Thinkalazhcha Nalla Divasam,' ‘Season' and ‘Moonam Pakkam' are films that stand apart in his oeuvre; these films focus on death, loneliness, longing, old age, revenge and the fascinating theme of the double.
His last film ‘Njan Gandharvan' (1991) was his swan song that ominously but lyrically sums up and celebrates all his favourite themes: ‘transgressive' love, romance and sexuality. Here a young maiden is touched by divine love, that of a celestial being who comes to earth. But the gandharva gradually loses himself in this mortal love. Obviously, such deep divine love is not to be, and he is hounded out of this all too earthly world. One cannot escape the parallels with Padmarajan and his endless fascination with women, words and images. No wonder he always stays young in our memory.