The last time that Theyyam was the background for a film, Mollywood got a classic in ‘Kaliyattam', which went on to fetch National awards for director Jayaraj and lead actor Suresh Gopi. Fourteen years later, ‘Kalchilambu', another film set in the fascinating world of this distinct temple ritual of Malabar, is all set to reach screens. ‘Kalchilambu' is the directorial debut of M.T. Annoor.
“Unlike ‘Kaliyattam,' which is an adaptation of ‘Othello,' ‘Kalchilambu' focusses on issues faced by Theyyam artistes today, juxtaposed against the story of a Theyyam artiste who goes missing from his native village,” says Annoor.
Vineeth plays the lead in the film. In fact, the actor plays two characters in the film. One is that of a Theyyam artiste named Kannan, who goes missing under mysterious circumstances. He also plays Jayadevan, an engineer who makes an unexpected visit to Kannan's village 25 years after the incident. The villagers are shocked by the appearance of Jayadevan, for he bears a startling resemblance to Kannan. Nobody in the village knows the whereabouts of Kannan, who used to perform the Kathivanoor Veeran Theyyam. Jaydevan's arrival thus piques their curiosity and commences a search into the past to solve the mystery.
The director says that it was his fascination for Theyyam that made him take up the project. “I grew up in a village near Payyannur where I had ample opportunities to watch Theyyam. I was often mesmerised by the performances. And when I decided to direct a film I felt Theyyam would be the ideal backdrop. Besides, producer Madhu Marangad was all for it. And I was equally lucky to get on board M. Sukumarji who had been working on a script based on Theyyam for the last 10 years and who had done a lot of research on the subject,” he says.
“Although the Theyyam artiste is revered as God during his brief performance, he is treated with little respect once he removes his make-up and costume. Most of the Theyyam artistes live in penury today. ‘Kalchilambu' tries to bring into focus the problems that they face and how they are oppressed and exploited by society,” he adds.
Vineeth, he says, was his first choice when he began the casting. “Since Vineeth is a trained classical dancer, I was confident he could portray the role of a Theyyam artiste better than any other actor. He has prepared hard for his role and has given a superb performance. Of course, the fact that he is a native of Kannur and therefore had already been exposed to Theyyam also helped,” says the director.
Samvritha Sunil, another Kannur native, is the heroine of the film. She plays Karthika Thamburatti who falls in love with Kannan overriding protests from her family. Samvritha also appears in the garb of an old woman for the first time in her career.
The cast includes veteran actor Mohan (who is acting in a major role in Malayalam after quite a gap), Saikumar, Mala Aravindan, Sreeraman, Madhupal and Augustine.
Utpal V. Nayanar is the cinematographer. Kaithapram Damodaran Namboothiri has tuned his own lyrics while Kaithapram Viswanathan has composed the background score.
“Incidentally, most of the cast and crew are from Malabar and are no strangers to Theyyam. These factors have indeed made my job a little easier,” says Annoor.