Mullanezhi's plays, poems, and songs voiced the angst and concerns of our land.
‘The verdant dream land of ours/ Where did it fade away,/That promised land?' asked Mullanezhi in a song in K.P. Kumaran's film ‘Lakshmivijayam.' For, Mullanezhi's was a lifelong romance with lyricism and radicalism, despair and optimism, deep love for nature and the awareness about the inevitability of change.
One can see all these conflicts and themes providing the form and flesh to his plays, poems, and songs. So too, was his commitment to hope. For instance, one of his last poems goes like this: It is dawn, and opening their eyes/ Here comes fresh blossoms, / Leaving the brow of the blue sky /The little crescent is fading away…
Throughout his life Mullanezhi wrote poems in which he was able to create a curious and fascinating blend of traditions: he belonged to the ‘old school' and had a firm grounding in Sanskrit and the folk traditions in music and literature. In his writings, this rootedness comes into vibrant contact with the new and the radical. He didn't deride his past or tradition in order to embrace the best of modern currents.
Mullanezhi Neelakantan was born in 1948 in a traditional Nambudiri family in Thrissur. Although he began to write poems from his childhood, it was Vyloppilly, who discovered the poet in him and guided him in his life and career. Vyloppilly was also instrumental in prompting him to join a Vidwan course, and thus to become a school teacher.
He became a film lyricist in 1976, by penning songs for ‘Njavalpazhangal' by Azeez (‘Karukaruthoru pennane…') and ‘Lakshivijayam' (four songs: ‘Pakalinte Virimaril,' ‘Ravurangi thazhe,' ‘Manathu tharangal punchirichu,' and ‘Nayaka manuja snehagayaka').
If one looks at his oeuvre, both as a lyricist and an actor, one can see that from the beginning, Mullanezhi was more comfortable with offbeat films and filmmakers such as Azeez, K.P. Kumaran, Pavithran, Shaji N. Karun, M.P. Sukumaran Nair, Priyanandanan, and Madhu Kaithapram.
Mainstream filmmakers, barring a few, were uneasy with his unconventional ways. Yet, whenever he penned for the mainstream, he consistently produced memorable lines, like ‘Pavizhamalli poothulanja neelavanam…' and ‘Kanninu pon kani, kathinu then kani…' in ‘Sanmanassullavarkku Samadhanam' by Sathyan Anthikkad, ‘Manasoru Manthrika Kuthirayayi…' in ‘Mela,' ‘Swapanam kondu thulabharam…' in ‘Veenapoovu' by Ambili and in films such as Vellam,' ‘Chora chuvanna chora,' ‘Ayanam,' ‘Kayyum thalayum purathidaruthu,' and lastly, in ‘Indian Rupee' (‘Ee Puzhayum…'). More than film songs, Mullanezhi's forte was writing songs for albums: his songs in ‘Grameena ganangal' by Vidyadharan (‘Thiru Thakruthi Thirumuttam,' ‘Thekkunnu Vannalum' and ‘Punchavayal Cherayurakkana Thottampattu') and K. Raghavan's ‘Thoranam' (‘Punchavayal Punchirikkana Nerathu,' ‘Panchara Kunnathu,' and ‘Thrikkakkarappante') are both popular and memorable and they freely mix folk, traditional and lyrical-modern themes, tunes and imageries.
Mullanezhi was also a theatre activist. He lead Agragami Theatres and wrote many plays, some of which have been collected in the anthology ‘Samathalam.' In theatre, he was inspired by the social reformist movement inaugurated by the likes of VT, M.R. Bhattathiripad, and Premji.
He came to cinema late in his life, but essayed some very striking roles in films like ‘Piravi,' ‘Uppu,' ‘Kazhakam,' ‘Swam,' ‘Garshom,' ‘Neythukaran,' and ‘Neelathamara.'
An active political worker before he became a teacher, his passion for arts and progressive politics never left him; he was part of all the progressive initiatives that took shape in Kerala in politics and arts such as Peoples' Science Movement, Literacy Movement, Progressive Writers' Movement, and so on.
The songs he wrote for Kalajathas of Sastra Sahitya Parishad and his translation of Brecht poems (‘Enthinnadheeratha.. ippol thudanganam... ellam nammal patikenam.../ Pattiniyaya manushya nee/ Pusthakam kayyiledutholoo,' and so on) were popular with the activists and one would rarely find a sensitive youth in Kerala who has not sung a line of his.
In that sense, Mullanezhi was a true ‘midnight's child,' someone who lived and voiced the angst and concerns of our land, relentlessly upholding progressive and democratic values throughout his life.
One can never forget his disarming smile and the glint in his eyes. With his departure, we have lost a warm and kind human being who celebrated his life, and always quarrelled and engaged with the world with the creative resources at hand.
As he himself wrote: Only a wee bit of time/Do we have, here/ But the life that mother gave us /We ought to nurture with goodness.