The landmark Malayalam film ‘Nair Pidicha Pulivaal' celebrated its golden jubilee recently. Producer T. E. Vasudevan shares with readers interesting info about the making of the film
‘Kaathu sookshichoru kasthuri mampazham kakka …' Which Malayali does not enjoy this song, composed by K. Raghavan? It was a hit more than half a century ago and it still evokes naughty smiles. Recently, its golden jubilee was celebrated in the city by the Jaycey Foundation. The producer T. E. Vasudevan, and actor G. K. Pillai who involved with the film, were there. K.Udayabhanu, K Raghavan could not come for the function. T. E. Vasudevan, the veteran producer who produced ‘Nair Pidicha Pulivaal,' in which this song features, rewound to the late fifties when Malayalam cinema was young and the spirit willing to experiment.
First circus film
“It was the first Malayalam movie shot with the circus as its background. We filmed in the tents of the Great Eastern Circus. Uroob's story was called ‘Paithal Nair Pidicha Pulivaal'. I deleted ‘Paithal' from the title. P Bhaskaran wrote the script and directed it. Earlier, he was working on the set of ‘Amma', my first film, as a very young man. I was there throughout the shooting of ‘Nair Pidicha Pulivaal' on the sets.
In fact, the producer was the most important person on the set in those days and we would oversee everything ourselves,” says the nonagenarian, harking back to the days when some heroines got a bigger pay packet than the hero. “Yes, the Travancore Sisters got more than the hero, because dancing was an important element and also the fact that they were popular in Tamil cinema, which paid a lot. So, in ‘Nair Pidicha…' Ragini was paid Rs. 50,000 and Sathyan, only half of that. Actually, the hero's rate was then only about Rs.15,000, but because Ragini was paid this much, I hiked it to Rs. 25,000!” says Vasudevan, with a smile.
Shooting in Modern Theatres, Salem, and Dharmapuri took about five months. “I learnt so many lessons during the shoot of this movie. We thought that all the scenes could be done once the shows were over, but the dupes, all actual circus artistes, who performed for all the shows during the day, would get tired after that. Shooting could begin only after 1 a.m. when the last show got over. So in effect we got just one hour to shoot. So the costs went up. Still I finished the film within Rs. 2.5 lakhs. I had sold the distribution rights earlier. The film was such a big hit in the Malabar region, mainly because Thalassery and Kannur were the places from where circus artistes came. But in the Travancore region, the Nairs did not take kindly to the title. I had thought they would be pleased, but I was wrong. They even tore the posters.”
The making of the movie was also historic in several ways. The masking technique was used to show the animals and the people in close proximity. “At first it would be shot with the actors and the same film would be masked partly. The animals would be filmed separately after that!”
G. K. Pillai was the rich villain who loved Ragini, the heroine, who was Muthiah's daughter. Muthiah played a small hotel owner, whose wife was Pankajavalli. When the circus comes to the village, their lives are changed forever.
“Sathyan, the circus manager, G. K. Pillai, the rich man of the village and Kochappan, were the three men who wanted to marry Ragini. (Kochappan, who was an advocate, came to be known later as Pulival Kochappan). In the climax, the tiger escapes and runs into the villain G. K. Pillai's room. And of course the tiger kills him,” says Vasudevan. The movie was later dubbed into Tamil as ‘Puli Seyda Kalyanam' and also in Telugu. Muthukulam, S P Pillai, Bahadur and Prema also played major roles.
Vasudevan's first production, ‘Amma', made in 1951 will be celebrating its ‘sashtipoorthi' next year. “It had my story and it was made as an offering to my mother and also all the mothers in the world. My last movie, ‘Kalam Mari, Katha Mari' also had my story,” says a smiling Vasudevan, who has a story all ready now, to be filmed, of the new generation. The secret of success lies in changing the subject of the movie, without sticking on to one genre, and cutting costs, he believes. “After this circus movie, I went in for movies with the train, boat and the bus as the background, ‘Cochin Express', ‘Kannur Deluxe', ‘Danger Biscuit'…” A host of veterans like Sreekumaran Thampy, Ramu Kariat, Hariharan, K. S. Sethumadhavan, V. Dakshinamoorthy M B Sreenivasan have worked with him in their early days.
Vasudevan, who was conferred the J.C. Daniel Award and clutch of other recognitions, the last coming from the World Malayali Council last month, has been in the movie world for nearly seven decades and the movies he produced continue to be seen by people on TV. “I have just sold the rights of some movies to a TV channel and am going out to get the CDs,” says the man in white.