Several Malayalam novels and short stories written by M. T. Vasudevan Nair (MT), have been successfully turned into films.
MT went on to produce ‘Nirmalyam' (1973) under the banner of Novel Films. He wrote the script, dialogues and directed the film which was based on his short story ‘Pallivaalum Kaalchilambum.'
The film won the National award for best film in 1973 and P. J. Antony the best actor award for a stunning performance. The film also won Kerala state awards for four categories, best film, best director, editing (Ravi) and for dialogues.
An art-house movie about Kerala at the crossroads of modernisation, the film was shot in a remote village, Mookkuthala in South Malabar. The film had a major influence on Malayalam cinema of the 70s.
The film focussed on the neglect of the temples in remote villages and hardships faced by the families dependent on temples. The film also pointed a finger at cold-shouldering of the traditional arts of Kerala.
The star cast included newcomers like Sukumaran, Ravi Menon and Sumitra in important roles, and popular artistes like P. J. Antony, Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair, Kaviyoor Ponnamma, Santha Devi etc. Music was by K. Raghavan and background score by M. B. Sreenivasan. The poems of Edasserry and compositions of Swati Thirunal were included.
The story revolves around an ancient temple neglected for decades. The temple is looked after by the Velichappad or the oracle (P. J. Antony) whose family has been attached to the temple for generations.
The oracle's wife, Narayani (Kaviyoor Ponnamma) struggles to run the household with the meagre income they get from the temple.
The oracle's son Appu (Sukumaran) is educated but unemployed. This turns him into a sort of rebel. He often speaks and acts against temple traditions, even defying his father who is dedicated to his job as the oracle.
The oracle's daughter, Ammini (Sumithra) helps her father at the temple. The worst affected in the poverty-stricken family are perhaps the two younger daughters who often skip school as they do not have books or clothes to wear. In spite of all this, the oracle believes in the goddess and hopes for a bright future.
The temple priest starts a tea shop where a young priest from the neighbouring village, Brahmadattan (Ravi Menon), takes charge. Brahmadattan falls in love with Ammini. In the meanwhile, a frustrated Appu attempts to sell the sacred sword of the goddess, which is used by the oracle while performing the temple rituals. A quarrel breaks out between father and son that results in Appu being thrown out of the house. He leaves the village.
The village is hit by small pox. The people believe that the disease has spread because of the curse of the goddess. The oracle decides to conduct a special offering to appease the goddess. Gradually the villagers start coming back to the temple much to the delight of the oracle. Preparations for the ‘guruthi' festival begin.
Brahmadattan seduces Ammini and leaves the village. On the festival day the oracle finds out, much to his shock, that his wife has been selling her body to the local moneylender (Kunjandi) to keep the home fire burning. The oracle is devastated.
The film ends with a brilliant scene. The oracle dances before the goddess, spits at her face, strikes his forehead with the sacred sword, till he falls down dead.
The songs by K.Raghavan was based on folk tunes. The lines from Edasserry's ‘Kaavile Paattu,' ‘Samayamaayi samayamaayi…' rendered by K. P. Brahmanandan, Padmini and L. R. Anjali was a hit. The other songs include ‘Sree Mahadevanthanthe…' (Brahmanandan-Padmini), a Swati Thirunal composition ‘Panimathimukhi bale…' (Padmini-Mannoor Sukumari) and ‘Mundakappadathe …' (Brahmanandan, Padmini, Chirayinkeezhu Soman Anjali).
Will be remembered: For winning the National award for best film and the best actor award for P. J. Antony. It will also be remembered as the debut of M. T. Vasudevan Nair as director and debut of actors Sukumaran and Sumithra. ‘Nirmalyam' was also the first Malayalam film of Ravi Menon who had earlier acted in Mani Kaul's Hindi film ‘Duvidha' the same year.