In 1969, when Amithabh Bachan made his silver screen debut with Saath Hindustani, his fellow actor Madhavan Nair (Madhu to the world) was already a hugely successful star with six years’ of standing in the Malayalam film world.
On Friday when Madhu, 79, was awarded the Padma Shri, it was more than just an acceptance of 50 years of self-effacing work by a thespian. It was also perhaps a salute to a day and age of Malayalam movies that still continues to inspire cinema lovers.
Born in 1933 at Gowreeshapattom here to R. Parameswaran Pillai and Thankamma, Madhu left his first footprints on the silver screen with the acclaimed 1963 movie Ninamaninja Kaalpaadukal. The first movie he acted in, the Ramu Karyat film Moodupadam, was released only afterwards.
The excitement generated by Ninamaninja Kaalpaadukal had hardly died down when Madhu caught the fancy of film lovers through the evergreen movie Bhargavi Nilayam. All this while, he was a student of the National School of Drama after a stint as a lecturer in Hindi at a college in Nagarcoil.
When Ramu Karyat — who was first introduced to Madhu in Delhi by actor Adoor Bhasi — cast the lanky actor as Pareekutty in the film Chemmeen in 1966, history was being made in more ways than one. Chemmeen was music director Salil Chowdhury’s first Malayalam movie and Hrishikesh Mukherjee lent his unmatched editing skills for the first time to a Malayalam movie. The movie also sealed Madhu’s stature as a top-notch star of South India. It also bagged the President’s gold medal. Madhu went on to act in more than 350 films and continues to act to this day. Madhu’s directorial skills were on display in the popular 1970 movie Priya. The director also essayed the role of a villain in the movie. Sindooracheppu (1971), Neelakkannukal (1974) and Theekkanal (1976) were among his directorial successes. The last film he directed was Udayam Padinjaaru (1986) and the movie was later dubbed into English. Madhu has also produced 14 movies, including Asthamayam (1978) and Njan Ekanaanu (1982), which also saw the entry of playback singer K.S. Chithra.