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One man's pursuit of a native idiom in acting ends

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GRIEF-STRICKEN: Grieving relatives beside the body of Oduvil Unnikrishnan in Kozhikode on Saturday.
GRIEF-STRICKEN: Grieving relatives beside the body of Oduvil Unnikrishnan in Kozhikode on Saturday.

C. Gouridasan Nair

Oduvil Unnikrishnan was much more than a comedian

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: There is something that is peculiar to comedians in Malayalam cinema.

They represent in their body and speech, the native idiom. While the heroes and heroines must dress the part, the comedians delve into the home milieu to come up with performances that carry the essence of the native. And, very often, they graduate with ease to more serious roles, retaining their links to the native roots intact.

Oduvil Unnikrishnan, who died in Kozhikode early Saturday morning, was an actor whose body language and dialogue delivery had the core strength of the native in him.

The theatre person-turned cine actor began his film career with a one-scene glimpse in the film `Chenda,' directed by the legendary A. Vincent, mouthing his own dialogue.

The story is that there was no specific dialogue written for the passer by who is accosted by the film's hero, played by Madhu, and Oduvil prepared his own dialogue for the scene.

For someone who began his acting career in the rural outback of Vadakkanchery with the likes of Bharathan and Kalamandalam Hyderali, creativity could easily take on different forms.

From the rural arts club, where he took his first paces in theatre acting in Cherukad's `Nammalonnu,' to Kerala People's Arts Club (KPAC), where he performed in several plays by Thoppil Bhasi, Oduvil had traversed much distance before facing the movie camera. The years that followed saw him perform in over 200 films and win accolades and awards en route.

The most important of the honours that came in search of him were the Kerala State awards for excellence in acting in a supporting role in 1995 and 1996, the first for his role in Adoor Gopalakrishnan's `Kathapurushan' and the second for the role in Sathyan Anthikkad's `Thoovalkkottaram.'

In 2002, he won the highest of honours for a cine actor at the State level, winning the Kerala State award for excellence in acting in a lead role for his unforgettable portrayal of the executioner Kaliyappan in Adoor Gopalakrishnan's `Nizhalkkuth.'

He was a regular in Sathyan Anthikkad films beginning with `Appunni' and had played memorable parts in such films as `Sarapanjaram,' `Guruvayur Kesavan,' `CID Unnikrishnan,' `Ponmuttayitunna Tharavu,' `Yodha' and many others, the two-scene cameo as Peringodar in `Devasuram' and the lead role as a retired schoolteacher in M.T. Vasudevan Nair's `Oru Cheru Punchiri' standing out among the many roles that he played.

Be as the dad of the jobless village youth or as the manager of a company, he came across as a flesh and blood human being whose heart was in the village, say Vadakkanchery where he was born to Echarath Krishna Menon and Oduvil Parukkutty Amma. Oduvil grew up as a Left sympathiser and had virtually from the gates of death a few weeks ago to campaign for the Left in the just-concluded Assembly elections.

He had returned to the film sets as if to overpower his illness. Oduvil was a multi-faceted genius. He was a musician and has cut over 20 cassettes. But at the end of it all, Oduvil could not fulfil one cherished dream of his: to play the bohemian Edakka genius Njeralath Rama Pothuval on screen.

`The End' came before he could appear on screen as Njeralath, waking the gods from their divine slumber into a world where laughter and soulful wails merge into one.

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