Not many today would know PA Thomas, but once upon a time, in the 1950s and 60s, he cast a spell on the silver screen as hero and villain in many films of the time. A director too, the films he directed were novelties; he showed a keen interest in adapting changes from world cinema to Malayalam films. Appearing as hero and villain in films, he followed two varied of styles acting for both. Sadly, the memories of Thomas who innovated in Malayalam cinema are unsung.
Thomas was born on March 22, 1922, in the Puthiyangadi family of Njarakkal to PJ Abraham and Mariam. He grew up hearing drama dialogues and watching rehearsals. His house was the venue for the rehearsals of Sanmarga Vilasam Nataka Sabha’s famous, biblical plays such as ‘Mishiha Charithram’, ‘Snapaka Yohannan’, and ‘Magdalena Mariyam’. Artist PJ Cherian, who ran the drama troupe, was his father’s brother.
Thomas studies at St. Mary’s High School, Njarakkal, and later joined Maharaja’s College for the intermediate course and did his graduation at from St. Albert’s College. He liked sport as much as he liked cinema. His engagement with sport helped in the making of his sport related film Swarnamedal , the first of it kind in Malayalam cinema and probably even Indian cinema.
After college education, he turned his attention to drama which is when he landed his first role in Vanamala , Malayalam’s first jungle movie. Neyyattinkara Komalam was his heroine, she was also Prem Nazir’s first heroine. His acting in the film got him a plum role in Prasanna , produced by Sree Ramalu of Pakshiraja Studio (Coimbatore). Lalitha, one of the Travancore sisters, was the heroine of the film.
He shone, as hero and villain, in several subsequent films Kanchana , Chathurangam , Minnal Padayali , Viruthan Sanku , Veluthampi Dalawa , Sri Ayyappan , and Mudiyanaya Puthran . He, however, had not forgotten drama and theatre.
He floated a drama troupe Kerala Kala Samithi, which staged plays such as ‘Mishiha Charithram’, ‘Tipu Sultan’, ‘Maya’, and ‘Rajaputhrakankanam’. Thikkurissi Sukumaran Nair, NN Pillai, Sebastian Kunjukunju Bhagavathar, and Mavelikkara Ponnamma have all acted in his plays.
He made his directorial debut in films in 1964. SL Puram Sadanandan’s play ‘Oral Koodi Kallanayi’, which did well as a play, was made into film by Thomas. He also produced the film, and acted in the film which starred Prem Nazir and Sheela in lead roles. The next film he directed was Kudumbini starring Kaviyoor Ponnamma. It was in this film that she started acting as a mother. It was also Meena’s debut film. The film was a financial success and was awarded the National Merit certificate in 1964. His next film was ‘Porter Kunjali’.
Thomas introduced Jesey and Rajalakshmi in his film Bhoomiyile Malakha written by CL Jose. Jesey went on to become a leading director in Malayalam. Thomas also brought Sathyan and Prem Nazir together on screen in one of his films Station Master . His other films include Kayamkulam Kochunni , Kallipennu , Postman , Madatharvi , Sahadharmini , and Pavappettaval all made under the Thomas Pictures banner. Buoyed by successes here, he slowly shifted Tamil films, his first Tamil film was Thalaivan starring MG Ramachandran as hero. The success of this film granted him a pivotal place in Tamil cinema. Without delay, he opened a studio, Thomas Studio, in Madras (Chennai). He managed to get the arch rivals in Tamil politics to work together in a film called Jesus; MGR would act in the film scripted by K Karunanidhi.
Unfortunately the film wasn’t completed. Thomas used the same theme for a Malayalam film Jesus starring Gemini Ganesan, Thikkurissi Sukumaran Nair, MN Nambiar, and Jayabharathi, which he directed.
The film was dubbed in Tamil and Hindi. Thomas’ next venture in Malayalam also biblical, Thomasleeha . However, he returned to social themes later. He produced Nizhal Moodiya Nirangal. His last film was Swarnamedal with a new face, Umesh, as the hero. Though busy with films, he was a keen sportsman too. That is where the inspiration to make a film based on a sportsman’s life.
“My father loved cinema and sports alike. The emblem of Thomas Pictures was a javelin thrower. He even ran a tennis academy in Chennai. He took both his passions, films and sport, along till his death on January 19 in 1995,” says Laila, of her father PA Thomas.