Video archive finds a dedicated audience after remaining unseen for decades

AVM Unni shot interviews of Malayali actors and writers, and various cultural events in Qatar between the early 1980s and mid-1990s

October 12, 2022 07:19 pm | Updated 07:19 pm IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

A.V.M. Unni interviewing actor Prem Nazir in the 1980s

A.V.M. Unni interviewing actor Prem Nazir in the 1980s

When Arakkal Vettath Muhammad Unni, known better as AVM Unni, began shooting videos of Malayali cultural events and interviews of visiting Malayalam actors and writers soon after he migrated to Qatar for a job in 1978, he had hoped to tap into the VHS cassette boom and bring out a series of video magazines.

The plan never materialised. The old videos, which remained unpublished for decades, have now found a dedicated audience in YouTube, after his son began uploading them in the channel AVM Unni Archives, garnering over 2 crore views in two years.

The vast collection of videos, most of which were shot between the early 1980s and mid-1990s, include the earliest interviews of many current Malayalam actors and writers, visuals from various events during the period, and glimpses of various towns in Kerala in the early 1990s. All of these were shot during his free time from work, in the beginning at an electrical shop and later at the water authority of Qatar.

From movie dreams

Unni, who used to be active in the drama circuits in Kerala in the 1970s, had earlier tried his luck in getting into the movie industry. Although he stayed with a friend from the Malayalam industry in Chennai for a few months, the movie dreams did not happen. He would soon be on a ship to Qatar, after landing a job there.

AVM Unni in 1980s and now

AVM Unni in 1980s and now

"That was the time during which video cameras were just beginning to be accessible to common people. I bought a National VHS Camcorder and began documenting events. I used to shoot materials for people who organise events. In return, I never asked for money, but for permission to interview actors when they organise those mega events. That gave me the opportunity to do the first such interviews of many of them. I used to edit the videos properly, with an aim to create video magazine series, but it never happened," says Unni, who is currently at his house in Edappal in Malappuram, after returning home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Well-preserved

The tapes remained preserved without any fungus attack due to the lesser humidity in Qatar. He admits that he took up the work because of his unfulfilled wish to act in films. However, later, he did manage to act in several popular home videos, which were highly popular among the families of Gulf expatriates, especially in the Malabar region, in the early 2000s. Some of the films like Parethan Thirichu Varunnu released in 2004, in which Unni played the lead, have been immmensly popular due to their portrayal of the travails of the expatriates.

Unni continued shooting regularly till the mid-1990s, when several private television channels made their entry. He stuck to sporadically covering various cultural activities. He is happy now that people are finally seeing the videos he painstakingly shot and edited several years ago, and appreciating them as reminders of a simpler time.

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