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Genova and contrasting debuts

M.G. Ramachandan (MGR)  

M.G. Ramachandan (MGR) and M.S. Viswanathan (MSV), the former born in Sri Lanka and the latter in Kerala, secured their future in Tamil Nadu. MGR went on to become a superstar and Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, while MSV went on to become the king of melodies, his songs mesmerising generations of music lovers. And while MSV did wave his magic wand in Malayalam for over a decade, MGR’s tryst with Malayalam lasted just one film.

It was Alleppey Vincent who was in a way instrumental in bringing both MGR and MSV to Malayalam cinema. The film was Genova in which MGR played the male lead while MSV joined two others in creating the music. Genova was perhaps the first big budget film in Malayalam costing something beyond Rs. 10 lakh. And it ended in a loss.

Reasons for the loss were many. A big budget film, for instance, should have qualified technicians. Moreover, the producers of such films, where huge amounts are invested, need to be wary of not being exploited. They should also have a clear idea of the capabilities and calibre of the director, scenarist, actors and other technicians involved in the project. In the case of Genova the technicians were not all that qualified, nor did the producers have the know how to go about making a film of this dimension.

The idea for such a film was Vincent’s. He was advised to consider a Bible story by some missionaries who assured him that such a film would win wide acceptance among the Christian community. Vincent also felt it would be easy to rope in producers from the community. He first broached this subject with K.V. Koshy and Kunchacko of Udaya Studio. They refused to buy the idea. Vincent then approached E.P Eapen, a Thiruvananthapuram-based businessman. He knew Eapen from his college days. Eapen agreed to be part of the film. Vincent then met T.C. Mathew another business magnate from Alappuzha and managed to convince him to invest in the project.

Since the producer was a newcomer all the production responsibilities fell on Vincent. He first met F. Nagoor, a popular director who agreed to work in the film. With Nagoor’s help Vincent fixed Newton Studio for the shoot. MSV, Jnanamani and T.S. Kalyanam were the music directors.

MGR, B.S. Saroja, M.G. Chakrapani, S.P. Pillai, Muthukulam, Bharadwaj, Janaki Bhai, R. Balasubhrahmanyam were chosen for the main roles. Vincent decided to do don the villain’s role. Peethambaram was the lyricist and Swami Brahmavruthan was entrusted with work of writing the screenplay. Brahmavruthan had written plays but had no clue of writing for films. The problems began from there.

The story of Genova had no direct connection with the life of Jesus Christ but rather of incidents that happened in ancient Rome. This story was propagated in Kerala by the Portuguese missionaries. In fact, it was popular through Chavittunatakam and the early Sangeetha Natakams or musical plays. Brahmavruthan used elements from these forms for his screenplay. The result was that there were lengthy dialogues and scenes, lot of action, dances squeezed in unnecessarily. This was a costume drama and the designers failed to make an impact.

The Tamil version did well at the box-office. Perhaps MGR was more acceptable in Tamil Nadu than in his homeland.

Though Genova was not a huge success in Malayalam it certainly found a place in cinema history for being the only film in which MGR starred and for MSV’s Malayalam debut which sparked off a series of lilting melodies in his mother tongue.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 6:03:39 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/cinema-columns/genova-and-contrasting-debuts/article7467111.ece

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