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Padunna Puzha - 1968

The three roles performed by Adoor Bhasi in the film   | Photo Credit: By special arrangement

Early period in Malayalam cinema witnessed a series of remakes of Tamil, Hindi and Telugu films, most of which failed at the box office. Padunna Puzha, released on June 20, 1968, was probably the first Malayalam film that was remade in another language. M. Krishnan Nair, who directed the film, directed the Tamil remake Mannippu (1969) also. Both the films were successful at the box office.

The story of the film was by V. Valsala Devi and popular playwright S.L. Puram Sadanandan wrote the script and dialogues. Shot at Shyamala and Arunachalam Studios, cinematography was by P. Dutt while T.R. Sreenivasalu edited the film. Music composed by Dakshinamoorthy was the highlight of the film.

Popular artistes like Prem Nazir, K.P. Ummer, Sankaradi, Sheela, Usha Nandini, Aranmula Ponnamma etc acted in important roles. A specialty of this film was the triple role performed by Adoor Bhasi - as mother, son and daughter. This was perhaps the first time in Indian cinema that a male artiste performed a female role (not as a disguise) after the silent era of cinema. With the advent of sound, this practice was stopped. There were rare instances of female artistes performing male roles, for example Geeta Bali acting as the heroine’s brother in Kidar Sharma’s Hindi film Rangeen Raaten (1956) and in Tamil S.D. Subbalakshmi acting as Lord Krishna in K Subrahmaniam’s Kuchela and M.S. Subbalakshmi as Sage Narada in Y.V. Rao’s Savithri (1941). The practice of assigning female roles to male artistes experimented with in Padunna Puzha was not carried forward though Adoor Bhasi’s performance was appreciated by the audience.

Advocate Raveendran (K.P. Ummer) and his sister Indumathi (Usha Nandini) lose their mother and are brought up by their maternal aunt Bhanumathi Amma (Aranmula Ponnamma),who loves them as her own children. Rajalakshmi (Sheela) gives Indumathi daily music lessons. Rajalakshmi is in love with Jayachandran (Prem Nazir), an artist, but her mother Bhavani Amma (T.R. Omana) is against their relationship due to a family feud. Raveendran invites Jayachandran to his house. Indumathi is impressed by the artistic talents of Jayachandran and falls in love with him at the first sight. Jayachandran rejects her love and Indumathi attempts to commit suicide. Bhanumathi Amma consoles her and assures her fulfilment of her ambitions.

One day Indumathi is not at home when Rajalakshmi arrives for their lesson. Bhanumathi gives her a cup of coffee and leaves for a wedding. Raveendran who is attracted to Rajalakshmi, attempts to take advantage of the situation. Rajalakshmi resists and out of fear and shame, Raveendran blocks her mouth with his hands. Rajalakshmi dies and Raveendran throws her corpse in a river. Jayachandran is arrested by the police on the evidence of a letter found in her handbag, in which he suggests they elope.

Raveendran decides to surrender to the police to save Jayachandran whom he knows to be innocent. Bhanumathi Amma comes to know about Raveendran’s decision. At the climax, Bhanumathi Amma appears before the court during Jayachandran’s trial and reveals that the real cause for Rajalakshmi’s death was the poison that she mixed in Rajalakshmi’s coffee. Her objective was to get Indumathi and Jayachandran married following Rajalakshmi’s demise. Raveendran commits suicide by consuming poison. Bhanumathi Amma is sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Jayachandran is freed by the court and the film ends with Jayachandran lamenting his lover’s demise on the banks of the river.

Prem Nazir and Sheela impressed the audience in their romantic roles. Probably this was the only film in which Aranmula Ponnamma, known for her stereotypical role as the loving mother, enacted the role of a cruel woman who becomes a criminal to fulfil her ambitions. Comedy scenes involving Adoor Bhasi in triple roles as the boat driver Pachu Pillai, his mother and his sister had audiences in splits.

Songs written by Sreekumaran Thampi and set to tunes by Dakshinamoorthy became timeless. An instant hit was the Abheri Raga based song ‘Hrudaya Sarassile Pranaya Pushpamey…’ (Yesudas) which is listed among the best romantic songs. Other hits include ‘Sindhu Bhairavi Raga Rasam…..’ (Leela, A. P. Komala) composed in Ragas Sindhu Bhairavi, Kalyani and Hindolam; and ‘Paadunnu Puzha Paadunnu….’

(Yesudas- also in the voices of Leela, Janaki).

Will be remembered: For Adoor Bhasi’s triple role, excellent music.

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Printable version | Jul 17, 2021 5:41:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/cinema-columns/old-is-gold-padunna-puzha-1968/article7648637.ece

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