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Viruthan Shanku: 1968

Ambika and Adoor Bhasi in the film Viruthan Shanku   | Photo Credit: By Special Arrangement

The Malayalam novel Viruthan Shanku, written by Karat Achutha Menon in 1912, was first published by Yogakshemam Thrissur in 1930. It is one of the early literary works that focussed on the social evils of the marumakkathayam, the matrilineal inheritance system prevalent in Kerala, mainly in the Nair community. The novel is considered as the first Malayalam work in the picaresque genre, which originated in Spain sometime in the 16th century and usually had the adventures of rogues and wandering heroes as its staple theme. Daniel Defoe’s Mall Flanders, Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn etc. are famous examples of this genre.

Viruthan Shanku was written by Menon when he was undergoing treatment for tuberculosis at a sanatorium in Madras. The hero of the novel appears in various disguises to fulfil his mission. Probably, Menon might have been inspired by the popular musical opera Aryamala or Kathavarayan Katha staged in Tamil Nadu during the 19th century. In the 1950’s a series of Tamil detective novels written by Vaduvur Duraiswami Iyengar with a protagonist Digambara Swamiyar who assumes various disguises and performs great feats of courage became huge hits. The Tamil films Aryamala (1941) and Digambara Swamiyar (1950) that followed this plot were box office hits. The unusual success of these films must have prompted the producer P.K. Sathyapal to make a screen adaptation of Viruthan Shanku.

Produced under the banner of Oriental Movies and directed by Venugopala Menon, popularly known as Venu, the film was shot at Syamala and Revathi studios. Jagathi N.K. Achary wrote the dialogues for the script that was developed by Satya, probably the pseudonym of the producer Satyapal. K.D. George was the editor and T.N. Krishnankutty Nair the cinematographer. Released on April 11, 1968, the film bombed at the box office. The only redeeming feature was perhaps the songs composed by B.A. Chidambaranath.

Thikkurissi Sukumaran Nair, Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair, T.K. Balachandran, Sathyapal, Ambika, Sukumari, Aranmula Ponnamma, Jayabharathi were cast in important roles. This was also the first film in which Adoor Bhasi was cast as hero.

After his higher studies in Madras, Vikraman (Adoor Bhasi) returns to his village in Kerala and is disappointed to find that the assets of his joint family have been misappropriated by his elder brother Ukkannan Nair (Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair) who now stays at his wife’s house. Vikraman’s elder sister Kunju Lakshmi (Aranmula Ponnamma) and her children are abandoned by Nair who is now under the control of his wife Kumudam (Radha) and her mother Bhargavi Amma (Meena). They refuse to give the rightful share of the property to Vikraman and his sister.

Vikraman decides to move against his brother legally.

Vikraman is hounded by misfortune. Dacoits attack his home and push his wife Kamakshi (Jayabharathi) from the attic. She breathes her last in Vikraman’s lap. His son Chandrasekharan (Baby Regina) is abducted for his gold ornaments. After the rampage Vikraman gets as evidence a broken piece of tiger’s claw, which one of the dacoits was wearing. Vikraman contracts tuberculosis and leaves the village without informing anyone. He reaches a tribal colony where he shoots down a rogue elephant and is forced to flee into the depths of the jungle to escape arrest.

In the jungle Vikraman meets a dacoit, Govindan (Sunny Mathew) and identifies him as his wife’s killer from one half of the broken tiger claw he wore. Vikraman is led to the chief of the dacoits (Sathyapal) and he finds his son there. Since Vikraman has found the secret camp of the dacoits, the chief refuses to free him. He requests Vikraman to join their gang and prove that he is a ‘smart thief’ and promises to free him and his son if he succeeds in the test.

Vikraman changes his name to Shanku and very tactfully robs the villagers nearby of their valuables. He disguises himself as a Brahmin, washerman, music teacher, doctor etc. to dupe his victims. In between all this Vikraman falls in love with Kunjikavu (Ambika) whom he teaches music.

Meanwhile, Govindan makes an attempt to take over as chief of the dacoits. In the ensuing fight both the chief and Govindan are killed. Vikraman dissolves the gang advising them to lead a dignified life. Vikraman returns all the valuables to the respective owners. The film ends on a happy note with the wedding of Kunjikavu and Vikraman.

Adoor Bhasi excelled in the different characters he portrayed.

Some of the songs penned by P.Bhaskaran and set to tune by Chidambaranath became hits. Some of them were Varunnu pokunnu vazhipokkar…(K.J. Yesudas), Vannaan vannallo…(Yesudas), Aaraama mullakaley parayamo… and Innu varum achan innu varum… (both sung by P.Leela).

Will be remembered: As Adoor Bhasi's first film as hero. And for the songs, especially the Yesudas hit Varunnu pokunnu vazhipokkar

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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 8:45:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/cinema-columns/viruthan-shanku-1968/article7593969.ece

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