He cast a 3-D spell

MAVERICK: Navodaya Appachan with wife Baby posing against the backdrop of the trophies and accolades which he earned over the years. Photo: K.K. Mustafah  

When ‘My Dear Kuttichathan' was released in 1984, it created quite a buzz. As India's first 3-D film, it caught the imagination of children and adults alike. The man behind this milestone in Indian cinema was Maliampurackal Chacko Punnoose (MCP), popularly referred to as Navodaya Appachan. When he passed away a couple weeks ago, Indian cinema lost a pioneer.

MCP was born in Pulincunoo village of Alappuzha, Kerala, in 1924. Just when he was contemplating the life of a missionary, his elder brother M. Kunchacko, a film producer who established the first film studio, Udaya, in 1948 in Kerala with K.V. Koshy, put him in charge of the studio's administration. After that, there was no looking back for Appachan…

The brothers jointly produced four films every year and when Kunchacko passed away, MCP handed over the reins to his only nephew Bobachan.

He started afresh, and directed the first Malayalam cinemascope film, ‘Thacholi Ambu,' starring Sivaji Ganesan, Prem Nazir and K.R. Vijaya. The film was a huge hit.

Stars introduced

That's when MCP started his production-cum-distribution house, Navodaya Movietone. He went on to produce films such as ‘Mamangam,' (1979), ‘Theekadal,' (1980) and ‘Manjil Virinja Pookkal' (1980), in which MCP introduced Mohanlal and Poornima Jayaram. The U.S.-based Jerry Amaldev was the music director while the story, screenplay, dialogue and direction were by Fazil. Another star was born when MCP produced ‘Yente Maamaatukkutiamma,' directed by Fazil -- Baby Shalini.

In 1982, MCP produced and directed ‘Padayottam,' the first 70mm film completely shot, processed and printed in India, with Prem Nazir and Mammootty. Its collection hit an all-time record. (Although ‘Sholay' and later ‘Shaan', ‘Alibaba' and ‘Kranti' were shot in India in 70mm, their final prints were developed in England, Russia and Japan, respectively, due to non-availability of infrastructure).

Though MCP's first son Jijo was the technical brain behind his father's first 70mm film, it was Appachan who directed ‘My Dear Kuttichathan,' made at Navodaya Studios. Except in Kannada (due to an official ban), the film was dubbed in all the Indian languages and created box-office records. MCP's second son Jose has inherited his father's superb administrative skills and capabilities and is today in full control of all their administrative setup.

MCP introduced script-writer Reghunath Palaeri in his ‘Onnu Mudhal Pujyam Varae.' Among others he introduced to the industry included Mohan Sithara as music director, playback singer G. Venugopal, artist Sankar, and actor Geetu Mohandoss.

To his credit goes the Tamil film, ‘Poove Poochooda Vaa' in which he introduced the bubbly Nadia Moidu. But more interesting is that fact that he brought yesteryear star Padmini (then settled in the U.S.) back to the silver screen. K.S. Chitra sang her first Tamil song, ‘Chinna Kuyil,' in that film, which earned her the sobriquet ‘chinna kuyil.' In 1989, MCP produced his last blockbuster, ‘Chanakyan,' starring Kamal Hassan and Jayaram. A bank employee T.K. Rajeev Kumar made his directorial debut in that film.

Skyrocketing salaries of stars, among other reasons, forced MCP to retire. But he still came up with a 16-mm film on the Bible in Malayalam. He converted it into digital video format and serialised it in Hindi as ‘Bible Ki Kahaniya,' which proved to be a success.

On a personal note, MCP helped this writer on several occasions. He spared the services of his editor T.R. Sekar for this writer's film ‘Mizhineer Poovukal,' starring Mohanlal, Lissy Priyadarshan and Oorvasi, and let him shoot at his Navodaya Studios free of cost in 1986. He provided free rights to a black and white print of his one of his old film hits, ‘Vellae Thamarai Mottu Polae,' for this writer's film, ‘Pradesika Varthakal,' starring Jayaram and Parvathi.

MCP was the president of Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce (1973–78, 1979-81) and was president of The South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce in 1990-91. It was heart-rending to see his mortal remains being placed for public homage at the Ernakulam Town Hall, where he had participated in many functions. MCP who had connections with Madras for over six decades, passed away in Kerala. He was buried in the Assumption Church Cemetery at Darkas village near Tambaram on April 25.

Simple and humane

T.R. Sekar (75 years and settled in Tiruchi) who had worked with Udhaya as assistant to G. Venkatraman from the 1960s and became chief editor in 1973 in Udhaya's Thenaruvi and had worked for all Navodaya Movietone's films (except ‘Chanakyan') says: “MCP was a disciplined and punctual person. When ‘Thacholi Ambu''s final editing work was going on round the clock, he would drop me off at my house at 6 a.m., wait for me and then take me back. Noticing the poor conditions in which I lived, he offered to buy me a house, a request I politely turned down.

“He was simple and never flaunted his wealth. Can you imagine a person who was worth hundreds of crores of rupees, travelling by train from Kodambakkam (he lived in Mahalingapuram) to Tambaram daily, using his car only from there to Kishkintha. Such was the man!”

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Printable version | Dec 2, 2021 3:32:35 AM |

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