Ragini in a scene from the film Unniyarcha   | Photo Credit: scan kochi

‘Vadakkan Paattu,' the folkore of North Kerala, is ballads of the Malabar. These traditional songs form a separate genre in Malayalam literature. Unniyarcha is a popular, legendary woman warrior who finds mention in the ‘Vadakkan Paattu.' She is believed to have lived in the Malabar sometime in the 16th century.

Popular playwright, stage and film actor N. Govindankutty wrote a stage play ‘Unniyarcha' in 1956. This was staged successfully by Jyothi Theatres, a group established by stage and film actor Kottayam Chellappan. Directed by P. J. Antony the play presented on the stage the heroic life of the women warrior, who was proficient in ‘Kalaripayattu,' the martial art of Kerala. P. J. Antony, Kottayam Chellappan, Govindankutty, Maradu Joseph and Cherthala Srimathi were the lead actors.

In 1961, Udaya Studios produced the film ‘Unniyarcha.' Directed by Kunchacko the film was partly shot on the backwaters of Kerala. The script and dialogues written by Sarangapani followed the local dialect of North Malabar. Cinematography by N. Krishnankutty was commendable. The film was a huge hit and led to a trend of adapting legends from the ‘Vadakkan Paattukal' to cinema. ‘Unniyarcha' was released during Onam in 1961.

Kannappa Chekavar (Thikkurissi) the ‘kalaripayattu' teacher trains his daughter Unniyarcha (Ragini) and sons Aromal (Sathyan) and Unni Kannan (Gopalakrishnan) in the martial arts. Chandu (Kottayam Chellappan), the wicked nephew of Kannappa Chekavar, turns trouble maker when Unniyarcha spurns his love. Chandu attempts to molest Unniyarcha. Aromal saves her. Unniyarcha is married to Kunjiraman (Prem Nazir) a warrior from the neighbouring village. Chandu's enmity towards Aromal and Unniyarcha continues.

Unniyarcha, who is an expert in wielding the ‘urumi', a kind of flexible sword, suppresses the bandits in Nadapuram market who used to pester the women in the village. She becomes a symbol of female courage.

According to the traditions, family disputes that could not be otherwise resolved were often decided by sword fights. The right over the conduct of funeral rites of a local landlord gives rise to such a dispute and situation. Aromal and Aringoder (Sunny) are the warriors engaged in the sword fight conducted to resolve the issue. Chandu accompanies Aromal for the duel. The sword given to Aromal proves to be defective. This was in fact a plot to kill Aromal. But brave Aromal kills Aringoder in the duel. Chandu injures Aromal fatally when he is resting after the fight. Aromal dies after having revealing to Unniyarcha and his wife Kunjunnooli (Reetha) about the man who stabbed him. Unniyarcha vows to take revenge on Chandu, the man responsible for Aromal's death. Aromalunni (Hari) and Kannapannunni (Rajan), sons of Unniyarcha and Aromal, are trained by Unniyarcha to carry out her mission. Aromalunni and Kannapannunni kill Chandu in a duel.

Ragini and Sathyan were impressive. S. P. Pillai as Panen, the folk singer, was also well received. He continued to play this role in the films that were based on ‘Vadakkan Paattu' stories.

There were 23 songs in the film that were written by P. Bhaskaran and set to music by K. Raghavan. Most of them were composed in the typical ‘Vadakkan Paattu' style. The romantic duet ‘Annu ninne kandathil pinne…' (A. M. Raja- P.Leela) and the solo ‘Poringal jayamallo…' (Leela) became hits. Other hits include ‘Po kuthire padakuthire…' (Leela – P. Susheela), and ‘Aattum manammele…' (Raja).

Will be remembered: The first film based on ‘Vadakkan Paattu.' And for the good music.

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 6:25:14 PM |

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