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Panchathantram: 1974

A scene from Panchathantram

A scene from Panchathantram

CID (1955) produced by Neela Productions is considered as the first crime thriller in Malayalam. Indian cinema of the mid-1960s and 1970s was partial to this genre. Hindi films such as Humraaz (1965), Jewel Thief (1967), The Train (1970 ), Sawan Bhadon (1970) and Tamil films like Athey Kankal , Neelagiri Express , Rahasya Police 115 (1967), Santhi Nilayam (1969) , CID Shanker , Nadu Iravil (1970) in this genre were successful in Kerala also. Malayalam films such as Karutha Kai (1964), Cochin Express , Paathiraapattu (1967), Hotel High Range (1968), Danger Biscuit (1969), CID Nazir , Lanka Dahanam (1971) followed the trend.

Panchathanthram released on March 22, 1974 was a crime thriller which was a huge hit at the box office. Produced by E.K. Thyagarajan under the banner of Sree Murukalaya, and shot at Vasu and Syamala Studios, the script was by the director of the film Sasikumar. Dialogues written by Sreemoolanagaram Vijayan sustained the suspense from the beginning to the climax. Editing by K. Sankunni and cinematography by C.J. Mohan were appreciated by the audience and film critics. Music composed by Devarajan was a highlight of the film. R.K.Shekhar was assistant to the composer.

The story pivots around the mysterious death of Raja Vamana Varma, the king of a small city state in Kerala. A huge bronze statue of the king murders several people with a sword. It is believed that the ghost of the king enters the statue and commits the murders. The statue attempts to murder the queen, Gayathri Devi, and her five-year-old son. The queen escapes and the prince runs away from the palace.

She shifts to the annex of the palace. Years roll by. The government appoints anthropologist Dr. Menon (K.P. Ummer) to investigate the murders in and around the palace. Menon comes to the palace with his daughter Sindhu (Jayabharathi) and his assistant Krishnankutty (Adoor Bhasi) to investigate the mystery. Menon is murdered by the ghost. Sindhu decides to stay back in the palace to solve the mystery behind the murders by the king’s ‘ghost’.

A police officer appointed for the investigation is also murdered by the ghost. Detective officers Rajendran (Prem Nazir) and Gupta (Bahadur) are sent by the Central Government for the investigation. Rajendran centres his investigation around Hotel Ding Mona, owned by a Chinese woman Kochang Farooka (Meena).

Hotel dancer Julie (Sadhana), receptionist Charlie (Kaduvakkulam Antony), a regular visitor at to the hotel – Sardar Garnayal Singh (Jose Prakash) are the prime suspects in the mystery behind the murders. Rajendran falls in love with Sindhu.

Rajendran’s lookalike and brother, Shekhar, comes to the hotel and joins the suspects in the murder case. And several twists and turns in the investigation unravel the facts behind the mysteries around the palace.

It turns out that the palace manager Kurup (Sankaradi) and the queen’s faithful servant Kochu Paru (Meena) are the real culprits. Their aim is to unearth treasures – gold, gems and diamonds – hidden in the palace by the king’s faithful servant Dinesh Chandran (Muthiah). Kochu Paru disguised as Kochang Farooka and Kurup disguised as an Arab were implementing their plan to find the hidden treasure. Dinesh Chandran, held captive by them does not reveal where the treasure is hidden.

Rajendran succeeds in solving the mystery and it turns out that he is none other than the prince who ran away from the palace years ago. The queen identifies him by the scar on his chest.

And it turns out that Shekhar, Rajendran’s lookalike brother, was in fact Rajendran himself. It was all a part of his plan to crack the mystery murders.

Kurup and his men murdered the king and the ‘ghost’ was Kurup himself. Kurup committed the murders by getting into a bronze mould identical to the statue.

The dancer Julie is none other than Vimala Gupta, Rajendran’s assistant Gupta’s wife. She took up the job at the hotel, which was the culprits’ hangout, in order to uncover their plans. The culprits arrested, the suspense thriller ended with a happily ever after. Rajendran marries Sindhu.

Prem Nazir acted as the investigating officer in most suspense thrillers of that time. Audiences liked his performance in the film and especially the romantic scenes with Jayabharathi.

The suspense of the crime thriller, techniques of investigation, unusual twists and turns in the story, and the cabaret dances upped the entertainment value of the film.

A dance drama performed by M.G. Soman and Jayakumari enthralled the audience. Comic scenes with Adoor Bhasi, Bahadur, Sreelatha etc were copies from other, earlier films.

Songs written by Sreekumaran Thampi and composed by Devarajan became hits. Instant hits were ‘Aavanippon pulari….’, ‘Sarada Rajani Deepamuyarnu…’ (both by K.J. Yesudas). Other hits include ‘Kasthuri Manam veno…’ (Madhuri), ‘Rajamalli Poomazha thudangi…’ (Yesudas and Madhuri) and ‘Jeevithamoru Madhusala…’ (Yesudas and chorus)

Will be remembered:

As a successful crime and suspense thriller and for the music.

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2022 5:59:05 am | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/panchathantram-1974/article6452869.ece