CLASSIC MULTI-STARRER Kottarakara Sreedharan Nair, left, and Sathyan in ‘Aranazhikaneram'  

‘Aranazhikaneram' is widely considered as one of the best Malayalam films with a Christian family background. The film was true adaptation of the novel of the same title by K E Mathai, popularly known as Parappurath. The novel was a bestseller and bagged several awards. The screen version of the novel also was a huge hit.

To add to the spirit and ambience the film was released on the Christmas Day. It is considered as one of the best works of director K. S. Sethumadhavan. The multi-starrer had leading stars like Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair, Sathyan, Prem Nazir, K. P. Ummer, Adoor Bhasi, Ragini, Sheela, Ambika cast in important roles.

The dialogues were written by Parappurath, who also played a minor role in the film. Another feature of the film was that popular comic stars like Adoor Bhasi, Bahadur and Sankaradi were cast in important character roles.

The film went to win laurels at the Kerala State Film Awards, like best actor (Kottarakkara), best story (Parappurath) and best director (Sethumadhavan).

The story revolved round an orthodox Christian family headed by the octogenarian Kunjonachan (Kottarakkara) who lives his life by The Book. Kunjonachan stays with his son Mathukutty (Sathyan), a politician. Mathukutty's son Rajan (Prem Nazir) by his first wife is in military service and the family survive on the money he sends. Mathukutty's second wife Deenamma (Ragini) nurses and takes care of Kunjonachan and the old man in extremely fond of her.

Kunjonachan's other children are Geevarghese (Sankaradi), a small-time businessman who always complains of being neglected by his father, Kunju Cherukkan (Bahadur) a farmerwho lives in utter poverty and survives on what his son who works in Bombay sends him and Philippose (Govindankutty) a wealthy estate owner who lives in the same village but offers no help to his brothers.

Rajan comes on his annual leave. He meets and falls in love with Santhamma (Sheela). The family oppose the marriage citing scandals about Santhamma's widowed mother. But Rajan is firm and the marriage takes place with the blessings of Kunjonachan. Meanwhile, Geevarghese is reluctant to marry off his daughter Kuttiamma (Ambika), a teacher in the village school; because he fears that he will lose the money she gives him every month. Kuttiamma is in love with Thomas (Ummer), her colleague. Kunjonachan conducts their marriage.

Rajan dies in an accident at the military camp. The family go through a string of setbacks. Philippose's son Johnykutty (Prem Prakash) marries a labourer in the estate, Philippose's wife Annamma (Meena) turns mad, Kunju Cherukkan's son Danny (Jessey) is arrested on charges of smuggling and Kunjonachan, who believes that the death is ‘only half an hour away' suffers a heart attack and is bedridden. The doctor advises him not to stop his habit of consuming opium all of a sudden. The opium is brought by Sivarama Kurup (Adoor Bhasi), a regular to Kunjonachan's house.

One day Kunjonachan finds his daughter-in-law Deenamma and Kurup in a compromising position. Kunjonachan is shocked, he falls down and loses his power of speech. In his fear that Kunjonachan will spill the beans on their illicit affair, Kurup mixes poison in the opium served to Kunjonachan. The kind-hearted old man dies. In an act of repentance Deenamma also consumes the poisoned opium and dies bringing the film to a tragic end.

Kottarakkara excelled in the role of Kunjonachan. Film critics consider this performance as more impressive than his much acclaimed Chembankunju in ‘Chemmeen'. All other artistes impressed. Special mention must be made of Adoor Bhasi who was outstanding in the negative role.

The excellent music, composed by G. Devarajan and the five songs penned by Vayalar Rama Varma was a highpoint of the film. All the songs became instant hits. A prayer song, ‘Samayamam rathathil njaan …' (P. Leela-Madhuri) gained much importance. It is now widely used as a dirge. This song has an interesting story behind it. The song was written by a German missionary, Rev.Fr Volbrecht Nagel in 1904 while he was a parish priest in Malabar region. Vayalar modified the song by changing a few words, but keeping the feel and idea of the original intact. The original song written by Fr. Nagel is said to have been inspired by an old spiritual written by Wallace Willis in the 1860s, ‘Swing low sweet chariot...' And another interesting fact is that the tune of the Malayalam song from the film resembled the American Western folk ballad ‘Oh My Darling Clementine...' Fr. Nagel's prayer must have been in circulation much before its was included in ‘Aranazhikaneram.' But it gained popularity as a dirge only after it was included in the film.

Other hits from the film include ‘Swarangale saptaswarangale...' (P. Leela), ‘Anupame azhage...' (K. J. Yesudas), ‘Chippi chippi muthu chippi...' (C.O. Anto-Latha Raju), and ‘Deivaputhranu veedhi orukkuvan...' (P. Susheela).

Will be remembered: For the brilliant acting by Kottarakkara, for the music, especially for the dirge ‘Samayamam rathathil...' and as a film that swept the State awards in 1970 .