Realistic melodramaSathyan and Prema in ‘Neelakuyil.’  

Sathyan, P. Bhaskaran, J. A .R. Anand, Miss Kumari, Prema

‘Neelakkuyil’ divides the history of Malayalam cinema and its music in the timeline of history. The film set the trend of realistic melodrama and brought the first National Award (Presidents silver medal) to Malayalam cinema. The film was a musical hit and saw playback singers like Kozhikode Abdul Kader, Shantha P. Nair and Janamma David give their best to Malayalam film music. The story of ‘Neelakuyil’ by Uroob, which focussed on reformist literature, was extended to a performance idiom using new-generation stars like Sathyan, Miss Kumari and Prema. A.Vincent’s crisp camera brought out the beauty of black and white frames like never before. It remains one of the best of black and white films made in the language. The manner in which Vincent blended light and shade at a time when photography had not developed much is a wonder.

The pastoral tragedy tells the story of the love affair of a Dalit girl and an educated, ‘high caste’ school teacher. The script’s hard-hitting dialogues flay social evils such as untouchability, feudalism, and injustice towards women. The music was mainly based on folk tunes and all the songs had the smell of the soil. It included Mappilappattu, harvest song, a traditional prayer, romantic melodies, all of which followed the folk traditions of the State.

The plot revolves around rustic life in a small village. Neeli (Miss Kumari), a Dalit peasant girl, falls in love with Sreedharan Nair (Sathyan), a school teacher. Neeli becomes pregnant. Sreedharan Nair refuses to marry Neeli as he fears ostracisation by a conservative society. Neeli becomes an outcaste and dies in child birth. Sankaran Nair (P.Bhaskaran), the village postman, adopts the child ignoring the protests of society. Sreedharan Nair marries Nalini (Prema), a member of an aristocratic family. Neeli’s son Mohan (Master Vipin) is brought up by the postman. The film ends with Sreedharan Nair and Nalini accepting the boy as their own child.

Sathyan and Miss Kumari excelled in their roles. The pastoral slang used in the script gave a realistic touch to the characters.

President’s silver medal

The film won the President’s silver medal in 1954. What makes this honour special is that ‘Neelakuyil’ was a venture by relatively newcomers to the field. When the two other national award-winning South Indian films had established banners, eminent directors, reputed music directors and matinee idols of that time, ‘Neelakuyil’ was made by a newly formed production house, directed by newcomers, tuned by a new composer and had relatively inexperienced actors. This made the national honour more significant.

There were nine songs in the film. The music completely dispensed with the then prevailing trend of imitation of popular tunes. All the songs became super hits. ‘Ellarun chollanu ellarum chollanu...’ (Janamma David), ‘Kayalarikaathu vala erinjappol...’ (K.Raghavan) became the most popular among the songs. Raghavan’s song is considered the first successful Mappila song in Malayalam Cinema. ‘Unarunaroo Unnikanna...’ a solo by Shantha P. Nair, based on Bilahari raga, is still one of the best devotionals in the language. Compositions of Tyagaraja had found a place in Malayalam cinema before ‘Neelakkuyil.’ But in this film there was a song based on a Tyagaraja composition – ‘Sarasa sama daana bheda…’ (Kaapi Narayani raga). ‘Kadalasu vanchi aeri...’ a children’s song by Kozhikode Pushpa, ‘Maanennum vilikkilla...’ by Mehaboob, ‘Kuyilinie thedi...’ by Janamma David became huge hits. Kozhikode Abdul Khader’s ‘Engine nee marakkum...’ in that typical K. L. Saigal style of singing still remains a much sought after melody. The simple lyrics by P. Bhaskaran and sensitive music by K. Raghavan immortalised the songs.

The film was dubbed to Tamil in the same title and this version was also a thumping success.

Will be remembered: As the first Malayalam film to win National recognition. As the debut of director Ramu Kariat, P. Bhaskaran, actors Prema, Master Vipin (now popular cinematographer Vipin Mohan), music director K. Raghavan and many other artistes who worked in the project. The film is also the first individual effort of cinematographer Vincent. And, of course, for the lovely songs.