Malayalam cinema has always had the reputation of being close to realism while other language cinema, with the exception of perhaps Bengali, was seen as tilted towards fantasy and larger than life stories. Once in a while, amidst such realistic cinema in Malayalam, came films like Nokkethadhoorathu Kannum Nattu (NKN) – a comedy caper which bordered on fantasy.
Directed by Fazil, the film hit the theatres quietly in October 1984. 35 years since, when one looks back, it is obvious that Fazil in just his fifth film had ventured into uncharted territories.
For starters, the premise was simple yet novel, exploring an intimate relationship between a grandmother and a granddaughter. It’s the way in which the director, who also wrote the script, wove some great moments between the two that made the film so endearing. Even by the lofty standards of Malayalam cinema, NKN which revolved around these two women, was path-breaking.
A film revolving around two women
For a filmmaker, working on a slice-of- life script like this, it is important to get the cast right to make the film click. The film saw yesteryear popular actor Padmini making a comeback to don the important role of a grandmother who lives in loneliness and bitterness. Padmini, returning to act after a hiatus, got into the skin of the “tough on the outside, soft in the inside” grandma character very well, much like the real life grandmas we see often.
For the granddaughter’s role, Fazil opted surprisingly for newcomer Nadhiya Moidu, who was required to carry the film on her shoulders. The film revolved mainly around her and the charm she would radiate among the people surrounding her. And Nadhiya, with an effervescent smile, did just that.
Even today, Nadhiya says that Girly, the character she played in NKN was a beautifully written one which was much ahead of its time. With this role, Nadhiya made a flawless debut and it was no surprise that she bagged the Filmfare award for this film.
Mohanlal, who was just beginning to make a mark as a flamboyant and versatile actor, played a small role in the film.
The film did well at the box-office and Fazil quickly re-made the same in Tamil as Poove Poochuda Vaa (PPV).
Remaking the film in Tamil
For Tamil cinema, which has always been known for larger than life male heroes, Poove Poochuda Vaa came as a whiff of fresh air. Even the Tamil version had no male hero character and Mohanlal’s role was done by S.Ve.Shekhar.
Fazil did well to retain both Padmini and Nadhiya in the Tamil version too. Her character was called Sundari in this one. If these days, Tamil cinema is infected by the “mass” formula, in the ‘80s and 90s it was the “masala” formula. So, it was brave of Fazil to attempt this film in Tamil (that too his first one in the language), without any of the usual masala elements such as duet songs, stunts, comedy tracks, club dances and the like.
Staying loyal to the original, Fazil did away with the commercial trappings and still managed to captivate the Tamil audience by just changing parts of the film a bit to suit their milieu. The Tamil version Poove Poochuda Vaa was an even bigger hit and was liked by the audience and critics alike. The magazine Ananda Vikatan which gives a score of 50+ very, very rarely in its film reviews, gave a generous score of 55 for PPV!
There was, of course, comedy in the film but not of the loud, cringe-worthy variety we get to see these days. The few scenes involving Nadhiya, Mohanlal/S.Ve.Shekhar with the “Magic Kannadi” had a ring of clean comedy to it. The jokes gelled with the flow of the film without appearing to be thrust in just for providing comic relief. These scenes also helped to establish the character played by Nadhiya as a happy-go-lucky girl who wanted to make the most of what was left of her life.
NKN had Jerry Amaldev as the composer, and for PPV, Fazil roped in maestro Ilaiyaraaja in what would become another memorable director-composer pair in Tamil cinema since then. During the making, Fazil introduced singer Chithra to Ilaiyaraaja and with that one peach of a song, “Chinna Kuyil Paadum Paatu Kekutha” Chithra forever became Chinna Kuyil Chithra!
The songs in both NKN and PPV were superhits in those days and are even today captivating. The song in the Malayalam version, “Aayiram kannumaai” is a very soothing melody which comes in two versions – normal and filled with pathos - in the film.
For Tamil, it is to Ilaiyaraaja’s credit that he created completely different songs without an iota of resemblance to the original Malayalam songs for the same situations.
In one of the interviews, Fazil mentioned that Ilaiyaraaja wanted the title song “Poove Poochuda Vaa” which exemplifies the grandmother-granddaughter relationship to be as memorable as the “Malarnthum malaraatha” song from the film Paasamalar which expressed the brother-sister relationship. Ilayairaaja admitted that while composing the title song for PPV, he had the Paasamalar song composed by MS Viswanathan in mind very much. This song remains one among the very best from the Ilaiyaraaja – Yesudas pair.
Once Poove Poochuda Vaa hit the screens in 1985, Nadhiya became a rage in Tamil Nadu. In the Tamil version, in one scene, a scary looking man approaches her when she is walking alone in the night. While we think that he is going to trouble her, he just asks for a beedi to which Sundari responds that she quit that habit long ago. The audience had not seen such a cool portrayal of a woman character on screen till then.
In college campuses, boys and girls alike adored her. For boys, Nadhiya, with her modern but girl-next-door looks, became the eternal dream girl. So much so, I clearly remember my friends watching PPV more than 30 times, that too almost every day, just for Nadhiya till the film was taken off from theatres! This was followed by non-stop discussions about each and every scene in the film during dinner and post-dinner sessions.
For girls, Nadhiya became a fashion goddess. In PPV, she is this stylish, urban character who mostly comes in western clothes which became an instant hit. She brought in a totally fresh dress sense and started the “Nadhiya Style”. In the films that followed PPV in Tamil, people flocked just to see Nadhiya, her style and her costumes even if the script was weak. Producers were more than willing to sign her up even in double roles where she was expected to carry the full might of the film. Films like Nilave Malare, Uyire Unakaaga and many films with a “Poo” reference in the title were bankrolled just for Nadhiya - some clicked and some flopped at the box-office. She tried her hands even in village roles later, but what stood out were the films in which she was the cool, urban and forward looking girl – a character that she could pull off effortlessly.
Like the Malayalam version, Poove Poochuda Vaa was also shot mostly in Kerala. It was one of the early films for PC Sreeram as a cinematographer in Tamil and one could see his flair throughout the picturisation of the film.
The film ends with a heart-wrenching, emotional scene when Girly/Sundari is wheeled out and the grandmother comes out and puts the bell back at the entrance of the house. It leaves a window of hope that Nadhiya’s character will return and it’s perhaps one of the reasons why the film stayed with the viewers for long. I am not a fan of sequels of hit films but we wouldn’t mind a sequel of this one. And Nadhiya can just walk in to the role from where she left as she looks the same even today.
Anand Kumar RS is a management professional by week and an avid blogger by weekend. He writes on politics, business, and films.