The politics of the Padma Awards: This 2010 Mammooty film 'Pranchiyettan' captures the circus superbly

The 2010 Malayalam blockbuster has Mammukka trying to win the Padma badge only to get rid of a nickname that he seems stuck with.
The politics of the Padma Awards: This 2010 Mammooty film 'Pranchiyettan' captures the circus superbly
The politics of the Padma Awards: This 2010 Mammooty film 'Pranchiyettan' captures the circus superbly

With the list of Padma awardees released by the government on Wednesday, the nation is celebrating its heroes, as it does every year. 

While the Modi government has garnered praise from all quarters for including unsung heroes in the list, disgruntled voices – including that of shuttler Jwala Gutta – can be heard in the background.

The Padma controversy is not new, and rages like clockwork every year, for a few days after the awards are announced. It has almost become an annual ritual of bouquets and brickbats, along with the mandatory calls for the entire process to be revamped entirely.

So much so that it found a relevant space in South Indian superstar Mammootty’s 2010 Malayalam blockbuster Pranchiyettan and the Saint that had the audiences in splits. The movie -not surprisingly- went on to become a sleeper hit that ran for over 150 days, a record of sorts at the time.

This Ranjith-directed movie saw Mammukka in a refreshingly different role of a middle-aged affluent businessman Chiramel Enashu Francis aka ‘Ari’ Pranchi, who speaks in the charming Thrissur slang that Malayalis love to hear.

What made it different from the usual slapstick comedy one sees on the big screen is the film’s realistic take on how those who come up the hard way can never seem to get rid of the ‘outsider’ tag. They somehow always end up on the outer fringes of the so-called elite circles of society.

The movie focuses on Pranchi’s relentless efforts to get rid of his nickname which hints at his family’s rice (ari in Malayalam) business.

Everyone loves to taunt him with the Ari moniker to obliquely remind him of his lack of education and inherited wealth. We are however thankfully spared of the past travails of the protagonist.

Narrated as a dialogue between Pranchi and his favourite saint Francis of Assisi, the movie follows Pranchi’s humourous attempts to achieve respectability, as defined by society.

And this includes trying to get a Padma award which, Pranchi believes, would once and for all help him eradicate the nickname from crowd memory. ‘Padma Shri’ Pranchi would ensure instant recognition and fame, so he feels.

Pranchi’s fixation with the ‘Padma Shri’ tag begins when he is forced to give up his seat on the dais for a Padma Shri recipient, while participating in a felicitation programme sponsored by him.

Egged on by his ever-faithful sidekick Vasu Menon (played by actor Innocent), Pranchi is more than willing to spend the moolah to be recommended for a Padma Shri.

Bribing a corrupt politician in this regard, he does manage to get recommended from Chhattisgarh of all places…and now with the ‘Padma Shri’ almost at his fingertips, Pranchi is all smug with anticipation, only to realise at the last moment that he has been duped of a pretty exorbitant sum.

Unable to bear the sudden increase in the quantum of jibes that come his way post this incident, Pranchi shuts himself at home. That is when a persistent knock at the door forces him to ask for the name of the unwelcome guest who replies: “Padma Shri.”

How the ‘Padma Shri’ at the door is received by Pranchi is now one of the most-loved comedy scenes on television.

And that is how Padmi Shri came calling at Pranchiyettan’s doorsteps!

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