'Spadikam': 23 years on, this Mohanlal film remains a favourite Malayalam action flick

'Spadikam', at its heart, is a tale of conflict between an authoritarian father and a son who wants to live life on his own terms.
'Spadikam': 23 years on, this Mohanlal film remains a favourite Malayalam action flick
'Spadikam': 23 years on, this Mohanlal film remains a favourite Malayalam action flick
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“Ithu ente puthan Rayban glass. Ithu chavitti pottichal ninte kaalu njan vettum” (This is my new Rayban glass. If you break this, I will chop your legs!)

When Aadu Thoma (Mohanlal) says this to Kuttikkadan (Spadikam George) in Spadikam, the camera is far from his face. There is neither any slow motion walk nor any thumping background score after he says this. There are no techniques that filmmakers usually use to make a line popular. Yet this, among other one-liners in the movie, went on to gain a cult status. Spadikam, which completes 23 years on March 30, defined “Mass” in a manner very few Malayalam movies had.

Writer-director Bhadran did a terrific character sketch, giving his hero an interesting name-“Aadu Thoma”. Thoma drinks the blood of black goats to gain strength. He wears Rayban glasses. He also pulls his ‘mundu’ and covers his opponent’s head with it, a trademark of his fights. Bhadran had only given Mohanlal these attributes to make him sign the movie. This is how you give a character uniqueness right at its inception.

Aadu Thoma is a mass action hero. But he is still not essentially larger than life. Thoma is a rogue. He doesn’t fear anything. He thrashes policemen. But to Bhadran’s credit, he still keeps Thoma grounded. Unlike other mass characters Mohanlal portrayed later, Aadu Thoma hasn’t traveled to foreign countries after he fled his home as a child. He hasn’t learnt music, other skills or achieved great things. In fact the movie doesn’t really talk about what he did the 14 years he was away.

There is no attempt to portray Aadu Thoma as a completely virtuous person. He doesn’t have solutions to all problems. He even fails miserably several times. Thoma tries to woo a judge to change the schedule of his case so he can attend his sister’s betrothal, but only ends up being humiliated in the court. When he tries to take revenge on the judge by locking his gate, he is again beaten by his father, then by the police and walked through streets, hand locked to the jeep.

Contrary to most Malayalam action movies, the lines delivered by Aadu Thoma (exceptionally written by Rajendra Babu) are minimal and to the point. You remember the line - “Kuttikkada, ninte case Thoma avadhikku vechirikkunu” (your case is pending with me), mainly because Thoma doesn’t go on and on in that scene. The fight sequences are instead high voltage, with Mohanlal’s renowned flexibility in stunts exploited to the hilt.

If Spadikam checks all boxes perfectly for an action classic, Bhadran’s remarkable feat is to churn out a great family movie from this same screenplay. Spadikam, at its heart, is a tale of conflict between an authoritarian father who was adamant in making his son a successful mathematician like him and the son who couldn’t take it anymore, deciding to live on his own terms.

You know the father-son relationship is strained right from the beginning when Thoma makes a parrot utter “Kaduva”(Tiger) and when Chacko Master (Thilakan) reads out a cure for injuries to mock his son’s life as a rowdy. Leaving viewers guessing on what made Aadu Thoma the ruffian he is and why his mother, sister and others are still by his side, the flashback is cleverly placed only after one hour in the movie.

It's just 10 minutes long but you rarely see such well-made flashbacks. Not only do you learn about the cruel punishment tactics Chacko used on his son, every main character makes an apperance to connect the dots. Bhadran also plants two important details here to pave way for two immensely heart-warming scenes later.

As a kid, Thoma had pierced his compass on his classmate, Balu’s hand, before he ran away. This is to give us the wonderful scene where Thoma kisses the hand of Balu’s father (N.F Varghese) and asks him- “Why did you buy him a bike that he had to die in an accident?”. The device Thoma had created as a kid to ring the school bell is kept safely by Thulasi (Urvashi) for years. It’s on hearing its sound later that Thoma finally opens up and confesses his love for Thulasi.

Wearing a tough mask outside and hiding his sorrows behind the Rayban glasses, Mohanlal made Aadu Thoma iconic like only he could. The actor’s gift to handle with aplomb just about any situation is in fine display in Spadikam. When Thoma runs into the police station saying “Njan Thoma, Aadu Thoma”, Mohanlal evokes goosebumps in us. When he runs into Thulasi’s house asking her why she kept the device, the actor brings us to tears.

Today we don’t approve when actors are awarded in commercial movies. In 1995, when Mohanlal won the Kerala state award for Spadikam (shared with Kalapani), we didn’t complain. 

Who other than Thilakan to portray the complex Chacko Master! When Chacko is alone with the parrot that calls him Kaduva or when he touches his son’s feet at the hospital or when he finally apologises to Thoma, Thilakan brings in utmost conviction in the transformation of a father who realises his mistakes.

Even other characters, played by a fantastic cast, had depth in this father-son tale. Both Thulasi and Mary (KPAC Lalitha) play a part in changing the hearts of lead men. You have the calm Ravunni Master (Nedumudi Venu) to tell both Chacko and viewers how a good teacher and father should be. Also who can forget Father Ottaplakkan's (Karamana Janardhanan) “Ulakka”?

Only Laila (Silk Smitha) got a raw deal. Silk Smitha, as was the norm in most of the films she starred in, exists only to titillate in Spadikam. As a sex worker, she is relegated to raunchy sequences and Aadu Thoma uses her as another way to get back to his father. We get to see this when he holds her hand tightly when they are arrested and made to walk through streets together. Today perhaps Spadikam would have been written differently. But two decades earlier, that Thoma chooses the 'good woman' Thulasi over Laila doesn't come as a surprise.

A huge blockbuster at the time of its release, it goes without saying that Spadikam has influenced generations of viewers and filmmakers. Spadikam was remade in all other south Indian languages. College students still emulate Aadu Thoma’s attire of Rayban glasses, red shirt and mundu along with the “Chekuthan” lorry during festivals in Kerala campuses.

The iconic mundu fight was used as a spoof in several movies. When filming George’s epic transformation scene in 2015’s Premam, Alphonse Puthran asked Nivin Pauly and gang to watch Aadu Thoma’s mass scenes. Spadikam George carried the movie title in his name forever.

Spadikam ends when Thoma arrives at his home to learn that Chacko Master is dead. To fulfill one final wish, he lifts the corpse and make him wear the full sleeve shirt that he had just got stitched. Thoma walks close to Ravunni master but doesn’t speak. He turns to Thulasi, gives his chain to her and again doesn’t say anything. He then enters the police jeep to accept the punishment for killing his father’s murderer. It's a heart-breaking ending, but nevertheless sublime.

We never had a sequel for Spadikam (and we are really thankful for it), perhaps because Bhadran and others knew that there was no further story to tell for Thoma in a world without Chacko Master. There are mass action entertainers. There are beautiful family dramas. And then there is Spadikam.

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