Written by Unni
Even though Kalaripayattu maybe more popular outside Kerala, movies based on the subject have always fascinated Malayalis. “Chanthu”, “Othenan”, “Unniyarcha” and “Aringodar” are all on a first name basis with us. Out of the Vadakkanpaatu movies, Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha was the most notable one since it saw the coming together of three people – each veterans in their own fields – MT Vasudevan Nair, arguably the most eminent living Malayalam writer today, Mammotty the Megastar and Hariharan who did classics like Panchagni, Armitham Gamaya and Nakhashatangal.
Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha came to the theaters in 1989 and the protagonist, Chanthu Chekavar, was played by Mammotty. The movie boasted of an impressive star cast – Suresh Gopi as Aromal Chekavar, Madhavi as Unniyarcha, Geetha as Kunjunnooli, Balan K Nair as Kannappan Chekavar and Capatain Raju as Aringodar. Mammotty was simply brilliant as Chanthu – one really had to feel for his character – a man “more sinned against than sinning” and Suresh Gopi played the conceited character of Aromal Chekavar to perfection.
Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha was a landmark in Malayalam cinema and a fitting successor to the the other Kalaripayattu-based based movies such as “Palattu koman“, “Kannappanunni” and “Thacholi Othenan“. History said that Chanthu, the protagonist was a “chathiyan” – when he was accused of cheating in the duel between Aringodar and Aromal Unni. However MT Vasudevan Nair, along with Hariharan, portrayed Chanthu as a tragic-hero, a victim of circumstances and the movie turned to a big hit and appreciated by the mass and critics alike. It won the National Award for Mammotty.
The USP of the movie was undoubtedly its script – by MT. The best dialogues were reserved for Mammootty. These dialogues became such a hit that they ended up being mouthed by umpteen mimicry artists. Parodies came out. Chanthu became one of the most imitated “items” on stage.
The songs, all melodies, were penned by K Jayakumar IAS and composed by another veteran – Bombay Ravi. The best song was Chandana lepa Sugandham sung by Yesudas (The song was such a hit that it was often sung at competitions. I remember when I was at school at the time, no less than four people – including yours truly – tried to exhibit their vocal skills on stage by singing this song – but all of us met the same disastrous result) Even though Chanthu was widely perceived as a cheat, MT’s portrayal resulted in Vadakkan Veeragatha becoming a massive hit.
As is the norm these days, a sequel to the movie is being made – “Payyamveli Chanthu” – which brings together, the MT-Hariharan-Mammotty trio. Ironically, when there is a paucity of producers and distributors, whenever a big budget movie is involved, this one had no less than THREE producers vying for each other to produce the movie. Finally Liberty Basheer is the winner.
Naturally the expectations from the movie would be as gargantuan as the sets that need to be erected for this sequel. The only solace for Liberty Basheer is that he need not go location hunting in New Zealand/Dubai/London/ Singapore for shooting songs in this movie. Rather he can do it in some “mana” or beside some “kolam”.
Incidentally, Payyamveli Chanthu, bears no relation to “Chathiyan” Chanthu. He was believed to have been associated with Pazhassi Raja and is supposedly mentioned in the Malabar Manual written by William Logan, who was an authority on the subject. The movie will hit the theatres next Vishu.
Also see: Will they be able to recreate the magic