The evergreen hero
On Prem Nazir’s 20th death anniversary, some of his colleagues share their memories about the first superstar of Malayalam Cinema.
eternal romantic : Stills of Prem Nazir with Vidhubala, left, and K.R. Vijaya.
Twenty years ago, on January 16, Prem Nazir faded away from the silver screen for one last time. Nevertheless, memories of him remain evergreen. With over 600 films as hero to his credit and that too with more than 100 films opposite the same heroine
; starring with over 80 heroines and an average of 39 releases a year, it might be tempting to limit Nazir’s remarkable career to world records and statistics. But figures alone cannot explain the phenomenon that he was.
Nazir may not have been the critics’ favourite and he may not have won too many awards, but he conquered Malayali hearts like no actor did, before or after. He was, quite simply, their first superstar; their first romantic hero.
Nazir has often been dismissed, sometimes too easily, as just a star and not an ‘actor.’ But even his harshest critics could not have ignored his powerful performances in films such as ‘Iruttinte Athmavu,’ ‘Kallichellamma,’ ‘Dhwani,’ ‘Murappennu,’ ‘Anubhavangal Palichakal,’ ‘Padayottam,’ ‘Vida Parayum Munpe,’ ‘Azhakulla Saleena,’ and ‘Nadi.’
The man who made his debut in Malayalam Cinema with ‘Marumakal’ in 1952 ended his career, rather unexpectedly, with ‘Dhwani’ in 1989.
Jayaram shares his memories of the great man with Friday Review. Sreekumaran Thampi, who had a long association with him as a lyricist, scriptwriter, director and producer and two of his heroines K.R. Vijaya and Vidhubala, two of his popular heroines, also walk walked down memory lane to pay tributes to a man they admired so much.
As a child, nothing made me happier than seeing Nazir’s series of ‘CID’ films. I still consider him as our greatest star ever and one of the most handsome as well. My first meeting with him was while I was a schoolboy at Perumbavoor.
I was standing right next to him as he waved to the massive crowd who turned out to see the shooting of ‘Anappachan.’ Later, being appreciated by him for imitating him at a mimicry show in Dubai remains one of my most cherished memories. Acting with him in ‘Dhwani’ was nothing short of a dream come true. For 40 days, I was his personal assistant and security guard (to ward off the politicians while he had his afternoon nap). And it is an honour to get this year’s Prem Nazir award.
When Nazir lip-synched the love songs I wrote, my lines became more beautiful. No actor could bring out the emotions of a song like him. Just watch him in songs like ‘Hrudaya sarassile…’ (‘Padunna Puzha’), ‘Rajeeva nayane…’ (‘Chandrakantham’), ‘Chandrakkalamanathu…’ (‘Picnic’)… only a man with an inborn sense of rhythm could enact songs so well. It was a privilege working with him as a director. He gave me so much respect on the sets of films like ‘Chandrakantham.’ He, the biggest star of Malayalam cinema, gladly let me share his room while I wrote my first screenplay. I felt honoured when he told me he had read my poems in magazines.
People in the industry used to comment that Nazir’s face was expressionless. Little did they realise that he was then doing what we now call natural acting. And he did at a time when there was an overwhelming influence of theatre in our cinema. I enjoyed working with him in over 20 films. He was a jovial man. I will never forget the five takes he needed to shoot a close-up romantic scene in ‘College Girl,’ my first film as his heroine.
Each time he would look into my eyes, burst out laughing and say: “How can I say romantic lines to a kid like this?” He looked best with Sheela, no question about it. He was the first ever actor to charge Rs. one lakh for a film, back in the ’70’s. He did it because he wanted to cut down on his assignments but that didn’t happen, of course.
I must have acted him with him in about 25 movies, and most of them were memorable, especially the first one: ‘Odayil Ninnu.’ In ‘Ayiram Janmangal,’ which was a remake of my Tamil film ‘Deerga Sumangali,’ I remember him asking me to point out if any scene seemed too similar with the original. And he was the perfect gentleman. He was very easy to get along with. He never made you feel that you were in the presence of the biggest star of the time.
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Chennai and Tamil Nadu