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Indelible innings on the silver screen

K. PRADEEP

Although Paravoor Bharathan has given life to more than 1,000 roles in Malayalam cinema, this gifted actor has not found a place in the awards given by the State Government.

Photo: Vipin Chandran

Natural actor: Paravoor Bharathan.

Paravoor Bharathan, 80, started off in films at a time when there were clearly demarcated slots for actors and their presence in a film. There were stars groomed to play main roles, and actors to play secondary roles. These talented but unsung actors played archetypes and a whole gamut of roles from villains and kind fathers to comedians and sidekicks with such skill that they often turned simple parts into memorable three-dimensional characters.

Hugely talented

Bharathan was one such actor. Hugely talented, but under utilised, Bharathan’s foray into films was borne out of circumstances. Vaavakaadu, a quiet village near North Paravoor, was till late cut off from the mainland. He studied at S.N. High School, Moothakunnam, but had to discontinue midway, following his father’s death. The only ‘trade’ that Bharathan knew at that time was acting.

“I used to be part of the plays staged in school. Kedamangalam Sadanandan, the noted Kathaprasangam artiste, was part of the audience for one such play. He put me on to an amateur theatre group ‘Pushpitha.’ That was in the mid-1940s. From then on I was a regular actor in amateur theatre groups in an around Paravoor,” remembers Bharathan, who has now taken a sabbatical from films.

It was through his theatre contacts that Bharathan got his first film role. “Vijayabhanu was actively involved in theatre. When the play ‘Rakthabandham’ was being made into a film he recommended my name for a role.” The 1951 film directed by Vel Swamy had Cherthala Vasudeva Kurup, Ambalapuzha Meenakshi, S. D. Subbiah and others in main roles. Bharathan went on to act in films like ‘Kerala Kesari’ and ‘Marumakal.’

“The first one had top stars like Vaikom Vasudevan Nair, K. K. Aroor, Thankam Vasudevan Nair and others. The second one saw the debut of Prem Nazir. That was the beginning of a long association with the actor.”

Bharathan spent a good amount of his early life as a stage actor. The turning point was his comic role in the play ‘Maattoli.’

“That must have been in the early 50s. Sebastian Kunju Kunju Bhagavathar and Augustine Joseph started ‘Udaya Kerala Nataka Samithi.’ ‘Maattoli’ was a musical opera authored by Muttathu Varkey. My role was well received.”

Acting alongside Bharathan in this play was Thankamani (she played a cameo in ‘Neelakuyil’), whom he later married. Bharathan did well in the next play ‘Vijayakumar’ of the same troupe.

Perhaps his most important stage role was in the historical musical opera ‘Samrat Ashokan.’ This role was originally done by S. P. Pillai. When the experienced actor was unavailable because of his busy film schedules the producers looked to Bharathan, of course rather sceptically. But Bharathan did not disappoint. Critics believe that he even excelled the original. This consistency and ability to fit into any role were the hallmarks of this actor right through his film career too.

The film that gave Bharathan a firm footing in Malayalam was ‘Karuthakai,’ directed by M. Krishnan Nair.

“I was cast as a villain but the role was different. Khader, as the character was called, is there throughout the film including the very popular qawwali number ‘Panchavarna thatta pole…’ That film turned a huge hit and I began to get a slew of films since then.”

Bharathan was a stickler for discipline and hard work. When others divided time to move on to other projects in between he always stuck on till he completed a film before taking up a new one.

“But it also deprived me of many roles. Towards the later stages I also did try this shuffling of dates. One such role was that of Vasu in ‘Mazhavil Kavadi.’” Looking back, Bharathan believes that cinema gave him everything in life today.

He remembers that the remuneration he got for his first film was Rs. 50.

“What top stars like Nazir and Sathyan got those days were so meagre when compared to what actors get today. But there was a camaraderie, team work that I miss these days.”

In fact, Bharathan still gets calls from film makers for roles but the veteran actor puts them off stating ill health.

“But more than any other reason, I have found adjusting to the new set-up rather tough. There are many directors with whom I still share a good equation. And I’m willing to give it a shot provided the right role comes along.”

Bharathan has been bestowed with numerous awards for his contribution to Malayalam cinema.

But if there is one honour that this actor, who has given his whole life to films and given life to more than 1,000 roles, certainly deserves, it is the J.C. Daniel Award.

Memorable roles

‘Althara’ (Kaduva Thoma)

‘Kadathukaran’ (Bhadran)

‘Kerala Kesari’ (Thankan)

‘Pingami’ (advocate)

‘Kurukkante Kalyanam’ (Sankaran Nair)

‘Godfather’ (Parasu)

‘Pattana Pravesham’ (bird watcher)

‘His Highness Abdulla’ (Kunjukrishna Menon)

‘Peruvannapurathe Visheshangal’ (Karyasthan)

‘In Harihar Nagar’ (grandfather)

‘Thalayanamanthram’ (Damodaran Pillai)

‘Njan Salperu Ramankutty’ (Kunjambu)

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