Biju Parameswaran, a much traveled literary and movie enthusiast writes:
“My Dear Kuttichathan” is undoubtedly a watershed event in Indian cinema history. Not just for the technical landmark of first 3 D but because it combined technology and myth in a superlatively packaged children’s film in 1984. Refinements came via the 1997 Hindi dubbed “Chota Chetan” and the recent Tamizh “Chutti Chathan”. Aalummoodan gave way to Shakti Kapoor who handed it to Prakash Raj in the opening. As a school going kid I was treated to this falooda of a celluloid treat (to use the metaphor of a yummy beverage ubiquitous in cinema hall cafeterias) whose sweetness just refused to go away. In the year 2011 the magic is relived with a new digital version which introduces a robot into the plot as well as a song-ballet with a giant who keeps dwarfs as hostage-slaves in an island. A totally entertaining audio-visual delight for the new generation kids, it is also a nostalgia trip for parents like us as we see now dead actors like Kottarakkara, Sainudeen, Rajan P Dev and Ravi Baswani come alive on the big screen. Who do we give credit for the adventures of this wonderful goblin, this chathan and his two friends, for this phantasmagoric movie that we will long cherish? Generally the applause is directed towards producer Navodaya Appachan (grand uncle of today’s popcorn hero Kunchacko Boban), his son and director Jijo Punnose, music composer Illayaraja, lyricist Bichu Thirumala and screenwriter Raghunath Paleri. However, the main protagonist is missing in this plot! One can pose it as a puzzle for avid film watchers of Kerala to guess who it is who could have thought and also fleshed out a magical story as this in our land. That too in the 80’s. No, not PV Thampi of the maanthrikam novel “Krishnaparunth”. Think end ’80s. Think Gandharvan. You got it, didn’t you? Jump cutting to now, “Swayam” is a slender collection of of two forgotten movie synopses of P. Padmarajan (Pirranaallkutty and Swayam) that had gathered dust in files and lay unpublished all these years. His son and writer Ananthapadmanabhan has taken the pains to bring them out, almost two decades since the master story teller’s demise. In the foreword he grows nostalgic of the days when he and younger sister Madhavikkutty enjoyed the warmth of their father’s overflowing love. The daughter even called the dad Achankutty in moments of extreme pamper. “Pirranallkutty: Oru Manthravaada Katha” is a story that germinated and evolved in Padmarajan’s fertile imagination after Appachan and Jijo had had a lengthy discussion with him. They paid him a decent sum. The writer took them along on research trips to all the prominent chathan seva madoms of central Kerala in the next few days. The kids in the tale are of the same age and characteristics as Padmarajan’s children. Pirranaallkutty was so named because he takes after a then newborn cousin of theirs (he is a bank officer today). Concludes Ananthan, ‘Only a possessor of magical imagination can create a chathan. There is a certain fabulous nature to father’s works, akin to a flight seen in Italo Calvino.’ How true! Those of us who have read “Prathimayum Rajakumariyum“, or seen the film made out of it “Njaan Gandharvan” or even an earlier ‘comedy’ like “Kallan Pavithran” (particularly the scenes involving Nedumudi inside the warehouse of vessels) will vouch for it. There is a looming sadness in the lives of both the Gandharvan and the Kuttichathan. Both are victims, cursed to live lives per other people’s terms. Chathan is in perennial fear of the manthravaadi, the sorcerer from whose captivity he has fled and who he knows will bottle him. Eventually he destroys the old man and disappears into a new freedom. After Padmarajan’s passing away, two of his works were filmed. In 1992, Bharatan remade “Thakara” in Tamizh as “Avarampoo” and in 2005 Pappan’s former assistant director Blessy adapted his guru’s short story Orma as “Thanmatra”. In both cases, the writer was duly acknowledged. In spite of the non-recognition for My Dear Kuttichathan, Pappan never cribbed but moved on and immersed himself in creative pursuits. It is interesting to contrast this with Chetan Bhagat who two years back went to town because the makers of the epoch-making 3 Idiots dished out just closing credits to him in the movie adaptation of his engineering college novel Five Point Someone.
Biju Parameswaran (firstname.lastname@example.org)