My family used to have a good collection of those old ‘dinner plate’ LP records long back. I remember the cover of one record in particular. There were two young people on it and both of them looked very sad. I faintly recollect thinking that the girl looked very pretty despite the sadness and that the man looked like he would cry at any moment. There was something so desperately gloomy about the young man that it made me wonder what the movie could be about and if the man carried that burden of sadness in real life too. Somebody at home used to play the songs all the time and unconsciously they got recorded in my heart.
Then, one May evening, I heard that the sad young girl had killed herself and late last night I heard that the man with the incredibly sad face died. And weirdly, just a while before I heard about his death, I had been listening to the songs from ‘Ulkkadal’ after quite a long time. Once again I wondered if Venu Nagavally did carry that touch of sadness all his life.
I cannot honestly say that I was a big admirer of Venu Nagavally, the actor. No, that would be my sister-in-law, who had been a big fan of his since his AIR days. She had been smitten by his voice and cultured manner of speaking. I think it was the miasma of sadness that hung around him that put me off. Moreover I think I was too young to really enjoy the kind of movies he did, where he usually played what else, but one of the sad characters in the movie.
He was either a luckless or spineless lover who never got his girl, or was the poor unemployed guy who never got a break, or the son who brought nothing but shame to the family…always a hapless guy trapped in a vicious circle. To borrow Tennessee Williams’ words, the characters he played always burnt with “the slow and implacable fires of human desperation”.
But despite the melancholic backdrops, and dejected faces, his movies had some absolutely beautiful songs and more than anything else, I think I will remember Venu Nagavally for his songs. Ok, I agree that ONV Kurup, MB Sreenivasan and Dasettan had more to do with them than the actor, and it was only recently that I realised that a bunch of my favorite songs were from movies that he had acted in.
My love affair with the songs from ‘Ulkkadal’ that were etched into my 8-year-old mind from an old LP record continues to this day and two of the songs from that movie, Nashtavasanthathin and Ente Kadinjool find a place in my list of all time favorite songs. A third song on the list would be Chaithram Chaayam Chaalichu… from Chillu… again a Venu Nagavally film, although the song was not picturised on him.
However, it was as a director and script writer, that Venu Nagavally’s brilliance came through. Most of his movies dealt with what I guess must have been very close to his heart – friendship. The camaraderie that shines through his characters is touching. I don’t think anyone else has portrayed the depth of those bonds better, especially the ones forged in campuses.
‘Sarvakalashala’, an endearing ode to campus life is probably the best movie he ever made. There is a whole generation that identifies itself with that movie, and the dialogues… they are still being quoted chapter and verse. Can you forget Nedumudi Venu going, “Enikku Vishakkunnu Lale, manushyane pole vishakkunnu after the powerful recitation of Kavalam’s kavitha, ‘Athirukaakkum malayonnu thuduthe’. He even makes fun of himself, calling Chakkara’s parody of the campus ‘Bujji’ and his ‘intellectual aakanulla shramam’ a ‘Venu Nagavally line’.
But I don’t think he ever tried to hide behind any intellectual smoke screens. He was more a ‘feeler’ than a ‘thinker’ and made movies with his heart. He thrived on nostalgia and seemed to have never left his college days behind. That is why ‘manassilennum campus jeevitham oru nidhi pole kaathu sookshikkunna aarkkum’, Sarvakalashala continues to be the best campus movie ever.
‘Sukhamo Devi’, a soulful love poem of a movie, also strikes a similar chord and much has been said about the autobiographical elements in this directorial debut of Venu Nagavally. He juxtaposed two different kinds of love in the movie -the gentle, conventional, almost lyrical (maybe even ‘painkili’) love between the central pair of Nandan and Devi and the ‘adipoli’, wild, whirlwind of a romance between Sunny and Tara. Nagavally makes a Hitchcock-esque appearance in this movie to applaud Sunny’s take on his unconventional love. The death of Sunny, the character played by Mohanlal, is one of the most poignant screen deaths, one of those that just stay with you forever.
Sarvakalashala and Sukhamo Devi which revolved around campus life and portrayed both young and mature love in all its heart breaking beauty, bore testimony to one fact – that the man who directed those movies had known love. Not just the thrill of its awakening and joy of its indulgence, but also the pain of its loss. The mute agony of the love that never was.
Today, eulogies are being written about him, the actor, director, writer, and the ‘avasha kamukan’. His death set me thinking that inadvertently, he had been around in my growing up days too… the songs from his movies that had probably, set the tone for my choice in music and poetry because they had subconsciously entered my psyche, the campus movies that resonated with what I felt, and the ties of friendship that he celebrated.
That is why, the news of his death makes me really sad … a sense of loss for something somewhere, loss of a part of my own childhood and youth perhaps.
Read as originally posted in www.yentha.com
The eternal Saradindu Malardeepa…