Sathyan, the Invincible Emperor of Malayalam Cinema!
by Elizabeth Menon
Sathyan, the Invincible Emperor of Malayalam Cinema!
Today, Sathyan would have been 101 years old! He was born on 9 November 1912 and it is rather difficult to imagine the ruggedly handsome hero of Malayalam Cinema as that old! He is in our thoughts everyday, and every time we see a Malayalam film we think of his inimitable acting and how the others are lacking! It is a special day for us and we remind ourselves the greatness of our beloved Sathyan, the 'Uncrowned Emperor of Malayalam Films', and I still think of him with tears in my eyes! The charismatic actor succumbed to Multiple Myeloma on 15 June 1971 -- Malayaalees still miss him with great admiration and fondness. The word 'Sathyan' is synonym for 'Best acting and Charisma’, and any of his films would be a lesson in acting! He has left us, but Pappu, Palani, Thampi, Sudheendran, Rajan, Prof.Sreeni, Chellappan, Raghu and many others like them are with us through his films, showing the greatness of his acting -- he could say volumes with just one look or one word – and we celebrate the charisma and the exemplary acting that is only comparable to the best 'Film Institute' in the world!!
He had the lead role in P Bhaskaran's 'Neelakkuyil' in 1954, that brought us the first National Award for a Malayalam Cinema, which raised Sathyan to 'National Stardom'! Then came Thakazhi’s ‘Chemmeen’ that won the President’s Golden Lotus Award in 1965, and 'Palani' was born! But Sathyan did not get the best actor award for the year, in spite of his exemplary acting as Palani! And then on, the 'Face of Malayalam Cinema' was Sathyan: ‘Ashwamedham’ and Thacholi Othenan, Cross Belt, Viyarppinte Vila,Vivaahitha, Chettathy, Dathuputhran, Unniyaarcha, Odayil Ninnu, Kayamkulam Kochunni, Yakshi, Kadalppaalam, Mooladhanam, Vaazhve Maayam, Ashwamedham, Naayaru Pidicha Pulivaalu, Thommante Makkal, Naadan Pennu, Velutha Kathreena, Adimakal, Mudiyanaaya Puthran, Thriveni, Aadyakiranangal, Bhaarya, Kara Kaanakkadal, Oru Penninte Katha, Naadan Pennu, Anubhavangal Paalichakal, Pakalkkinavu, Kadathukaaran and many more films, around 150 Malayalam films and two Tamil films, followed -- Anubhavangal Paalichakal was his last film.
Sathyan received the first Kerala State Best Actor Award in 1969 for his double role in ‘Kadalppaalam, and his second Best Actor Award was bestowed on him posthumously in 1971, for his magnificent performance in ‘Karakaanaakkadal’. It is a generally accepted fact that Sathyan should have received the National Award for his performance in Chemmeen, Odayil Ninnu, Kadalppaalam, Anubhavangal Paalichakal and Adimakal, to mention only a few! He may not have received many awards, but Malayaalees have honoured him with their ‘Best Actor Award’ for most of his films – the first Kerala State Award was started only in 1969, and Sathyan died on 15 June 1971, and therefore, it could be argued that time was against him, but he had the ‘People’s Award’ every time!
Four decades on, they are all still trying hard to emulate that smile, delivery of dialogues, just that look, or that 'Sathyan Special' heavy weight, "Ngooooom...”, but Sathyan is still an invincible enigma! There is one song that haunts me, and it is of course, “Pravvachakanmaare Parayuu Prabhathamakaleyaano..” – the larger than life actor showing a sea of controlled emotions without even uttering a word is sheer heaven and the ultimate lesson in acting – and the celestial voice of Yesudas takes one to another world and Sreekumaran Thampi's 'Akale Akale, and Daivamevite, Chalanam Chalanam, Pakalkkinaavin and vellichilanka come to mind too, among many others! 'Kayamkulam Kochunni' gives a powerful performance, quite different from any of his other films, and Malayaalees took to his handsome rugged looks -- Sathyan as the handsome Kayamkulam Kochunni was an answer to the very few critics who dared to comment on his looks -- but to me and many others, Sathyan is always the ruggedly handsome hero, who couldn't be replaced! The great film directors and writers such as, P Bhaskaran, M.Krishnan Nair, Vincent, K S Sethmadhavan, Sasikumar, Kunchako and Thakazhi, only had supreme comments about his unrivalled acting ability, and Thakazhi famously told him that there was never any need to tell him how to act even in the most sensitive and powerful scenes!
I still remember feeling so proud when my father took us for Sathyan's films as soon as they were released! I am sure the two friends are together now in a better place, talking about Police, Cinema and the Army, and of course their children! Sathyan never looked as if he was acting in any of his films -- he just lived the part so much that people remember each character by name even after all these years -- only Bharat Murali came close, but he too was taken from us much before his time! Jack Nicholson is the only other actor whom I would compare to Sathyan, but Sathyan reigns supreme, now and forever!
I only hope that those who try to imitate Sathyan in the pretext of art due to sheer ignorance on their part, as he is inimitable, would refrain from making a mockery out of someone who was and always will be the backbone of Malayalam Cinema!
We still Love you!
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