Padmarajan

23 May 1946
24 Jan 1991
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P. Padmarajan (23 May 1946 – 24 January 1991) was an Indian author, screenwriter, and film director who was known for his landmark works in Malayalam literature and Malayalam cinema. Padmarajan was the founder of a new school of film making in Malayalam, along with Bharathan, in the 1980s, which created films that were widely received while also being critically acclaimed.

Padmarajan was noted for his fine and detailed screenwriting and expressive direction style. Padmarajan made some of the landmark motion pictures in Malayalam cinema, including masterpieces like Oridathoru Phayalvaan (1981), Koodevide (1983), Arappatta Kettiya Gramathil (1986), Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal (1986), Thoovanathumbikal (1987), Moonnam Pakkam (1988), Innale (1989), Season (1989) and Njan Gandharvan (1991).

Padmarajan was born on 23 May 1946 in Muthukulam near Haripad in Alappuzha district as the sixth son of Thundathil Anantha Padmanabha Pillai and Njavarakkal Devaki Amma. After early schooling at Muthukulam, he studied at M. G. College and University College Trivandrum, graduating with a BSc in chemistry (1963). Subsequently, he learned Sanskrit from the scholar Cheppad Achyutha Warrier at Muthukulam. He then joined All India Radio, Trichur (1965), starting as a programme announcer, and later settled at Poojappura, Trivandrum (1968); he would remain at All India Radio until 1986, when his busy involvement in films would prompt him to retire voluntarily.

His stories deal with deceit, murder, romance, mystery, passion, jealousy, libertinism, anarchism, individualism, and the life of peripheral elements of society. Some of them are considered as among the best in Malayalam literature, his first novel Nakshathrangale Kaaval (With only the stars as witness) won the Kerala Sahithya Academy award (1972).

He entered the world of Malayalam films by writing the screenplay for Bharathan’s directorial debut Prayaanam (1975) to take first steps to be one of the most talented script writers to have graced Malayalam cinema.

He later began to direct films based on his own screenplays, beginning with Peruvazhiyambalam (The Street as a Choultry) (1979), which are greatly popular among the common people as well as intellectuals and film critics, while maintaining richness in artistic and thematic originality and excellence. Padmarajan was a great experimenter who explored all walks of life in his works. His screen plays had such hitherto-unheard of features and subjects – such as casting rain as a character in Thoovanthumbikal (Dragonflies in the Spraying Rain), friendship and lesbianism in Desadanakili Karayarilla (Migratory Birds Don’t Cry), unusual climax (By traditional standards) in Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal (Vineyards for us to dwell) and Oridaththoru Phayalvaan (There Lived a Wrestler). Many of his films bear the mark of his romanticism.

He is celebrated for his possibly unparalleled attention to detail in his screenplays. Some of his scripts are arguably the smoothest narratives ever penned in the Malayalam language. They are also ample proof for his keen observation, acute perception, and astute portrayal of human relationships and emotions. Many of his films have stunning and haunting climaxes, most of them not commonly portrayed in Malayalam movies. His characters were portrayed with great sensitivity and intensity on the screen and many of the scenes are generously sprinkled with humor. The dialogues of characters are quite natural, in the language of the common man, and yet have a subtle lyrical quality.

Indeed, a just case may be made that his directorial merit flowed easily from his exquisitely crafted screenplays: he never directed a film based on a script written by someone else (unlike other Malayalam film directors of comparable stature, say, Bharathan and K. G. George), and rarely adapted his script from a story not his own. Consequently, he had an unusually intimate knowledge of the characters in his films in combination with his mastery of the script.

Together with Bharathan and K. G. George, he successfully laid the foundation for a school of Malayalam cinema that strove to tread a middle ground by striking a fine balance between intellectual and commercial appeal, without sacrificing the strong points of either approach; this was accomplished by portraying brilliant stories with “next door” men and women as characters, steering clear of artificial characters, stereotypes and pedantic inclinations allegedly typical of critically acclaimed films. The term “Parallel film” is usually used to describe his style of film making. Along with Bharathan, he displayed mastery in handling sexuality on the screen, hitherto less known in Malayalam cinema.

He was quite adept in spotting talent, and introduced many fresh faces who would later make their mark in Indian cinema, including Ashokan (Peruvazhiyambalam), Rasheed (Oridathoru Phayalvaan), Rahman (Koodevide), Jayaram (Aparan), Ramachandran (Novemberinte Nashtam), Ajayan (Moonnam Pakkam). Also artists like Nitish Bharadwaj (Njan Gandharvan), Suhasini (Koodevide); Shaari (Namukku Parkkan Munthirithoppukal) were introduced to Malayalam screen by him.

He coaxed sparkling and inspired performances from many actors, such as Bharath Gopi, Mammootty, Mohanlal, Karamana Janardanan Nair, Rahman, Jagathy Sreekumar, Suresh Gopi (in Innale), Shobhana, Sumalatha, Thilakan, and Nedumudi Venu; indeed, Thilakan’s rendition in Moonnam Pakkam is one of the best performances of the thespian’s career. His association with Mohanlal was well noted especially because their films broke the conventional concepts prevailing during that time. He also aided in establishing, to a fair degree, the fame of other directors such as Bharathan, I. V. Sasi, and Mohan, through his association with them; his collaboration with Bharathan as a script writer is considered to have produced remarkable works in Malayalam cinema. His assistants who went on to direct films independently include Thoppil Ajayan (Perumthachchan), Suresh Unnithan (Jaathakam, Raadhaamaadhavam), and Blessy (Kaazhcha, Thanmaathra, the latter adapted from Padmarajan’s short story Orma.

His sudden and untimely death, which occurred at Hotel Paramount Towers in Calicut while he was visiting a Cinema playing his last film Njan Gandharvan. The news of his death was a shock to Keralites and was widely mourned, and the feeling of loss among the people of Kerala lingers to this day.The reason for his death is a massive cardiac arrest.

Padmarajan’s wife Radhalakshmi Padmarajan is from Chittur in Palakkad. Radhalakshmi was his colleague at AIR before their marriage in 1970. RadhaLakshmi has written her reminiscences about him in her book Padmarajan entaey gandharvan (Padmarajan, my celestial lover). Their son, P. Ananthapadmanabhan, is a writer.

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