Kanalkattu is just one of the many movies in Malayalam which I have never watched in full to date. Maybe it’s the character played by Mammooty which was totally removed from the conventional concepts of a typical leading man of the 90s. In 1991, the year Kanalkaatu was released, Mammooty appeared in roles as diverse as the iconic Achu of Amaram to one of his most remembered police avatars, Inspector Balram in the eponymous film. He played a politician whose family ties strain against his political ones in Nayam Vyakthamakunnu and thrilled the audience with his outing as an advocate in the murder mystery Adayalam the very same year. Neelagiri, his second film with I.V Sasi that year didn’t make waves but remains a personal favorite for reasons I cannot put a finger on. Another Mamooty vehicle that I havn’t watched yet, Anaswaram too hit the screens in 1991.
Even today when I chanced upon the film on TV late into the night on Surya, over a quarter of it’s total runtime had passed. The scene playing when I switched channels had Mammooty’s small time crook Nathu Narayanan squirming before Mohanraj’s Karim Bhai, not exactly the kind of role you’d expect an actor to play at the peak of his career as one of the reigning stars. Few scenes later another stalwart of Malayalam Cinema, the quintessential embodiment of defiance, Murali was seen joining Mammooty on the screen. The exchange between the characters set me thinking. The roles played by the actors and the words they spoke had the signature of none other than Lohithadas. See, at that moment I didn’t know for a fact that Lohitadas was the writer of the film but there was this gut instinct that told me that these men and women who were disavowed and disowned by their closest of kin but found solace in the company of eachother couldn’t have come to life from anywhere else but the pen of Lohitadas. These were people who spoke about the pleasure in sleeping on pavements, individuals who exist and thrive in the spaces between the edifices and compounds owned by the priviliged. Wiki confirmed that it was indeed Lohitadas, few minutes later.
Nathu is more or less an orphan who left his home as a child when his father was killed and his mother remarried. He is a small time crook until he turns murderer accidentally. He has a brother from another mother in Murali’s character with whom he has practically grown up and is willing to bleed for. Another character who bears the Lohitadas signature is that of KPAC Lalitha’s. Her Omana lends comic relief for most part until Lohitadas turns the tables on the viewer with a scene that’s performed by KPAC Lalitha like only she can. In one scene you see her practically trying to push an autorickshaw over and the next she leaves the viewer with a lump in his throat. Emotional rollercoasters, Lohitadas scripts are. What was more surprising was the discovery that the film was directed by Sathyan Anthikad because while it did bore the stamp of the writer, it had no resemblance to any of the movies that we have come to associate Sathyan Anthikad with as viewers. Movies are rarely known in the name of their writers unless of course you’re M.T but even M.T had a perpetual Hariharan tag to be honest. Lohitadas, I guess left his eternal tag on all the scenes and characters he has written.