Malayalam Features

The Director Whom Fame Sought Posthumously: Remembering Padmarajan On His Birthday

“It will take only four lines to sum up the entire story of a Padmarajan movie; only his brilliance can elaborate it into a two-hour film,” says actor Jagathy Sreekumar in the documentary Kadalkkaattiloru Dooth.


The name Padmarajan has always been close to the heart of every Malayali. Though his artistic career took a turn in the 70s when he started making films, the writer in him was always dear to them. He was a great observer and accurately portrayed the quirks in people’s behaviour.

Filmmakers such as Padmarajan and Bharathan held their own at a time when new-wave creators such as Aravindan, John Abraham and Adoor Gopalakrishnan worked their magic, supported by strong screenplays by MT Vasudevan Nair. The former also influenced a number of then upcoming directors including Ranjith, Blessy (who served as an assistant to Padmarajan), Sibi Malayil and Kamal.

The 70s and 80s were significant decades for Kerala, as the State fought varied paradigms during its evolution. Filmmakers were taken by the idea of socialism, and fought against the system, through their art. In this backdrop, screenplay writer Padmarajan teamed up with director Bharathan and wrote the script of film Prayanam. His screenplays and films reflect the same realism that his writing did. He adapted most screenplays from his literary writings.

                                                                                                       Padmarajan and Bharathan

Padmarajan was able to recreate the life of the urban Malayali on screen. You can see a reflection of this in many of director Ranjith’s works. Many of Padmarajan’s characters’ actions and mannerisms indicate their elite background, be it the brand of cigarette they smoke or the type of whiskey they consume. Similar actions define the characters in a Ranjith film too.

                                                                                             Filmmaker Ranjith is influenced by the works of Padmarajan.

Padmarajan’s ability to tell a story was unique. For instance, Season, which is on the lower end of his creative spectrum, was way ahead of its time in portraying the issues of drug and commercial sex work in Kerala’s tourist havens. Padmarajan also shifted the focus of commercial Malayalam cinema from aggressive socialism, which drove filmmakers in the 70s and 80s, to the deep cracks in society.

On several occasions, filmmaker Blessy, a long-time associate of Padmarajan has spoken about how he has influenced him to make movies. Blessy’s second feature Thanmathra, an emotional journey of a man losing his memory, is loosely based on Padmarajan’s short story Orma. Even in Blessy’s style of filmmaking, characters and environments come alive; an example would be post-earthquake Gujarat in Kazhcha, which is similar to Padmarajan’s characterisation of a hill station in Innale.

                                                                      Blessy, a long-time associate of Padmarajan

Between the years 1984 and 1990, Padmarajan wrote and directed 10 films that are considered classics of Malayalam cinema, albeit long after they released. Fame sought him posthumously. In an interview, director Ranjith states that: “While Padmarajan was alive, no one visited theatres to see his films. He created a unique filmography at a time when filmmakers added commercial elements to films just for money making. So, there’s no point in telling he’s great now”.

                                                                                                      Padmarajan in his later years

Padmarajan had a very intimate style of filmmaking. His farewell film Njan Gandharvan, a magical tale of a fallen angel from the heavens was rendered with a rare cinematic brilliance.

But, it almost seemed that the filmmaker had to sacrifice his life to tell this story. His strange and mysterious death had many saying that he was the celestial lover who came down to earth and made things that are beautiful, but returned when his time was up.