I finally managed to get hold of a subtitled version of an old Malayalam film!
I should explain the reason for that exultation: one of the most frustrating aspects of my film-watching, film-reviewing career (or whatever) is that I find it so difficult to find subtitled versions of old Indian regional films. Every time a blog reader recommends a regional language film, I rush off searching the net for subtitled versions, but I usually end up disappointed. Unless the film happens to be a Bengali one (where chances of a subbed version are usually higher), I can pretty much expect a 0% chance of success.
No-one recommended Kannur Deluxe to me, but when I stumbled across it on Disney Hotstar, I looked up reviews and found it was a thriller, and possibly the first Malayalam road film. That was enough to make me want to watch it.
The film begins at night. Jayasree (Sheela), being chased by a couple of policemen, takes shelter in the garden of a Mr KB Pillai (GK Pillai). The Pillais, husband, wife, son Venu (KP Ummer) and their maid emerge, but since they’ve not seen any woman running by, the cops go their way. The Pillais are about to return to their beds when Jayasree emerges, weeping and nervous. She says she isn’t a thief, and on being encouraged, tells a tragic tale of her woes.
When I first began searching the Net to find landmark regional films to review for this special ‘100 years of Indian cinema’ celebration, Chemmeen was one name that cropped up again and again. It sounded impressive. This was one of the first Malayalam films to be made in colour; more importantly, in won the President’s Gold Medal for Best Feature Film at the National Film Awards in 1965. It was screened at both the Cannes and the Chicago Film Festivals, and was greeted with much critical acclaim (not to mention commercial success)—it was even released, dubbed, in Hindi as Chemmeen Lehren, and in English as The Anger of the Sea.
All it needed was for me to discover that the music director of this film was an old favourite (Salil Choudhary) and that Manna Dey sang in it, and my mind was made up: I had to watch Chemmeen.