There is perhaps no better way to start this story than simply asking, do you know how Manjil Virinja Pookkal got its name. Those old enough to remember the early 1980s would talk about this film as one that brought a lot of new ideas to Malayalam cinema — the way it was taken, the new actors, the new director and the music composer. Now decades later, people still talk of this film, mostly because it is Mohanlal’s first release.
Beyond that, a man called Sreejith Perunthachan was intrigued by how the film got its name. He asked director Fazil. And Fazil told him stories of films he took. From there, Sreejith went on to director after director, finding stories behind titles of many Malayalam classics, till he had a book full of them to release — Peraya Ninne Iha.
But let’s finish that first story of Manjil Virinja Pookkal. It started with lyricist Bichu Thirumala going for a walk in the morning in Alappuzha. Coming back, he told director Fazil he saw a flower bloomed in the snow. In Malayalam, that translates to manjil virinja poovu.
“Fazil found out that it is against the laws of nature for flowers to bloom in the snow, because that would prevent spring from coming. He realised that his main characters Prabha and Preman too suffer the same fate – because spring does not come to their lives, and their love cannot bloom,” says Sreejith, referring to his book as he talks.
A journalist for many years, names had always intrigued Sreejith. Before this book, he had written another on famous Malayalam books getting their names – ‘Peredutha Kathakal.’ “I am not sure where it begins, but I am curious whenever I hear a name. Like I have heard Soorya Krishnamoorthy got ‘Soorya’ after his daughter called him that once. Till then, he was just Krishnamoorthy,” Sreejith says.
So obviously, film names interested him to the extent he started calling or meeting directors to learn the stories. “They were all happy to tell me. Priyadarshan told me about Kilukkam. How the name came because Revathy’s character is introduced with the clink of her anglets when she jumps off the train and also because she’s all perky like a kilukkampetti.” But what’s more interesting is how he once went into the sets of Fazil’s Manichitrathazhu and got the name for his next film. “They were good friends and Fazil let Priyan shoot a song – Varuvanillarum – in the film. In between the lines of the song there are the words ‘Thenmavin Kombathu’ which Priyadarshan used as the title of his next film!” There’s more. Priyan’s Thalavattom was originally a name that Padmarajan was going to use for a film, but that had not taken off. So he asked for the rights and got it.
“There is a story behind Padmarajan’s Nombarathipoovu too. Priyan asked him if there really was a word like that. And Padmarajan said, ‘let it be my contribution to the Malayalam language’.” Sreejith then skimps his pages again till he reaches director Kamal’s stories. “He was once carrying a script on a bus. And there were all these children who’d keep falling over his shoulders whenever the bus braked at the curves. They were also talking about the story of a Mohanlal film. So Kamal thought, ‘I should be telling these kids a story’. And that became Unnikale Oru Katha Parayam.”
Shaji Kailas is the next director. And obviously, we hear the story of Aaram Thampuran. “Ranjith who wrote the script and Shaji Kailas had gone to the Poomully Mana where the film was going to be shot. There, the caretaker told them that the ‘Aaram Thampuran’ would come to see them. They liked that and Ranjith went back to change the script to put Mohanlal down as Aaram Thampuran (6th generation lord). Six is what Shaji Kailas considers his lucky number. He’d always stay at Room no: 204 at Hotel Maharani in Kozhikode.” Shaji Kailas also told him about Commissioner***’, the Suresh Gopi film that people still quote a lot from. “Scriptwriter Renji Panicker told him that people would think it is the transport commissioner if he named the film like that. So then they put three stars at the end of the title.”
With I.V. Sasi, his obsession for names beginning with ‘A’ has always been pretty famous. “He was so obsessed that he would keep noting down interesting words with A that he came upon, on a piece of paper!” The ‘A’s had become ‘Aa’s and then ‘E’ and ‘Ees’. “He had also experimented by naming a film Varnapakittu, because the Hindi flick Rangeela has been a major hit back then. So he used a Malayalam equivalent.”
For director Blessy, the first film Kazhcha came out of a personal reason. “Once he had fallen ill and the doctors feared he would lose sight. That’s when he knew the value of eyes the most and named his film Kazhcha, meaning sight.”
There are many more stories. How Lal Jose’s Oye Madhavoi became Meesha Madhavan, how Siddique Lal’s Nombarangale Sul Sul became Ramji Rao Speaking, and so on. But the space ends here, and there’s always the book to tell it all. As for Sreejith, he has more names to go after.