The demise of Appukkuttan Nair alias Kozhikodan, at the age of 81 at Kozhikode last week, saw the exit of one of the veterans of film criticism in Malayalam. He was part of the trio that made film writing in Malayalam a popular and more importantly, a serious exercise. The other two of the trio were Cynic and Nadirsha (TMP Nedungadi). Along with them were occasional film reviewers of the period like Velappan Alappad, Gopi Kuzhoor, and Aswathi (Padmanabhan).
One major contribution of this generation of film critics was that they elevated film criticism into a serious genre of writing in Malayalam. Till then like in all other places, film was considered a 'low' mass art not worth the attention of the literate or the literary. He belongs to the first generation of film critics in Malayalam and before the advent of the polemical age of ideological criticism and eclectic aestheticism. His skills and equipments draw freely from local literature and culture, and were sure of themselves in confronting films from all languages and culture at the eyeball level. Maybe it is such sure sense of one's location and rootedness that keeps the generation of Kozhikodan apart from the ones that followed.
Kozhikodan began writing on films from the early 1950's. He started writing in Mathrubhumi and Chandrika, and later became a regular columnist of Mathrubhumi weekly along with Cynic and Nadirsha. While in the beginning, Kozhikodan wrote on English films, Cynic and Nadirsha dealt with Malayalam and Hindi movies respectively. It was in the 60's that Kozhikodan took over from Cynic to write more on Malayalam films regularly. Aware of the fact that they were first generation film writers, they took great care to 'explain' the film to the mass readers. Though their penchant for summarizing the story and for the literary has been criticized by their successors, their valiant effort at virtually creating a language to talk/write about cinema in Malayalam is undeniable.
Another distinguishing characteristic of the writings of critics like Kozhikodan is their rootedness in Malayalam. Though he was exposed to western writings on film, he wrote in his own language, in the process creating a new local idiom and syntax through it. Thus they brought Malayalee face to face with Hollywood and the Western films. For instance, Kozhikodan, whose early passion was poetry, would unabashedly break into poetry to describe a film or a scene, and would effortlessly use the analytical and aesthetic linguistic tools of kalari and kathakali to describe the western ballet. And unlike the columnists of the later generations who restricted themselves to 500 words and massive generalizations, he wrote at length about all kinds of films. Never after has Hollywood, Hindi and Tamil films been written about at such great length in Malayalam, or in any other Indian language. One of his books titled 'Chalachitra Jalakam' is a collection of his lengthy and detailed reviews of western films. Kozhikodan later collected his writings into several anthologies and had also won the state award for film criticism. He has also written a much appreciated book on film appreciation, 'Chalachitra Aswadanam Engine?'; and his book on the actor Sathyan, whom he considered the greatest actor Malayalam cinema has produced, is one of the rare and only book from that period on an actor.
Like all columnists, he was also accused of being repetitive, but his writings kept a consistent track of the developments in Malayalam cinema for more than 3 decades. He believed that a film review should be 'wholesome' and touch upon all aspects of cinema; his effort was to make it something enjoyable even to someone who hasn't seen the film. His books will definitely remain a rich source of inspiration and material for the film scholars of the future..