Prathap Pothen, who died today (July 15, 2022), was an unlikely star of my youth. A time when Prem Nazir, Madhu, Sukumaran and Jayan lorded over Malayalam cinema. These superstars starred in blockbuster movies, but beyond the commercial success, they had little artistic merit. Yet, there were well-scripted films in Kerala from K.G. George, Padmarajan and others.
Bharathan, an art director, joined the bandwagon with Aaravam. His movie Thakara was my first encounter with Prathap Pothen on the silver screen. With big, dancing eyes and prancing limbs, Pothen brought to life the mentally challenged orphan who falls in love with a nubile young woman in the village. His darting runs through the streets of his village remain etched in memory. The movie was a massive hit, and one notable appearance was of Nedumudi Venu, who lent mischief and villainy to the character of Chellapan Asari.
His next movie was an even bigger hit. Chamaram appealed to youngsters like me since it told the story of a hyperactive college student who has an affair with his lecturer, a role made memorable by Zarina Wahab. Shades of Premam, isn’t it? Yes, except that Chamaram was far better than Premam. I know the youth of now wouldn’t agree, but ask anyone of my generation, and they would wax lyrical of Chamaram.
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Despite the early success (his debut movie was Aaravam in 1978), which brought him several awards, Pothen’s career never really took off. He did act in more than 100 films, but they were mostly sporadic appearances. Ayalum Njanum Thammil, Idukki Gold, Ezra, Uyare and Bangalore Days are some notable ones, but they were hardly stirring roles like Thakara and Chamaram. But by then, he was past his best. Pothen (69) also appeared in a string of Tamil movies, but I hadn’t seen any.
The star in him had faded. And it was sad to see him play the rapist in 22, Female Kottayam, a fine film enhanced by the acting brilliance of Fahad Fasil and Reema Kallingal. The last one was even more pathetic, of a wheelchair-bound wealthy man in CBI 5. It was more like a guest appearance.
I will remember Pothen as an actor who lit my youth with effortless acting that went beyond the antics of that era. Rest well, Prathap Pothen. RIP.