They came, they shone, and they disappeared without a trace.
Here’s a list of 11 unbelievable one-hit wonder stories from the stable of Malayalam cinema to help us think hard about these questions—what really does make the cut here? And who are these people who come and go?
Girija Shettar (Vandanam): Though she made a crackling debut in Mani Ratnam’s Geetanjali, her identity in Malayalam cinema begins and ends as Gadha from Priyadarshan’s Vandanam (1989). As Gadha, the sweet little copywriter at an advertising firm (who after an aggressive courting falls for Mohanlal’s Unnikrishnan), she waltzes into our hearts. True, she struggles to get her expressions and lip sync right at times, but Priyadarshan craftily blends in romance and comedy, banking heavily on Mohanlal’s impeccable comic timing, which instantly helps us warm up to her. But strangely, she bid adieu to cinema, after a brief cameo in Aamir Khan’s Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar.
Thoppil Ajayan (Perumthachan): Son of renowned playwright Thoppil Bhasi, he has only made one feature film in his lifetime (he died in December last year), Perumthachan, which is also an important milestone in the history of Malayalam cinema. This film tells the tale of a master artisan who blinded by jealousy kills his own son. It was a union of masters—MT Vasudevan Nair, Santosh Sivan and Thilakan and it won both the National and State awards for the Best First Film for a director. Beautifully constructed, the film, like any of the master artisan’s creations, has stood the test of time without losing any of its lustre. Bafflingly, it remains Ajayan’s only feature film.
Sangeeth and Sonia (Ennennum Kannettante): One of the finest love stories from Fazil, written by Madhu Muttam also launched two fresh faces into Malayalam cinema—Sangeeth and Sonia who became Kannan and Radhika. Their love story, set in the backdrop of a decadent Tharavadu during a summer vacation, was naïve and endearing and ends tragically. The actors were clearly raw. The film, despite being critically appreciated, was a box office failure but did well when Fazil remade in Tamil as Varusham Padhinaru with Karthik and Khushboo. Surprisingly they never acted in a film post that.
Arjun Lal (Thanmatra): He made his debut in Blessy’s Thanmatra, playing son to Mohanlal’s Alzheimer-affected father. For a debutant actor it was by no means an easy role, as after a point in the film, he is shown shouldering the responsibilities of the family, including taking care of his father and of course there is Mohanlal on the other side. Arjun’s character is shown between 15 to mid-20s and he is quite impressive (he got a special mention at the Kerala State Awards that year). But the actor didn’t take up any offers post Thanmatra, continued his studies and started a business venture in Bangalore. Though he did resurface as a hero in Asha Black (2014), it turned out to be a dud at the box office.
Nishan K P Nanaiah (Ritu): Despite making an impressive debut in Shyamaprasad’s Ritu and following it up with the commercially successful Sibi Malayil directed Apoorvaragam, FTII graduate Nishan failed to create waves in Malayalam cinema, though he was part of 14 of them, apart from his stints in other languages.
Krishna Chandran (Rathinirvedam): After making a radical debut in Bharathan’s Rathinirvedam (1978) as Pappu, a teenager who falls for an older woman (Jayabharathi), Krishna Chandran drifted away into other aspects of cinema and couldn’t recreate the magic of his debut as an actor. He shone mostly as a dubbing artist and was the voice for actors like Vineeth and Rahman as well as a playback singer with over a hundred songs (think ‘Thenmazhayo’ from Daisy, ‘Kasthooriman’ from Kanamarayathu and ‘Baggy Jeansum’ from Sainyam).
Skanda Ashok (Notebook): He debuted as the teenage romantic hero in the Rosshan Andrrews film which dealt with teenage pregnancy. In a film headlined by three heroines, Skanda (Vineeth Sreenivasan dubbed for him) was impressive as Pooja’s lover and endeared with his boyish good looks. While Parvathy and Roma made a mark with some impressive films, Skanda remained largely unnoticed in an equally bland Jayasurya film Positive. He was last seen in Shyamaprasad’s Elektra (2010).
Niyaz and Athira (Kshanakathu): Though in principle the film failed to set the box office on fire, the TK Rajeev Kumar directorial, inspired by a real-life story, about star-crossed lovers still made waves for its superlative music (Shareth) and its two debutant actors. After all, Malayalam cinema has had very few love stories to its credit. The brown-eyed Niyaz and the curly haired Athira was given a rousing welcome by youngsters back then. But surprisingly neither of them opted to stay back in cinema, although a decade later Niyaz made a comeback as a villain in Director Ranjith’s Black and has been acting since.
Jishnu (Nammal): The late Jishnu, son of veteran actor Raghavan, made an impressive debut along with Bhavana and Sidharth Bharathan in the campus rom-com Nammal (2002), directed by Kamal. But he couldn’t recreate the success of his first film and was relegated to doing supporting roles in Ustad Hotel, Nidra etc.
Sanjay Mitra (Vaishali): Like Girija, he is more familiar for his onscreen role, as Rishyasringan in the fantasy period drama, Vaishali. The light-eyed charmer along with co-star Suparna who played the nymph-like Vaishali were the toast of the town during the time of its release. Despite the overwhelming success of Vaishali, the Mumbai-based actor didn’t stay long in Malayalam cinema, except for a brief unremarkable cameo in Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha.
Kailash and Archana Kavi (Neelathamara): The reconstruction of MT Vasudevan Nair’s film by the same name had director Lal Jose introduce two new actors–Kailash and Mumbai-based Archana Kavi who went on to become overnight sensations. But after that while Kailash soon found himself doing supporting roles, Archana did a few films, got married and now runs a YouTube channel.
Considering child actors always had a sustained innings in Malayalam cinema, it’s important to mention two such actors who were spectacular in their debut films but vanished soon after. Master Badusha who became an instant darling as Mammootty’s son in Pappayude Swantham Appoose and Master Yash Pathak who played the adorable Kochundrappi in Blessy’s Kazhcha. While Badusha acted in Vyooham, (also made an unsuccessful attempt as a hero years later in Mumbai Taxi) Yash was seen in a Hindi film called Tathasthu.