Exactly 43 years ago, in 1977, the late actress Kalpana made her debut in Malayalam films as a child artiste in Vidarunna Mottukal. Five years later, she played the role of a music lover and a rich friend in G Aravindan’s Pokkuveyil. Although she aspired to be a lead actress, she became more popular for her comic roles. In a career spanning more than three decades, Kalpana established herself as an actor who could be trusted with the lightest and heftiest of roles.
Had she been alive, Kalpana would have rung in her 55th birthday in October. Come January, it would be five years since the talented actor was snatched in her prime. Imagine how she would have rocked the OTT space?
On paper, Kuttan’s mother in Anjali Menon’s Bangalore Days can be someone who will grate on your nerves. But, in Kalpana’s hands, she became someone who is naïve, aspirational, who loves to show off, but someone seeking validation. From life in a village, she soon moves on to host kitty parties and gives herself a makeover.
And then, there’s the National Award for best supporting actress for her role as a social worker fighting the caste system and patriarchy in Thanichalla Njan (2012). She’s Razia, who stops a Brahmin woman Chellamma (played by KPAC Lalitha) from suicide.
Here’s revisiting some characters she played with perfection, over the years.
Karthika in Poochakkaru Mani Kettum (1992)
Karthika’s mother (KPAC Lalitha) desperately wants her to marry Kochukrishnan (Mukesh) to inherit the family wealth. They try everything to lure Kochukrishnan — Karthika tries weightlifting to improve her looks, her father mixes a love potion to make Kochukrishnan fall in love with her. The family help Kaimal (Mala Aravindan) sips the potion before giving it to Kochukrishnan, and Karthika and Kaimal get attracted to each other. Watch the movie here.
Clara in CID Unnikrishnan B.A B.Ed (1994)
Clara is a cook who does not hold herself back. When Unnikrishnan (Jayaram) goes to Arundhathi Nair’s (Rohini) house to tempt the women with cosmetics, she also participates and comments on the price for face powder. He shows a cream that ‘Cleopatra has used’, and all she says is: “Ayyo! I don’t want to use her leftover cream”. Another of Kalpana’s evergreen dialogues is “Vellam thale thaan ummanu thummal pidikyadhe chenn kuli” (Let the water you bathe not give you a cold, Umma) to Jagathy, who hits on her. This dialogue got a new lease of life in Tik Tok videos. Watch the full movie here.
Jayaprabha in Arjunan Pillayum Anchu Makkalum (1997)
Jayaprabha is one of three sisters, and her father gets her married to Thankakuttan (Harisree Ashokan) without her consent. On the night of their wedding, she mixes sleeping pills in the milk. Her anger towards her new husband has serious undertones. Watch it on YouTube.
Leelavathi in Sathi Leelavathi (1995)
A modern-day version of the Silapathikaram, a plump Leela is married to Arun (Ramesh Aravind), and she handles his home and children with flair. She discovers his affair with Priya (Heera Rajagopal) and hatches a plan with her husband’s best friend (Kamal Haasan) to get Priya to hate him. Leela’s character swings from being a wife who touches her husband’s feet in the morning to someone who becomes more aggressive and realises her place in her life as the film progresses.
Guntur Parvathy in Kudumakodathi (1996)
To control his two sons and their wives, an elderly Raman Nair (Innocent) marries Guntur Parvathy. She delivers a monologue in Telugu to silence her arrogant step daughters-in-law. As soon as she sees Raman Nair, she goes back to speaking softly in Malayalam. Then again, she talks in a mix of Telugu and Malayalam to show the others their place. She walks majestically like an accomplished woman, setting things right at home. Watch it on YouTube.
Maya in Vismayathumbathu (2004)
Maya believes she’s invisible. She falls in love with Govindan Kutty (Mukesh) at first sight and asks him to marry her, but he pretends he can’t see her anymore and runs away from her. Another memorable scene is with Salim Kumar and Harisree Asokan, who’ve come to find their friend Rita, played by Nayanthara. Instead, she makes them believe that she is Rita. Kalpana outshines them both in this hysterical scene. Watch these funny scenes here.
Mani’s wife in Kerala Cafe (2009)
Directed by Ranjith, Kerala Cafe is an anthology by 10 directors and has a well-known cast for each story. In Bridge, directed by Anwar Rasheed, Kalpana is a poor housewife who is fed up with her life and constantly fights with her husband (a brilliant Salim Kumar) and his ailing mother (Kozhikode Shantha Devi). Their miserable relationship forces her husband to abandon his mother. Watch the movie here.
Balu’s friend in Pokkuveyil (1982)
Directed by G Aravindan, Pokkuveyil explores the life of Balu (Balachandran Chullikad), a lonely adult with mental health issues who loses his father to death and friends to a changing environment. Kalpana plays his music-loving friend who has to leave town to study in Bangalore. She’s a tender, loving friend until Balu begs her to not leave. This is one of the few films where she plays the lead. Watch it on YouTube.
Vasantha Kokila in Porutham (1993)
Kalpana and Jagathy Sreekumar play the newly-married Vasantha Kokila and Unnithan. When he calls her ‘nee’, Vasantha freaks out and asks him to call her ‘Vasu’ from Vasantha. Unnithan asks if he can call her Vasantha, and she quickly retorts, saying, “That’s a disease hens get, so no. What about Kokila?” to which he says, “It doesn’t go well with your voice.” They finally end up on Vala (Va from Vasantha, la from Kokila). Unnithan has married her for her long hair. He’s obsessed with her long hair and even goes to the extent of divorcing her because of it. She, meanwhile, dispels the notions of a traditional woman in society. Watch the movie here.
Mary in Charlie (2015)
Mary recently finds out she has AIDS, after her husband forced her into sex work. Although she has very few dialogues in the film, Kalpana pierces the viewer with her eyes. She’s a traumatised woman who can’t believe she can also be loved. Watch Charlie on MX Player.