It was back in September 1998. The audiences were eagerly awaiting Onam releases. Then three movies hit the theatres on the same day and set the cash registers ringing, scripting a new history in Malayalam cinema.
'Harikrishnans', 'Summer In Bethlehem', and 'Punjabi House' all got etched in the memories of Malayalis. As the multi-starrer movies mark their silver jubilee, the movies are still lauded by cinema enthusiasts for their engaging execution and treatment.
It was no exaggeration in those days if some regular ad taglines like ‘the theatres running to full houses’ and ‘fond memories from the golden era of Malayalam cinemas’ were used to describe them. All three flicks were entertaining to the core. The songs were on an entirely different level. What was peculiar to all three was the similar story plot of the love triangle.
It was a time when the competition between megastars, Mohanlal and Mammootty, was at its peak. The audience and directors had no hope of their sharing the screen space. In the midst of all these, the efforts of Fazil bore fruit. The director initially had only one character, to be played by Mammootty, in mind while planning the investigative thriller. It was then that he decided to bisect Harikrishnan into Hari and Krishnan and featured both Mammootty and Mohanlal in the title roles. The script was changed to accommodate both with equal prominence and they together investigate the case in the super hit film.
The news of Mammootty and Mohanlal acting together sent the fans into a frenzy. The shooting commenced within weeks of announcing the project. It was wrapped up rather quickly, and the movie was announced as an Onam release. This startled the makers of other projects at that time and they effected a change in their initial release plan to avoid direct competition. Along with the presence of the two Mollywood superstars, the association of the famous director resulted in the audience thronging the theatres. With the star-studded cast also featuring Bollywood beauty Juhi Chawla and young heart-throb Kunchacko Boban, the audience predicted it to be a blockbuster.
And it turned out to be one. From day one onward, the theatres were running to full houses. The unexpected climax, in fact climaxes, paved the way for big debates. There were talks about the movie having two climaxes to please the fan bases of both the actors. Scenes of the heroine Meera being won by Hari and Krishnan were shot separately.
Mammootty has finally opened up after 25 years, revealing that they had planned to screen two endings in two theaters in one city to draw more viewers. Unfortunately, while sending for prints, someone got it mixed up, and it ended up screening in two different regions in Kerala.
The film scores done by the Kaithapram-Ouseppachan combination were instant hits. The latter dished out variety songs like ‘Samayamithapoorva Sayahnam’ to music lovers through the movie. The rendering of the song ‘Ponnambal Puzhayirambil’ by Yesudas for both Mohanlal and Mammootty garnered much attention.
And then ‘Summer In Bethlehem’ suddenly entered the scene and began to be screened in theatres, taken aback by the waves created by Harikrishnans. When Renjith and Sibi Malayil teamed up for the romantic comedy, there were a lot of talks of it making a mark, and the film lived up to the expectations when released. The songs in the movie, composed by Vidyasagar and written by Girish Puthenchery, were very popular even before the movie came out. People were excited to see the movie. The joy of movie buffs knew no bounds when megastar Mohanlal unexpectedly appeared in a cameo role in the film, joining popular actors like Suresh Gopi, Jayaram, and Manju Warrier.
The beautiful locations and catchy tunes in the film were refreshing and caught the imagination of the audience. Along with it was the impressive cast; the makers expected the film to do well. However, the film world didn’t expect ‘Summer In Bethlehem’ to hit the theaters then and 'lock horns' with ‘Harikrishnans’. The family entertainer boosted the most colourful depiction among the Sibi Malayil films till then.
Mohanlal’s unexpected entry in the film was a complete surprise for the audience. His name was never featured in any stage of the making of the film, not even during its announcement and marketing. Later, Sibi Malayil disclosed that he initially had actors like Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth in mind.
Even after two-and-a-half decades of its release, 'Punjabi House' still remains vivid in the minds of Malayalis. The dialogues of its lead characters, like Unni and Ramanan, still make up a part of the routine conversations. The Rafi-Mecartin directorial, which made an unexpected entry, rewrote the history of Dileep movies and went on to become one of the biggest super hits in the actor’s career. The humour scenes made the audience laugh their hearts out and it equally excelled in presenting emotions and warmth as well.
Punjabi House still retains a prominent place among the comedy flicks ever brought out in Malayalam. The decision to release it during an Onam season when the industry usually builds its lineup with the superstars was widely regarded as a wrong move. The directors, however, had a firm belief in their creation and refused to yield. Dileep too grew on to become a giant by fighting it out with other giants in the Malayalam movie industry.
Non-stop humour was the key characteristic of 'Punjabi House'. Each of the characters which appeared on the screen earned applause while the triangle love story plot added to the suspense. The question of whether Pooja or Sujatha will get Unnikrishnan had left the directors perplexed much before the audience. To get around this vexing issue, they shot two different climaxes by handing Unnikrishnan to each of the heroines and eventually decided to gift him to Pooja during editing.
The movie also marked the mass entry of Suresh Peters to Malayalam from the world of Tamil film music. The movie's song tracks, comprising fast numbers and melodies, were very colourful.