It was his undying love for cinema that made him toss away his Central government job to produce films. For someone who could have lived in comfort, he even mortgaged his house to fund cinema. And even when people mocked at his failures and wondered what he gained from being reduced to living in lodge rooms, he is at least happy that he was able to travel with cinema. He knows there are those who have lost their entire life savings in their quest to make cinema. He never found that space that justified his talent. He has directed, scripted, produced and even turned into art direction and wrote lyrics for cinema. It was his unyielding love for cinema that made him venture into areas like that. Unni Aranmula has penned the songs for the films he directed like ‘Ethirpukal’ and ‘Swargam.’ And they also became popular.
How he came into cinema
He was born in Aranmula and was always interested in reading and writing. Even when he got enlisted at the Auditing section in the Military, he never gave up his love for books and writing. Unni always kept his love for cinema to himself. Just that he didn’t know how and where to start. At that time, since Madras was the cinema capital he decided to shift there.
It was when his family was looking for a bride for him that he took a room at KR Lodge. It was a regular haunt of film people. Chiranjeevi, Mangombu Gopalakrishnan, Lalu Alex and Alleppey Ashraff were staying there. Unni’s strategy was simple—to meet some film people and learn about cinema. Once he became acquainted with a few of them, his desire to make films grew. He started preparing to be in cinema and that meant a lot of discussions, watching films and learning from them.
‘Asthamikkatha Pakal’, produced by his friend Kurian Varnashala and directed by Sheriff, turned out to be the first film he associated with. And that was a big learning ground for him. He learnt a lot about cinema by hearing, watching and experiencing it. Then he wanted to make his own film. In 1984, Unni finally made his first film, ‘Ethirpukal’ which was written, directed, produced by him. He also wrote the lyrics and took care of the production design.
Unni Aranmula who had no prior experience as a lyricist also turned one purely by chance. He was planning to make Mangombu Radhakrishnan who was his friend and neighbour at the lodge to write the songs. But since Mangombu was busy with other films, he didn’t want to waste time looking for lyricists and therefore decided to write them himself. After immersing himself in the production during the day, he would find time to write the lyrics at night. Not that it was easy for Unni but somehow, he created lyrics through a lot of improvised writing. He would try to better his vocabulary by listening to old songs. TS Radhakrishnan was the music director.
The song ‘Poonullum katte poonkatte’ sung by Vani Jayaram in the film became a superhit. It was also the song in which he paid homage to his hometown. Each of his songs gleamed with its simplicity and beauty.
By the time he finished ‘Ethirpukal’ (which starred Mammootty, Ratheesh and Urvashi), he had already sold a portion of his property at Aranmula. And it was a struggle to finish the film owing to a shortage of money. By then Mammootty who was playing the second hero in the film had already turned into a hero. That really helped Unni as he immediately got distributors. He also decided to add more scenes for Mammootty as he felt that will give the film more saleability. Mammootty also agreed to shoot despite his busy schedule. He allotted a 7 am to 9 am call sheet for Unni and managed to finish the film. Unfortunately, the film didn’t really work at the box office. Today ‘Ethirpukal’ is only known as the film that introduced Urvashi to Malayalam cinema.
But that didn’t deter Unni from making his next film. Since he was taking a lot of holidays, he lost his job in the Military. Then he sold whatever property he had and started making his next film.
He was the one who wrote the lyrics for his next film, ‘Swargam’ that had music by Ernakulam Gopan. It was the confidence and energy he gained from his first experience as a lyricist that prompted him to try it again. But when this film too failed to work at the box office, he was getting into a deeper mess than he bargained for.
'My silence turned into a sadness that seems to never end'
Ironically these words he wrote seem to echo in his life. Though he tried to make films, nothing really seem to be working out. He started feeling alone and isolated but even then, his mind was always on cinema. Though he finished a film in 2007, he couldn’t release it in theatres. But he never stopped trying.
One day, equipped with a new script and lyrics, he went to meet his favourite hero. Though Mammootty was pressed for time, he didn’t disappoint Unni— “I think you should relax now. You can work in my office, and you will get your salary on time.” Unni experienced a poignant moment that could beat a movie scene there.
“Since my experiences have been bitter, I don’t really think about them. After all cinema isn’t life. Who knows about life’s twists and turns?”, says Unni. Unni is a poignant reminder to those who have dedicated their lives to cinema. And Mammootty is a textbook for us.