In the 60s and 70s the crime thrillers starring Malayalam's evergreen hero Prem Nazir were the hot favorites. Set in a formulaic pattern, each of those vintage classics had a captivating story line. Apart from Nazir, almost all of them featured a star cast including K.P. Ummer, Adoor Bhasi and Sheela. Some times Jayabharathi replaced Sheela.
The ingredients for making them titillating and spicy were carefully added and broiled. Even though the films followed a set pattern, they were meticulously planned, tautly scripted and seamlessly edited. The characters are brought to life by flawless performance of the actors. Films like Danger Biscuit (1969), Lanka Dahanam (1969), CID Nazeer (1971), Rest House (1969) are few among the multitude of such flicks.
Interestingly, most of those films were written and produced by K.P. Kottarakkara and directed by Sasikumar. The subject, backdrop and the plot in such films are widely varied. For example the film Rest House is set in a remote location where a group of college students from two different colleges – one girls' and the other, boys' - arrive for botanical research.
The witty encounters of members in the two groups lay the groundwork for clashes, romance and and every other lighter elements in the story. At the same time it preps for bigger conflicts yet to follow. The 'issue' in the film is a treasure trove in the region and the attempt of an Englishman, a descendant of a colonial hierarchy, to seize it. The confrontations, fights, revelations as well as songs and amorous escapades are deftly weaved in the film. The race towards the conclusion is exhilarating. Almost the whole of the drama takes place in the wilderness. The movie renders wholesome entertainment even today.
Danger Biscuit, another suspense thriller for example, deals with gold smuggling. It portrays how the felony is carried out under the cover of a clinic. Again, the Nazir-Sheela-K.P. Ummer-Adoor Bhasi team sizzles with meticulous performance. The plot arranges the sequences with such a brilliance the narrative keeps the curiosity alive from the start to finish.
While, in the film C.I.D Nazir, Prem Nazir plays the eponymous character who unearths a murder mystery that takes place in an old bungalow.
Often, the story is pursued to the fullest, no matter what it takes - even if a scene demands a fight onboard an aircraft or a boat chase in the sea it is executed well and convincingly. Whether it's Kannur Deluxe (1969), Cochin Express (1967) or Panchavadi (1973), all of them are pure entertainers with smatterings of romance, slapstick, actions, songs and suspense at regular intervals but at the same time distance themselves from the steadfast noire genre. Of course, there are extremely formal and textual dialogues and gestures that lie on the fringes of melodrama. But they can be easily pardoned as they are characteristic of films in those times.
Many of the experiments that we see today in modern films are evident in those films too. For example, in a crowd scene in the film Rest House we get to hear distinctly the low verbal communication of several characters scattered in the frame. With lively performances, engaging drama, humor and a gripping flow, those black-and-white classics are definitely vintage treasures that transcend times.