That a lovable hero needs an equally hateful villain is a golden rule of storytelling. The 1979 blockbuster Sharapanjaram, written by novelist Malayattoor Ramakrishnan and directed by Hariharan, proved how equally true the reverse of that adage could be in Malayalam cinema. Sharapanjaram turned the movie's villain, Jayan, into a superstar overnight. Sathar, who played the male protagonist, too got much of audience’s love because of the sheer contrast he could lend to the character.
Actor Sathar, who passed away at the age of 67 on Tuesday, will be remembered in Malayalam cinema as one of the handful of versatile actors who could play pretty much any character thrown at him, big or small, positive or negative. After playing romantic hero roles in the seventies in the company of his peers Jayan, Soman, Sukumaran, and others, the ease with which Sathar transformed himself into a villain, a comedian, and as a supporting actor of varied hues, stands testimony to his skills and commitment as an actor. Though Sathar made his debut in Bharyaye Avashyamundu in 1975, it was director Vincent’s Anavaranam that released a year later gave him his first break as a hero.
Sathar’s marriage with the biggest heroine of those years, Jayabharathi, just after three years of entering filmdom caused surprise, heartburn and envy to many. The rising star was taken off the lead role from several films and very few offers came his way in the next couple of years. A confident Sathar refused to take it as a setback and turned his attention to Tamil and Telugu films and simultaneously turned a producer. When Sathar was shooting his first song with co-star Jayabharathi in the movie Beena (1978), he was too shy to do the intimate song and dance. Jayabharathi, being more than 10 years senior to him in the industry, gave him the confidence to act without inhibitions. The friendship that bloomed on the sets of the film brought them together in life. Even after their legal separation years later, they were in constant touch and cared for each other. Though he had spoken about his loneliness in life to several friends, Sathar had always maintained that Jayabharathi occupied a special place in his heart. He attributed the differences in their personalities as the reason for their separation and said she was his first love and he continues to love her.
22 Female Kottayam, the comeback film
22 Female Kottayam (2012) was Sathar’s comeback film after a long hiatus. For a key character role in the thriller and for playing the villain, director Aashiq Abu depended on two veterans: Prathap Pothan as Hegde and Sathar as DK. Pratap Pothan’s Hegde comes across as a mature gentleman but turns out to be the dreaded villain of the story. In first look, DK, the middle-aged millionaire having a “friend with benefits” type of sexual relationship with a girl much younger to him, has the traits of a conventional villain from a moralistic perspective. However, the character arc of DK and Sathar’s portrayal do not let the audience judge him by that yardstick, but by the way the direct-talking DK makes his deals and lives up to the trust his woman whom he calls a friend had placed on him at the time of a crisis.
Sathar stood like a pillar of support to his friends and shared a special bond with his co-stars. In one such instance, he decided to don the hat of a producer for Kambolam after the original producer backed off on the first day of the shoot. The tragic demise of Jayan, his co-star in hits Benz Vasu, Moorkhan and Deepam, left him in deep shock. He had said that after the death of his co-star and friend Ratheesh with whom he had produced three films, he was on the verge of losing his interest in acting and had stopped attending industry gatherings. Sathar had no qualms in admitting that his slide from hero to character artiste happened because of his own complacency and laziness. In contrast, he had credited the superstardom of Mammootty and Mohanlal to their unmatched dedication to the profession, which he confessed he lacked in his prime.
Be it Roy in Belt Mathai, Narayanan in Adiyozhukkukal, Kunnel Outhakkutty in Lelam or Captain Geethakrishnan in Natholi Cheriya Meenalla, Sathar had tremendous confidence in his ability to make any role memorable with his professionalism. Despite being a veteran of more than 40 years in the industry, he never showed reservations in accepting small roles as long as the director trusts his abilities, which showed his desire to be in front of the camera till his last breath. The veteran of over 300 films in Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu will continue to live on through the evergreen characters that he had played on screen.
(The author is a communication professional and a film enthusiast. Views expressed are personal)