From Valsala’s novel to Ramu Kariat’s film: ‘Nellu’, the making of a classic

When P Valsala’s novel ‘Nellu’ was adapted to the big screen by ace director Ramu Kariat, Malayalam cinema was bestowed with a classic. From story and music to cinematography, every department in the film was exceptional.
The film was made during an era when hills and forests were portrayed in movies by putting up sets in the studio. But ‘Nellu’ directly captured the beauty of the wilderness and the hill ranges of Wayanad, thus rewriting the visual experience for the Malayali audience.

Valsala was not very keen on adapting her novel ‘Nellu’ for the screen. But Ramu Kariat himself approached the author and sought her permission. Valsala was already impressed with Ramu Kariat after watching Chemmeen, another movie that he had adapted from a novel. So she did not have to think twice before giving her nod.

Salil Chowdhury had famously wandered through the tribal hamlets of Wayanad to compose the background music for the film. The song ‘Chemba Chemba’ was composed using the musical instrument ‘thudi’ of the tribals. Songs ‘Kadali Chenkadali’, ‘Neela Ponmane’ and ‘Kaadu Kuliranu’, all penned by Vayalar Ramavarma,  are still among the favourite songs of Malayalis.

The main challenge was writing the script for the movie. Ramu Kariat entrusted the task to Valsala, K G George and S L Puram Sadanandan. And three scripts were born. Finally, the screenplay for ‘Nellu’ was formed by compiling the best portions of these three scripts. But Valsala later said that when she watched the film on screen, she did not get the satisfaction she had while writing the novel.
Valsala harboured the dream of adapting her novel ‘Agneyam’ by writing a screenplay and directing it. But during those times, it was difficult for women filmmakers to find support. Thus, that dream ended midway.