Animals In Malayalam Cinema: Elephants

Animals have always been a huge fascination for us humans and have been a crowd-puller right from the days of the travelling circuses and zoos. This fascination about animals eventually led to animals featuring in movies, a trend started by Hollywood in the early 1920s  with movies like Rin Tin Tin and Jimmy the Crow and has continued to this day with live-action adaptations of movies like Jungle Book or Tarzan. And slowly, animals found their way into Malayalam cinema too.

Animals have also been part of multiple genres of films; from the shark from Jaws, to the animals in George of the Jungle, to the heart-touching Hachiko: A Dog’s Story. Animals have also been a driving factor of the animation industry which involved them talking and replicating humans, capturing the imagination of children and adults alike. Coming to think of it, the biggest mascots of the animation industry were all animals – from Disney Universe, The Tom and Jerry Universe, and the Looney Tunes Collection.

Animals have also played a pivotal role in Indian cinema across industries with roles demanding them to play the cupid, the sidekick, neurotic superheroes, or even the actual antagonist because ‘man’ winning over a ‘beast’ has always been a trope. Malayalam cinema industry has had its fair share of animals in movies too. In this article, we’ll have a look at movies that have featured elephants. 

Kerala’s traditions have been interlinked with the gentle giants of the land, and elephants and regarded as conscious, emotional, and being capable of genuine human interaction by most Keralites. This awareness was probably shaped by Kottarathil Sankunni’s Aithihyamala which had stories of miracles and extraordinary heroic feats by elephants. The reverence, fascination, and familiarity with these animals have been exploited by Malayalam cinema across the years, especially in the 70s and 80s. 

And this is an attempt to list down some of these movies that had elephants leading the way or playing a crucial part in the storyline.

Aana Valarthiya Vanampadi (1960) & Aana Valarthiya Vanampadiyude Makan (1971)

This movie could be called Malayalam’s first bilingual jungle movie. Miss Kumari played the protagonist with supporting casts like Bheeman the elephant and Pedro the chimp. It was followed by a sequel, Aana Valarthiya Vanampadiyude Makan, 12 years later.

Sindooracheppu (1971)

Directed by Madhu and starring Madhu, Jayabharathi, Prema and Sankaradi in the lead roles, this movie was the first of its kind to have a mohout as the film’s main protagonist. It offered a realistic presentation of a mahout’s life and the bond he shared with his elephant.

Guruvayoor Kesavan (1977)

Although there were many movies that featured important elephant characters, Guruvayoor Kesavan can be called the first Malayalam film with an elephant as the protagonist. This film, directed by Bharathan, was based on the famous elephant from Guruvayoor who was associated with divinity and intelligence.

Aanappachan (1978)

Aanappaachan is a 1978 Indian Malayalam film, directed by A. Vincent and produced by Boban Kunchacko. The film stars Prem Nazir, Jayan, Sheela, and Adoor Bhasi in lead roles with Jayan as the main villain. The film is a revenge drama portrayed around the process of capturing and taming wild elephants.

Kolakomban (1983)

Kolakomban is a 1983 Indian Malayalam film, directed by J. Sasikumar. The movie also stars Mohanlal as the hunter who comes to hunt down the kolakomban. 

Aanakkorumma (1985)

Aanakkorumma is a 1985 Indian Malayalam film, directed and produced by M. Mani. The film stars Adoor Bhasi, Ratheesh, Sankaradi, Baby Shalini and Menaka in lead roles.

Adiverukal (1986)

This movie, directed by P Anil and starring Mohanlal & Karthika, tells the story of Balakrishnan who is extremely fond of his pet elephant Vinayan and starts a fight against the exploitation of the forest. 

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Gajakesariyogam (1990)

Gajakesariyogam, directed by P. G Vishwambharan and starring Innocent, talks about an old elephant caretaker who decides to buy an elephant. He takes a loan to buy an elephant but ends up with a circus elephant who only understands Hindi. 

Prayikkara Pappan (1995)

Prayikkara Pappan was directed by T. S. Suresh Babu, and stars Murali, Jagadish, Chippy, Geetha, and Surendra Pal. The movie talks about elephant training centres in Kerala, the life of mahouts, and the fight with the smugglers who create trouble in the area.

Sammanam (1997)

Sammanam, directed by Sunderdas and starring Manoj K Jayan & Manju Warrier, tells the story of Appu the elephant which comes into the family as part of a ‘veetham veyppu’ and becomes a part of the household.

Gajaraja Manthram (1997)

Directed by Thaha, the story talks about Anantha Padmanabhan (Jagadish) who poses as an elephant trainer and steals Sankarankutty’s (Premkumar) job.

Pattabhishekam (1999)

Pattabhishekam was directed by Anil Babu and stars Jayaram, Jagathy, Harisri Ashokan, and Mohini in the lead roles. The story revolves around the lead, Jayaram, who goes to a palace as a fake veterinary doctor to treat the palace elephant and clear his debts. The background music that was for the elephant has acquired an iconic status.

Aanachandam (2006)

Directed by Jayaraj, and starring Jayaram and Ramya Nambeeshan, Aanachandam is the story of Krishnan who becomes fond of elephants after an elephant saves him from an accident in his childhood. He decides to adopt an elephant Arjunan who is severely injured and what lies ahead forms the rest of the story.

Aana Alaralodalaral (2017)

Directed by Dileep Menon and starring Vineeth Sreenivasan, Anu Sithara, Suraj Venjaramoodu, Thesni Khan, Mamukkoya among others, this movie deals with an out and out elephant subject after nearly a decade of the last elephant movie. The story revolves around an elephant protagonist, Shekarankutty, an elephant bought by Padmanabhan Thampi. 

There are many other Malayalam movies that have had elephant cameos/guest roles to elevate the hero’s charisma like the Sphadikam, Valyettan, and Saivar Thirumeni. There are others where these gentle giants are shown as part of the aristocrat Kerala households and a pet to the family in movies like Rappakal, or playing their part in comedy through movies like Godfather, Thuruppugulan, and Vellanakalude Nadu, or even inspiring a business idea like in Punyalan Agarbattis.

And while most of these portray the bright side, there have been multiple documentaries that showcase the stark reality of how elephants are exploited in the name of tradition or festivities; the latest one being Gods in Shackles by Sangita Iyer. 

With stricter rules and the advent of budget-friendly CGI that enables realistic rendering of animals possible even for low budget films, we are hopeful that cruelty and exploitation against animals will reduce at least in the movie entertainment space.

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What are your favourite examples of animals in Malayalam cinema? Let us know in comments.

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