Prem Nazir: The Ever Green Hero of Malayalam cinema

By Abdul Basith MA,,

The ever green hero of Malayalam cinema Padmabhushan Prem Nazir [7 April 1926 – 16 Jan 1989] is considered the first ever super star of Malayalam film industry.

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Nazir was born in Chirayankeezhu in the princely state of Travancore, to Akkode Shahul Hamid and Asuma Beevi. His mother died when he was very young. He completed his formal education from Kadinamkulam Lower Primary School, Sri Chithiravilasam School, S D College (Alappuzha), and Saint Berchman’s College (Changanassery). By the time he completed his education, he had become an experienced drama artist. While he was in SB College he performed in many Shakespeare plays and this indeed was a big leap by a Muslim boy.

His debut film Marumakal in 1952 was indeed the beginning of an acting career which set unassailable records before his successors. It was at the set of Marumakal that late Malayalam actor Thikurishi Sukumaran called him by the name Prem Nazir, until then he was Chiranyinkeezhu Abdul Khader. During those times actors used to take up names which suits their career and the trend is still prevalent in Malayalam cinema and Thikurishi had this habit of calling newcomers by romantic or character related names which he felt might later suit their film career.

Prem Nazir [Photo courtesy]

The 37 year long acting career has earned him even Guinness records, one for playing lead role in 610 films and another for pairing up with actress Sheila in 120 films. Besides these 610 Malayalam films he has acted in 37 Tamil, seven Telugu and 2 Kannada films. In a single year in 1979, 39 Prem Nazir films were released. Another such important record is that, he acted opposite 80 heroines across his career.

He started his acting career as a drama artist and after his entry into the film industry, got his career break through the film Visappinte Vili, which turned out to become a hit during that time.

He soon won the hearts of his audience by acquiring the halo of a romantic hero. Romantic scenes surrounding a tree were a trend set through Prem Nazir films and none other than him enacted this scenes with that beauty and elegance after his period. He had extra ordinary handsomeness and ease of acting in romantic roles particularly in romantic song sequences.

Though his film career started in the 1950’s, he is known for his amazing longevity as he was active during the peak years of other iconic Malayalam super stars like Sathyan and Jayan in 60’s and 70’s respectively. Later he acted alongside popular future stars like Mammootty and Mohan Lal in the 80’s. He even played a campus character while in his late 50’s.

The film Jnana sundari starring Prem Nazir turned out to become a flop, Nazir then called the producer of the film and gave his date for another film without any payment. Whenever his films failed in the box-office he called those directors and often gave dates for the very next film without asking for any payment. Many among those directors and producers have recovered from the crisis they met with through his kind approach towards them. He often recognised the failures as his own and this indeed is an attitude which the present day super stars lack.

He was so punctual in the film sets and was found to be waiting for the other artists to come reaching there minutes before the asked time. He was an icon of simplicity and though he didn’t have fans associations, D-lits or awards under his belt he will be remembered for ever as he was not only a fine actor but also a good human being.

Former law secretary and retired district judge C Khalid, who was lucky enough to meet Prem Nazir from a marriage function held at former late Kerala Chief Minister CH Muhammed Koya’s residence recollected memories of two experiences narrated by the great actor, which he says very well exhibits the humbleness and humour sense of the great actor.

One among those narrations was one of his experiences when he was travelling by an airplane along with a well known cashew business man from Kerala seated next to him. Nazir was a celebrity by then and he introduced himself as the Malayalam cine actor, business man actually haven’t even heard about him and Prem Nazir recognised this as an experience which made him think a lot regarding the fact that “still there are people, who even haven’t hardly heard about ‘Prem Nazir’ in Kerala!”

Khalid says another such incident was when Nazir went to meet a civil service officer in Thiruvanathapuram. At the officer’s residence, from the very first sight the officer’s son recognised him and was greeted in. The officer was in the Pooja room offering the morning rituals and Nazir was asked to wait.

Nazir was actually in a hurry and he asked the boy, ‘whether he could get into the Pooja room to meet his father?’ The boy sought permission from his father but the officer was reluctant to admit Nazir in to the Pooja room. But by that time Nazir some how got into the Pooja room and the officer was up against him citing that a Muslim is not supposed to enter the Place. But it was only then Prem Nazir recognised that the Officer was worshiping a ‘Rama idol with Prem Nazir’s face’. The officer was worshiping the Rama idol sketch developed in to a calendar based on Prem Nazir’s epic role in ‘Sri Rama Pattabhishekam!’ This was an instance which later made Prem Nazir laugh a lot, said Khalid.

Farjas Hameed, doing his bachelors degree now is a big fan for the great actor of the old times and he says the present day actors can’t in any way match the perfection he exhibited while moving lips to those romantic songs sung by KJ Yesdudas. Farjas often mimics the great actor and he says that though Nazir might not have won many awards he was successful in conquering the Malayali hearts.

Farjas cited a recent incident were MT Vasudevan Nair, the well renowned Malayalam director approached both Mammootty and Mohan Lal to play the role of the central character earlier played by Prem Nazir, as the director was planning to remake the Prem Nazir film ‘Murapennu’. Both Mohanlal and Mammootty backed out telling that they can never match Prem Nazir`s charm and innocence in the original film, this indeed proves the greatness of the ever green actor, said Farjas.

Most among his companions admires him for the stunning memory power he had, which saved money and time for his producers; as with Nazir’s acting the number of takes were the least. He had innate abilities to move his lips to the dialogues and songs that too with a special memory to grasp and deliver dialogues in no time with optimum perfection. Nazir’s bottomless humility and his amazingly handsome face will stay ever green in the hearts of his fans. The Guinness records which he set are unbreakable and no great actor could replicate his roles.