Imitation of Life

India Today’s popular article on Lekhayude Maranam : Oru Flashback controversy. Written by Sreedhar Pillai Originally published in the India Today magazine dated May 15, 1983. All rights reserved with India Today.

Nalini in Lekhayude Maranam-Oru Flashback

It could be, in the complete sense of the phrase, a case of art imitating life.Even before the first scenes of Malayalam film director KG George’s Lekhayude Maranam : Oru Flashback ( Lekha’s Death : A Flashback) have flickered on cinema screens, the film has aleady caused considerable tumult.As well as it might : Flashback tells the story of the rise to stardom of an actress in a corrupt film industry, her scandalous affair with a married man, and her suicide.The plot seem sto parallel the life of the late Urvasi Award – winning actress Sobha, her affair with cameraman-director Balu Mahendra whom she married and her msterious and untimely suicide.The parallel is so uncomfortably close that Sobha’s mother Prema has vowed to sue director George for defamation.

Flashback is a hard hitting indictment of the life and mores of Kodambakam, the bustling film city near Madras. George, who won an award for his Yavanika ( Curtain) last year, has pulled no punches.The opening shots set the atmosphere :an Indian News Review B&W clip of the funeral procession of Urvasi Award-winning actress Lekha, with the commentator saying that Lekha’s death has shocked the entire Madras film industry.There are huge crowds and several stars play themselves paying homage to Lekha. After the news review ends, the film shifts to color and the story proper begins as a flashback.

Cover Story

The plot is quite simple.Visalekshmi, played by Shubha, wants to make daughter Lekha, played by Nalini, a star. From a village in Kerala, they come to Kodambakom.However, the director who had assured them that he would give her daughter a break goes back on his word.Visalekshmi vows to make her daughter a star, her husband wants to go back to the village.In the end, the mother has her way.By and by, mother and daughter falls into the hands of an assistant director and a powerful film journalist. Producers tell Lekha that they will give her roles only if she sleeps with them. Meanwhile, the assistant director, pretending to be in love with her, takes her to bed and later presents her to a producer who has promised him his first film as a director.

This episode is a watershed in Lekha’s life. Her drunk fater deserts the family and only her mother’s iron will and determination stop Lekha from running back to Kerala.A succesful pimp – played superbly by Tamil stage comedian C Sreenivasan – takes them over. Then her luck changes, with a visit to the Karumari Amman Koil – a temple popular and favorite with the film crowd, she becoms a top star. The ageing superstar of the industry , Prem Sagar, played by Mammootty, signs eight films with her. Her mother makes her work day and night. Her father returns with a host of relatives who begin living off her.

Bharat Gopy in Lekhayude Maranam-Oru Flashback

The rest of the film show Lekha’s developing relationship with Suresh Babu, played by Gopy, the cameraman-director and art-film maker, who is married and has a son. At the pinnacle of her career, after she wins the Urvasi award for her performance in one of Suresh’s films, she elopes with him.Visalekshmi has hysterics and confronts Lekha in heavy, melodramatic scenes. Babu’s wife and son blackmail him emotionally. Finally Babu breaks off with Lekha, who commits suicide.

The outstanding performance in Flashback comes from Shubha as Visalekshmi, Lekha’s shrewd, avaricious and ruthless mother. Stage actor Tilaman is excellent as the journalist who puts Lekha on the road to superstardom. Mammootty, the current rage of the Malayalam screen, successfully apes the mannerisms of fellow actor Prem Nazir in his Prem Sagar role. The camera work is excellent.


But the story is what has made people sit up and take notice.George vehemently denies that the film has anything to do with Sobha or her mother Prema and says that he has based Flashback on the suicide syndrome in the industry : according to him four top actresses including Sobha have committed suicide in the past five years. Says George, “It is a dog-eat-dog industry, full of whores and pimps.” He also denies that he made the film in consultation with Balu Mahendra, as alleged by Sobha’s mother, who, for her part, is extremely upset. Says she : “KG George’s film has depicted me as a prostitute and I will take legal action against the release of the film.”

Mahendra himself was reluctant to talk – he says he has not seen the film –but asserted that he has nothing to do with Flashback and has not discussed the film with George.Said he: “All these rumors started because when George was shooting in Ooty for the film, I was also there.” Even as the charges and the counter-charges fly back and forth, Flashback has already received all the pre-publicity George could have hoped for, and looks all set to be a smash success.

Prabhamayi from Lekhayude Maranam : Oru Flashback.

About Bharat Chronicler

The in-house master of ceremonies, online janitor and chronicler of the life and times of Bharat Gopy - playwright, author, director, producer and actor extraordinaire of Indian Cinema.

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