indian cinema heritage foundation

Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai

  • Born: 1900 (Muthukulam, Travancore (Now in Alappuzha), Kerala)
  • Died: 1979 (Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala)
  • Primary Cinema: Malayalam
  • First film: Balan (1938)
  • Last film: Rajayogam (1976)
  • Parents: Velupillai and Karthyayani Amma

Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai was a dramatist, poet, screen play writer and actor, well known for his role of Ashaan in Kavyamela (1965). He was born in Muthukulam, a small village near Haripad in Alappuzha District, Kerala. He is known as the Akshara Guru of Malayalam talkie films. 

Muthukulam received schooling up to the eighth standard and further studied the nuances of Malayalam literature under the tutelage of his uncle, a poet. He held a prominent position in the drama, literary and film circles, with significant contributions in the pre-independent era in each. A prolific writer, he wrote as many as 127 dramas and stories, created screenplays for about 170 films, which included some Tamil films as well, and acted in comedy dramas and films. Songs penned by Muthukulam were also immensely popular. 

Muthukulam wrote the screenplay and dialogues of Balan (1938). The songs he wrote for Balan included Bharathathin Ponvilakam, Jayajagadeeswara Jayajayanadha, Jathakadoshathalo, Raghukulanayakane, Ha Sahagasayoojyame, Durnaya Jeevithame, and Athisukhamee Jeevitham. The songs were voiced by K.K. Aroor, MK Kamalam, Master Madanagopalan, Palluruthy Lakshmi and Sivanandan. Balan remains part of the annals of Indian cinema history as the first talkie in Malayalam. This was not his only contribution to the foundation of the Malayalam film industry: he also wrote the screenplay and dialogues of Jeevitha Nouka (1955), the first box office hit in Malayalam. In 1968, he appeared onscreen in P. Venu’s Viruthan Shanku, the first full-length comedy in Malayalam cinema. Over the course of his career, he acted in around 150 Malayalam films. 

The first Malayalam social musical opera Yachaki was also penned by Muthukulam. He was the playwright and story writer of the stage play Jeevitha Nauka. His other popular stories include Nalla Thanka, Velakkaran, Lokancethi and Daham. His drama Manushyan was made into the Tamil-language film Manithan (1987). He also wrote acclaimed dramas like Sahapathi Veerasimhan, Manushyan, Anandabashpham, Kudilinte Karachil and Sudheeran MBBS. Though none of these were published in writing, they were successfully staged numerous times. 

In honour of Muthukulam’s immense contribution to the arts, an award titled Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai Puraskaram has been instituted by the Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai Samraka Samithi. Leaving behind a rich legacy, Muthukulam passed away in 1979 in Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala.