Udaya studio to see light – Kunchako Boban doing new movie under the Udaya banner

Udaya Studios Image courtesy: karmakerala.com

Udaya studio, Alapuzha – the grand old film production studio of malayalam cinema has not seen the glimmer of arc-lights in a long time.  The establishment, which once used to be the crowning glory of malayalam cinema has fallen on hard days, and has been in a state of neglect. It has been over 30 years since the banner of ‘Udaya studios’ was flashed on screen for the opening credits of a movie, but now, thanks to malayalam star Kunchako Boban, the studio is all set to revive the glory days of its past. Kunchako Boban is also the grandson of producer-director Kunchako, who established Udaya studios back in 1947. Boban’s new movie titled Kochavva Paulo Ayyappa Koylo will be produced by the actor himself under the banner of Udaya pictures.

The actor, who is known for bring meaty performances to life, has been waiting to put together a good movie that will become the revival vehicle for the studio. Although he has been contemplating relaunching Udaya for a while now, the lack of an inspiring movie kept him from it. The new movie, he says, will be an entertainer with a message that people of all age groups can enjoy equally.
Udaya studio was the very first studio in Kerala, established by his grandfather  Kunchako in 1947.
As far as the people of Kerala are concerned, Udaya is not just a studio. It hosted a cultural platform that launched the biggest stars erstwhile malayalam cinema has seen. These artists later turned out to be the flag-bearers of malayalam cinema, enshrining themselves in the hearts of malayalees world over.  Though the 13 acres of land that house the studio wear a derelict look today, it was once a beehive of activity – with stars, technicians, lavish movie sets, and cameras. An old hand at the studio had memories of an outdoor camera that seemed to weigh a ton, and took four people to move and position! Udaya was not a work-place, and neither were they employees, he says. They were one big family who came together to produce some of the most amazing cinematic experiences audiences had seen in those days.
Udaya also introduced the audience to the first superstars of Malayalam cinema – Sathyan and Prem Nasir. Cine-goers from those days still remember locations and sets in the studio that played host to creating unforgettable moments on screen. From ponds that had heroines coyly slipping into the water, their lithe drenched bodies a canvas in themselves, to heroic action sequences in ‘kalaris‘ that had swords and shields flashing among grunts of effort and pain – Udaya has seen it all.

Udaya has many firsts to its credit. The studio was established by Kunchako and film distributor K V Koshy in Alleppy in 1947. Though it took a few years to catch on, the studio went on to deliver iconic hits such as Jeevithanauka (1951) which ran to packed houses for over 250 days. Kunchako was a well revered industry veteran who went on to direct over 40 films in his career. He was the one to introduce stories based on the ‘vadakkan paattu‘, the rich regional history of Kerala, which went on to deliver a string of successes for the studio. Movies such as Unniaarcha, Palottukoman and Pazhashiraja are still classics in their own right. The studio also presented malayalees with their first woman screenplay writer – Lalithambika andarjanam, with the movie Shakuntala in 1965.
The studio turned out to be a trendsetter, shifting the business of making movies – which traditionally happened in Chennai, to Kerala. The year 1951 saw a rival studio, Merryland, being set up in Trivandrum – thanks to the buzz Udaya had managed to generate. The rivalry between these two centers of art is another story that was followed very keenly in those days.

The studio in those days was very different, catering to cinema that was in a very nascent stage, when compared to the  complex technicalities of today. Stars even took to staying at the studio – there are buildings christened ‘Nasir Bunglow’ and ‘Ragini cottage’ even today, which have almost turned into temples for their fans.
While the humble studio has evolved into what is called a ‘film city’ today, the charm and appeal of an Udaya from yesteryears will be hard to re-create. What is quite ironic is the fact that most ‘millennial’ cine-goers today, and fans of the new generation cinema experience may not even be aware of the existence of such a behemoth of an establishment that forms the very foundation of malayalam cinema.
The institution that fostered technical brilliance and brought people together under the novel banner of entertainment called cinema is something that deserves to be brought back into the limelight.

Malayalam actor Kunchako Boban

Today, as Kunchako Boban – the 3rd generation scion of the Kunchako family line gears up to breathe life into the Udaya banner, let’s hope that this beacon of the malayalam movie industry will once again bask under the glory of bright lights and “action” calls.

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