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Pappan Priyappetta Pappan (“Pappan, Dear Pappan”/dir. Sathyan Anthikad, 1986)

This post first appeared on Totally Filmi on July 31, 2019

Pappan (Rahman) seems to have it all:  his singing career is taking off, and he’s about to be married to Sarina (Lissy).  But Pappan’s career comes at a cost to Umesh (Jose), another singer whose popularity is waning as a result of Pappan’s rise.  Pappan is philosophical about it all — this is how the entertainment business works.  One day, you’re popular, the next, you’re replaced by another singer.  Pappan fully believes this will happen to him, too, but Umesh is bitter at how things have turned out.  One night, a week before the wedding, Pappan sets out on his motorcycle to go see Sarina, and Umesh and his band mates just happen to come upon him in their van.  Umesh decides this is the moment to deal with Pappan, running him off the road and killing him, and then disposing of the body and the motorcycle.

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Pappan’s spirit then meets Yamarajan (Thilakan), the Lord of Death, who takes him up to heaven.  There’s a wrench in the proceedings when it’s discovered that Yamarajan has made a wee mistake, bringing death to Pappan because he shares the same name as Yamarajan’s actual target.  Pappan is, understandably, furious – but it’s revealed that Pappan was scheduled to die in an accident in a week anyway, it just happened a few days early.  Pappan insists that he be put back in his body so that he can spend the remaining days making sure that Sarina will not wait for him, and that she will be able to get on with her life.  The problem, of course, is that his body has disappeared, and there’s nothing to put his soul back into.  The solution?  Find Pappan a body – the body of someone already scheduled to die (because, of course, the Lord of Death just can’t go around killing random people, can he?).

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The quest begins to find a suitable body for Pappan so that he can take care of things before his scheduled death date.  The first choice, of course, is the man who was supposed to die in the first place, an elderly man with arthritis.  Pappan enters the body, but finds it unsuitable.  Much hilarity ensues when the elderly man dies, revives, dies, revives, and dies as Pappan goes in and out of his body.

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Pappan’s spirit next enters the body of Kayikkara Kochappu (Nedumudi Venu), who is killed by his former partner, Puli Sankaran (Rajan P. Dev), now a gangster with a swishy villain lair.  Puli Sankaran wants Kayikkara Kochappu to rejoin his gang.  Kayikkara Kochappu wants no part of it, and is killed by Puli Sankaran’s henchmen.  But Pappan also finds Kayikkara Kochappu an unsuitable host – mainly because he’s being chased by Puli Sankaran’s men, and my god, it’s so much of running everywhere, giving him no time to deal with the tasks he wants to accomplish before his death date.

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Pappan’s spirit finally finds a suitable host in the body of Circle Inspector Devdas (Mohanlal, in a very extended cameo) who is killed by Puli Sankaran during an investigation.  C.I. Devdas is hero material:  an upright policeman (he suspends one of his officers, Constable Kuttan (Innocent) for going to the movies in his police uniform), with a wife and a daughter he dotes on.  Pappan’s spirit in the inspector’s body means that suddenly C.I. Devdas begins to behave in ways that seem strange to all around him, especially as he tries to convince Sarina and her father that Pappan is dead and will not be there for the wedding.  They believe that because Sarina wanted Pappan to stay away for the week before the wedding that he’s playing a prank with his radio silence.  Ultimately, Pappan guilt-trips Yamarajan into revealing where Pappan’s body is – it’s against the rules for Yamarajan to reveal this information, but Pappan tells him that the rules don’t apply when the Lord of Death has made a fatal mistake in taking the wrong soul before its appointed time.

I’m actually a fan of movies where the gods are shown to be fallible, and perhaps my favourite in this genre is the 1988 Chiranjeevi film Yamudiki Mogudu, where Chiranjeevi’s character, wrongfully killed, has Lord Yama find him an exact replacement body.  Pappan Priyappetta Pappan is no Yamudiki Mogudu – although I think this may be the first time I’ve actually seen a swishy villain’s lair in a Malayalam film – and if I’m honest, what set me out in search of this film was a clip shared on Facebook in which C.I. Devdas enters the hideout of Puli Sankaran:

Director Sathyan Anthikad is probably best known for his commercial family dramas (most recently Jomonte Suvisheshangal and Njan Prakashan to name but two) and Pappan Priyappetta Pappan is probably par for the course for an Anthikad directed entertainer.  The humour is mostly gently silly, though I did guffaw now and then.  The movie picks up both in terms of pacing and entertainment once Mohanlal enters the scene, though perhaps that’s not surprising –  although Rahman is a Casa Totally Filmi favourite, I think I enjoy his work more today than in some of his early films (though, if I’m honest, 80s Rahman is totally swoon-worthy).  But Pappan also has more to do when his soul enters the body of Devdas:  he must convince Sarina and her father that Pappan is dead and will not come for the wedding; and he must also must handle the fact that Devdas will leave behind a wife and daughter.  Both men have people they care for, and the film doesn’t shy away from its decidedly sad ending.  Even the Lord of Death weeps in the end, realizing (as the handy note at the end of the film tells us) for the first time the suffering of humans when they lose someone dear to them.

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