Some structures like the Government Guest House on West Hill, Kozhikode, are larger than life like our heroes. Remember the beautiful building with its short flight of steps winding upward? Here is a walk to remember as so many 'filmy' images pop up. The guest house, a mute witness to so many dramas that were played out under its hood, was once the sacred shrine of the film industry. A favourite location for many a Malayalam film, West Hill had a rustic charm which was why it came to be known as the Hollywood of Malayalam movies.
One iconic scene which frames the guest house is that of the very smart and suave Thevalliparambil Joseph Alex, the uber cool district collector played by Mammootty, who slaps shut a car with a shove of his leg. The cat calls and whistles the scene from Renji Panicker’s film 'The King' evoked still rings loud. An unforgettable scene!
Those were the days when Malayalam cinema was pottering around Chennai while at the same time scanning for locations in Kerala. The beautiful hill thus became the perfect setting for many a Malayalam superhit. Those stone steps have been trodden by the cast and crew of movies like 'Dhwani', 'Pingami' and 'Commissioner', to name a few.
More images pop us as you wind your way out of the Guest House and touch the East Hill Road. The place looks familiar. There you are! Wasn’t this the very same road that Dasan and Vijayan (Mohanlal and Sreenivasan) went cycling by on their way to work in 'Nadodikattu'? The bumbling men figured again on the same road when an old Maruti knocked down a medical student and the duo jumped in to the rescue. While Dasan yelled at the driver for his carelessness, Vijay quietly deflated a tyre. The scene where the brave-hearts go to office the next day and realise that the man they had yelled at was their new boss is so subtly hilarious.
Jaywalk for more memories and evergreen scenes. There is a junction just in front of the road with a road winding down. A bit further and the road forks out. At the bend stands a small house with a tiled roof. This was Sobhana’s home in 'Vellanakalude Nadu'. A giggle bubbles up from somewhere inside. The house still does not have a wall around it. And there is a reason to it.
Another image comes up. The contractor C P played by Mohanlal who won his case to keep a road-roller for himself is getting an elephant to pull the machine forward. Hilarious! The pachyderm ditches the rope just when the contraption rolls down a slope. It rolls and goes straight for the walls of the house, crashes into them and stops short of the house. Kuthiravattam Pappu, cast as the driver Suleiman, in his inimitable style then tells C.P: “If the machine had rolled faster, the house too would have come down.” Wasn’t Pappu looking gleeful?
Walk up again and turn right from the junction which will take you to the road near West Hill ground. The whole place has been fenced in by the Army. The place was once a bald, barren heap of stones and hills with narrow roads winding through them.
As you walk along, a vivid picture comes in your mind out of nowhere: it is of Sundari - a back-engined autorickshaw. It’s Sudhi at the wheel delightfully flirting with his Meenukutty who sits behind coyly. It is this vast stretch of land that springs to life in Mohanlal’s blockbuster 'Aye Auto.'
As you head towards the city, the images start blurring. The Vikram Maidan is also far behind. There in front is St Michael’s School and just before you reach the bus stop near Kanakalaya Bank you see it .. that tea shop, the old country chayakkada, Hotel Suryodayam. It is almost dark inside. There’s a samovar and a wooden shelf and quite a few old tables and chairs. The order is given for a hot masala dosa. The grey-haired waiter in his faded lungi goes inside and comes out a few minutes later bearing a splendid masala dosa. The dosa comes in regally. It’s pretty big too, with the sides jutting out of the plate. The dosa is incredibly delicious, the masala inside, more so. It’s distinctly Malayali, not a hint of Tamil Nadu in the masala. There’s chammanthi and sambar to go with the dosa.
Seated close by is another customer chomping on parotta and beef. He is relishing every minute of his time here. Fingers licked and plate polished, he is blowing now into his piping hot tea.
Behind an old counter sits Suryodayam’s owner Balakrishnan. The masalas are home-made and the recipes handed down from generations. That is why the dishes taste so groovy.
Pudhukudy Rarichan, Balakrishnan’s father, set up the chayakkada 80 years ago. There never has been any compromise on quality. In 1996 when Kozhikode Corporation was celebrating its centenary, Suryodayam was chosen as the best among small hotel holdings and won an award from the civic body. A shield signed by the then Mayor E C Bharathan sits with pride inside the glass paned wooden shelf, reminding people of Suryodayam’s glorious past.
The walk is over. Tomorrow to new kadas and fresh flavours!