M. T. Vasudevan Nair

M. T. Vasudevan Nair
Born (1933-08-09) 9 August 1933[1]
Kudallur, Ponnani Taluk, Malabar District, Madras Presidency, British India
Occupation Novelist, short story writer, screenplay writer, film director
Language Malayalam
Nationality Indian
Alma mater Victoria College, Palakkad
Genre Novel, short story, children's literature, travelogue, essays
Subject Social aspects, Oriented on the basic Kerala family and cultures
Literary movement Realism
Notable works
Notable awards Padma Bhushan, Jnanpith, Sahitya Akademi Award, Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award

The signature of M. T. Vasudevan Nair

Madathil Thekkepaattu Vasudevan Nair (born 9 August 1933), popularly known as MT, is an Indian author, screenplay writer and film director.[2] He is a prolific and versatile writer in modern Malayalam literature, and is one of the masters of post-Independence Indian literature.[3][4] He was born in Kudallur, a small village in the present day Palakkad district (Palghat), which was under the Malabar District in the Madras Presidency of the British Raj. He shot into fame at the age of 20 when, as a chemistry undergraduate, he won the prize for the best short story in Malayalam at World Short Story Competition conducted by The New York Herald Tribune. His debut novel Naalukettu (Ancestral Home- translated to English as The Legacy), wrote at the age of 23, won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in 1958. His other novels include Manju (Mist), Kaalam (Time), Asuravithu (The Prodigal Son - translated to English as The Demon Seed) and Randamoozham (The Second Turn). The deep emotional experiences of his early days have gone into the making of MT's novels. Most of his works are oriented towards the basic Malayalam family structure and culture and many of them were path-breaking in the history of Malayalam literature. His three seminal novels on life in the matriarchal family in Kerala are Naalukettu, Asuravithu, and Kaalam. Randamoozham, which retells the story of the Mahabharatha from the point of view of Bhimasena, is widely credited as his masterpiece.

M. T. Vasudevan Nair is a script writer and director of Malayalam films. He has directed seven films and written the screenplay for around 54 films. He won the National Film Award for Best Screenplay four times for: Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha (1989), Kadavu (1991), Sadayam (1992), and Parinayam (1994), which is the most by anyone in the screenplay category. He was awarded the highest literary award in India, Jnanpith, in 1995 for his overall contribution to Malayalam literature. In 2005, India's third highest civilian honour Padma Bhushan was awarded to him.[5] He has won numerous other awards and recognition including Sahitya Akademi Award, Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award, Vayalar Award, Vallathol Award, Ezhuthachan Award and Mathrubhumi Literary Award. He was awarded the J.C. Daniel Award for lifetime achievement in Malayalam cinema for the year 2013. He served as the editor of Mathrubhumi Illustrated Weekly for several years.

Early life and family

M.T.Vasudevan Nair at a Calicut function

Vasudevan was born on 9 August 1933 in Kudallur in the present day Palakkad district.[6] He was the youngest of four children born to T. Narayanan Nair and Ammalu Amma.[1] His father was in Ceylon and he spent his early days in Kudallur and in his father's house in Punnayurkulam, a village in the present day Thrissur district.[1] He completed his schooling from Malamakkavu Elementary School and Kumaranelloor High School. He had to break education after high school, and when he joined college in 1949, he was advised to opt for the science stream as it was felt that a degree in science secured a job faster than any other degree.[7] He obtained a degree in chemistry from Victoria College, Palakkad in 1953.[7] He taught mathematics in Pattambi Board High School and Chavakkad Board High School for over a year and worked in M.B. Tutorial College, Palakkad during 1955-56.[8] He also worked as a gramasevakan at a block development office in Taliparamba, Kannur for a few weeks before joining Mathrubhumi Weekly as subeditor in 1957.[7]

MT has been married twice. He married writer and translator Prameela in 1965. They separated after 11 years of marriage.[8] In 1977 he married dance artist Kalamandalam Saraswathy[9] with whom he has a daughter, dancer Aswathy Nair.[10] He has a daughter from his first marriage, Sitara, who works as a business executive in the United States.[8]

Literary career

Short stories

M T Vasudevan Nair

MT began writing at a very young age, inspired by his elder brothers who wrote time and again in several literary journals and poet Akkitham Achuthan Namboothiri who was his senior at high school.[8] He initially wrote poems but soon changed to prose writing.[8] His first published work was an essay on the diamond industry of ancient India, titled "Pracheenabharathathile Vaira Vyavasayam", which appeared in Keralakshemam, a biweekly published by C. G. Nair from Guruvayoor. His first story "Vishuvaghosham" was published in Madras-based Chitrakeralam magazine in 1948. The story which explores the feelings of a boy too poor to have crackers of his own, as he stands listening to the sounds of crackers coming from the houses of the rich celebrating the new year festival of Vishu: an overwhelming sense of loss, the painful realization that this is the way things are and the way they’re likely to stay.[11] His first book, Raktham Puranda Manaltharikal was published in 1952.[1]

MT’s first literary prize came to him while he was a student at Victoria College, Palakkad - his short story "Valarthumrigangal" (Pet Animals) won first prize in the World Short Story Competition conducted by The New York Herald Tribune, Hindustan Times and Mathrubhumi in 1954.[7] It was a short story delineating the pathetic plight of the artists in circus. The numerous stories which followed dealt with themes culled from widely different milieus and contexts but were uniformly successful and popular.

The noted collections of his stories are Iruttinte Athmavu, Olavum Theeravum, Bandhanam, Varikkuzhi, Dare-e-Salam, Swargam Thurakkunna Samayam, Vaanaprastham and Sherlock.[12] "Iruttinte Athmavu" ("Creature of Darkness"), one of the most celebrated among his short stories, is the heart wrenching story of a 21-year-old man, regarded as a lunatic by everyone and treated abominably. The story reveals the insanity behind the civilised and supposedly sane world.

M. T. Vasudevan Nair, along with T. Padmanabhan, serve as bridges between the early modern short story writers in Malayalam, of the so-called renaissance, and the new short story of the late fifties and sixties.[13]

Naalukettu and Asuravithu

MT's debut novel Pathiravum Pakalvelichavum (Midnight and Daylight) was serialised in Mathrubhumi Weekly in 1957.[1] His first major work Naalukettu (The Legacy; 1958) is a veritable depiction of the situation which prevailed in a typical joint family when its fortunes is on a steady decline. The title attributes to Nālukettu, a traditional ancestral home (Taravad) of a Nair joint family. The novel remains a classic in Malayalam fiction. It contributed to the renewal of a literary tradition initiated by S. K. Pottekkatt, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, Vaikkom Muhammad Basheer and Uroob in the 1950s.[14] It was given the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in 1959. It has had 23 reprints and was translated into 14 languages and had a record sale of a half a million copies (as of 2008) and still features in the best-seller lists.[15][16] MT himself adapted the novel into a television film for Doordarshan in 1995. It won the Kerala State Television Award for the year 1996.[17]

Asuravithu (The Demon Seed; 1972) which is set in a fictional Valluvanadan village named Kizhakkemuri can be considered almost as a sequel to Naalukettu. It has the same geophysical and socio-cultural setting. The novel describes the plight of the protagonist Govindankutty, the youngest son of a proud Nair tharavadu, as he is trapped between the social scenario, social injustice and his own inner consciousness. In Asuravithu there are clear indications of the damaging impact of an alien culture in the pollution of the indigenous culture and the disintegration of the family and the community. These two early novels—Naalukettu and Asuravithu—depict a phase in which the economic and cultural scenario of Kerala manifested symptoms which were to develop into dangerous ecocidal tendencies at a later stage.

Manju and Kaalam

Main articles: Manju (novel) and Kaalam

His later novels, such as Manju (Mist; 1964) and Kaalam (Time; 1969), are characterised by profuse lyricism which cannot to be found in Naalukettu or Asuravithu. The eco-feminist theme of patriarchal domination and exploitation gains more prominence in Manju, MT's only novel with a female protagonist (Vimala). Set in the splendid landscape of Nainital, it stands apart as set in a milieu different from the usual one, the Valluvanadan village. The plot of the novel is allegedly similar to a Hindi story Parinde (Birds, 1956), by Nirmal Verma. However both MT and Verma have rejected these claims.[18]

In the novel Kaalam, MT returns to his favourite milieu, the dilapidated joint-family Nair tarwad set against the wider backdrop of the Valluvanadan village in the backdrop of the crumbling matrilineal order of Kerala in a newly independent India. Sethu, the protagonsit, is toppled over by the eddies of social, cultural and economic transformation. Kaalam, though not strictly autobiographical, has a strong autobiographical element in it. Manju had a film adaptation in 1983, written and directed by MT himself.[19] The novel also had a Hindi-language film adaptation titled Sarath Sandhya.


Main article: Randamoozham

Randamoozham (The Second Turn; 1984), widely regarded as the author's masterpiece, retells the story of the Mahabharatha from the point of view of Bhimasena, supposed to be the son of Vayu; this is demystified or demythified in the novel. In this novel, Bhima gains, through the author's ironic undertones, a new psychological depth. "I have not changed the framework of the story by the first Vyasa, Krishna-Dwaipayana. I have read between his lines and expanded on his pregnant silences," says the author.[2]


MT's latest novel is Varanasi (2002) which is an emotional journey to Varanasi, a pilgrim centre in North India. Varanasi opens with Professor Srinivasan’s letter to Sudhakaran, the protagonist, referring to his unfinished thesis among his old books. The professor invites him to his home in Varanasi. Sudharkaran, in his sixties, and recovering from a prostrate procedure, decides to take the professor by surprise. He realises on arrival that the professor has recently died. The story evolves with a series of reminiscences, like a REM stream, in time transitions. The narration involves the third, first, and second person. In the train to Varanasi, Sudhakaran fishes out the book Kashi: The Eternal City by Sumita Nagpal, in which he is also acknowledged. By the time Sudhakaran finishes the book, he has traversed his life, his women, seen the demise of his well-wishers, moved through Varanasi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Paris, and Madras. He sees no need to complete his thesis — 'about the possibilities of Caliban' as once suggested by his professor for a scholarship at the university — and lets it go into the Ganga. He does the professor’s last rites as also his own Atma Pindom (One's own funeral rites in anticipation of death). At the Dashashwamedh Ghat, Sumita, now an elderly woman, merely passes him by, not even recognising him.[20] With no intricate plot, the novel is an experiment. It was well received in the literary circles but received criticism from critic and painter M. V. Devan.[21]

Other works

MT wrote the novel Arabipponnu (The Gold of Arabia) along with N. P. Mohammed. MT and Mohamed stayed in a rented house in Karuvarakkundu village, Kozhikode for a period of two weeks to complete this work.

MT has authored two books on the craft of writing—Kaathikante Panippura and Kaathikante Kala—and his anecdotal columns articles on various topics and speeches on different occasions have been compiled under the titles Kilivaathililude, Kannanthalippookkalude Kaalam, Vakkukalude Vismayam and Eekakikalude Sabdam. Manushyar Nizhalukal and Aalkkoottathil Thaniye are his travelogues.

He occupied and continues to occupy many important and powerful positions in various literary bodies including the presidency of Kerala Sahitya Akademi and the chairmanship of Tunchan Memorial Trust. He was an Executive Member of the Kendra Sahitya Akademi. The Library of Congress has in its collection sixty-two books, mostly by MT and some on him. Also, some of them are translations of his works into English. MT joined the Mathrubhumi Group of Publications in 1956. When he retired from there in 1998, he was their editor of periodicals and Chief Editor of Mathrubhumi Illustrated Weekly. On 2 June 1996, he was bestowed with honorary D.Lit degree by the Calicut University.

Film career

MT along with Ramachandra Babu, who served as cinematographer in many of his films.

M. T. Vasudevan Nair is one of the most distinguished and well accepted script writers and directors in Malayalam cinema.[22] He has directed seven films and written the screenplay for around 54 films. He won the National Film Award for Best Screenplay four times for: Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha (1989), Kadavu (1991), Sadayam (1992), and Parinayam (1994), which is the most by anyone in the screenplay category.[3]

MT wrote his first screenplay, in 1965 for Murappennu, at the behest of producer Shobhana Parameswaran Nair. The film was an adaptation of his story "Snehathinte Mukhangal". The Hindu described it as "a well-made film with a compelling plot" and as "one of the most significant films in the history of Malayalam cinema".[23]

MT was the first and foremost script writer in Malayalam who wrote screenplays after having learnt cinema as a distinctive visual art which has its own language, grammar and structure.[22] It was only after he began writing screenplays the Malayali viewers began to consider film script as a distinctive genre which has its own genuine features. Also it was M.T who elevated this medium of writing as a literary from.[22]

MT's screenplays have won social attention for the portrayal of the social and cultural crisis in the contemporary life of Kerala. The disintegration of human values and relationship which creates identity crisis, sense of loss, dehumanisation, alienation from one's own surroundings etc. have been presented in its depth by MT more than any other writers. The best examples are Kanyakumari, Varikkuzhi, Vilkkanundu Swapnangal, Edavazhiyile Poocha Mindappoocha, Akshrangal, Aalkkoottathil Thaniye, Aaroodam etc.[22] A salient aspect of MT's screenplays is the effective presentation of the ecological or geographical factors and elements making use of the visual possibilities of their portrayal.[22] Another unique feature is the language employed in them. Some of his screenplays are known for giving new interpretations to historical characters and historical stories. For instance, he gives the legends woven around the popular story of Perumthachan a new interpretation in his screenplay, based on his own assessment of Perumthachan's character.[24] According to the folklore Vadakkanpattu (Northern Ballads), Chandu is said to have betrayed his cousin because he was jealous of Aaromal's popularity and abilities. But MT's Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha presents an alternative version of the same legend, as it presents the incident from Chandu's perspective, suggesting that grave injustice has been done to Chandu by wrongly accusing him of replacing the rivets.[22]

In 1973, M. T. Vasudevan Nair made his directorial debut with Nirmalyam which won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film.[25] The film is about a village oracle whose services are no longer needed by the community and whose family begins to fall apart.[26] MT scripted and directed many more films including the award-winning Bandhanam, Kadavu and Oru Cheru Punchiri. Kadavu won awards at the Singapore International Film Festival and Tokyo International Film Festival.[3] His cinema work also includes three documentaries and one TV series. He has written songs for the 1981 film Valarthumrugangal which were set to tune by M. B. Sreenivasan.[27]

M. T. Vasudevan Nair was the chairman of Indian Panorama of the 46th National Film Awards (1998).[28] He has also been a member of Film Finance Corporation, National Film Development Corporation and Film Censoring Committee. He has also served as a faculty in the Film and Television Institute, Pune.

Literary style and themes

MT was born and brought up in a sylvan village on the banks of Nila. The writer has so often acknowledged his indebtedness to the ethos of his village and to Nila which has ever been the mainspring of his creative inspiration. Nila occurs and re-occurs in MT's fiction, as a presence and as a symbol, endorsing this view.[29][30] The staple locale of his fiction is the Valluvanadan village. The landscape and ethos of the Valluvanad region and the transformations undergone by them in the course of the century, involving relics of the tarawad and the communal tensions provide a challenging theme for the highly evocative style of Vasudevan Nair's narrative art. The temporal milieu of MT's fiction stretches over the second half of the twentieth century, a period of tremendous social, cultural and economic changes.[13][31]

It was in the sixties that MT rose to prominence as a writer. The phase of social realism had come to an end.[13] In his opinion, class-war the ideal which had inspired the writers belonging to the preceding generation had almost lost its relevance by the time he entered the literary career. The prominent Malayalam writers of the pre-independence phase—Thakazhi, Vallathol and Kesavadev—were all stimulated by the progressive leftist ideals. They focussed their attention on social conflict as the theme for their writings—Conflict between capital and labour, between the landlord and the tenant, between the oppressor and the oppressed. MT felt that this theme of conflict was an outdated phenomenon in the context of present Kerala. The protagonists of MT are men out of society and at war with themselves, a sharp contrast to the heroes of Kesavadev or Thakazhi who fight a losing war against the hostile forces in the society. MT, in spite of his broad and deep sympathy for the marginalized, doesn't identify himself with any particular political ideology or movement.[13]

Awards and honours


Literary awards

Film awards

National Film Awards
Kerala State Film Awards
Other film awards

List of works


Short story collections

Children's literature









Year Film Direction Notes
2013 Kadhaveedu Portmanteau film based on four stories written by himself, Vaikkom Muhammad Basheer and Madhavikutty
2013 Ezhamathe Varavu Adaptation/Remake of his earlier unreleased film Evideyo Oru Shathru
2009 Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja
2009 Neelathamara (Blue Lotus) Remake of the 1979 film of the same name with revised screenplay
2001 Theerthadanam (Pilgrimage) Based on the story "Vanaprastham"
2000 Oru Cheru Punchiri (A Slender Smile) Yes Based on the story "Mithunam" by Telugu writer Sriramana
1998 Daya (Compassion) Based on a story from One Thousand and One Nights
1998 Ennu Swantham Janakikutty Based on the story "Cheriya Cheriya Bhookampangal"
1998 Thakazhi Yes Documentary on renowned Malayalam writer Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai[82]
1995 Naalukettu Tele-Serial based on the novel of the same name
1994 Sukrutham
1994 Parinayam (Wedding)
1992 Sadayam (With Compassion)
1991 Kadavu ( The Ferry) Yes Based on the story "Kadathuthoni" by S. K. Pottekkatt
1991 Venal Kinavukal (Summer Dreams)
1990 Midhya
1990 Perumthachan
1990 Thazhvaram (The Valley)
1989 Utharam (Answer) Based on the story "No Motive" by Daphne du Maurier
1989 Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha (A Northern Story of Valor)
1988 Aranyakam
1988 Vaishali
1987 Amrutham Gamaya
1986 Kochu Themmadi (The Little Rascal)
1986 Abhayam Thedi (In Search of a Shelter)
1986 Rithubhedam
1986 Nakhakshathangal
1986 Panchagni (Five Fires)
1985 Rangam
1985 Idanilangal
1985 Anubandham
1984 Aalkkoottathil Thaniye (Alone in a Crowd)
1984 Adiyozhukkukal
1984 Aksharangal (Alphabets)
1984 Uyarangalil (At the Top)
1984 Vellam (Water)
1983 Aaroodam
1983 Manju (Mist) Yes Based on the novel of the same name
1982 Varikuzhi (The Trap) Yes Based on the story of the same name
1981 Trishna (Thirst)
1981 Valarthu Mrugangal
1980 Vilkkanundu Swapnangal
1980 Oppol (The Elder Sister)
1979 Edavazhiyile Poocha Minda Poocha
1979 Neelathamara (Blue Lotus)
1978 Bandhanam (Bond) Yes Based on the story of the same name
1977 Mohiniyattam Yes Documentary film about the Indian art form Mohiniyattam
1974 Kanyakumari
1974 Paathiravum Pakalvelichavum
1973 Nirmalayam (The Offering) Yes Based on the story "Pallivalum Kalchilambum"
Also produced the film under the banner of Novel Films
1971 Kuttiyedathi
1971 Mappusakshi
1971 Vithukal (Seeds)
1970 Nizhalattam (Shadow Play)
1969 Olavum Theeravum Based on the story of the same name
1968 Asuravithu Based on the novel of the same name
1967 Nagarame Nandi Partially based on the films The Conquerors of the Golden City (1965) and Birds of Exile (1964)[83]
1966 Iruttinte Athmavu Based on the story of the same name
1966 Pakalkkinavu
1965 Murappennu
Evideyo Oru Shathru An incomplete feature film starring Sukumaran and Venu Nagavalli. The screenplay was published in Chilla magazine and later released as a book by Mathrubhumi Books. This book has some stills from the movie.


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