Chemmeen (Translation: The Prawn) is a 1965 Malayalam romantic drama film, based on the novel of the same name by Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai and directed by Ramu Kariat from a screenplay by S. L. Puram Sadanandan. It was produced by Babu Ismail Sait.
The film tells the story of a pre-marital and later extra-marital relationship between Karuthamma, the daughter of an ambitious Hindu fisherman, and Pareekutty, the son of a Muslim trader. The theme of the film is based around the popular belief among the fishermen communities along the coastal Kerala State in southern India regarding chastity. If a married fisher woman was faithless when her husband was out in the sea, the Sea Goddess (Kadalamma literally meaning Mother Sea) would consume him. The film’s cast includes Sheela as Karuthamma, Madhu as Pareekutty,Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair as Chembankunju, and Sathyan as Palani. Produced by Babu Ismail Sait under the banner of Kanmani Films, it features cinematography by Marcus Bartley, and editing by Hrishikesh Mukherjee and K. D. George. The original score and songs were composed by Salil Chowdhury, with lyrics by Vayalar, and featuring the voices of K. J. Yesudas, P. Leela, Manna Dey and Santha P. Nair.
The film released on 19 August 1965. It received strongly positive critical reviews and was recognized as a technically and artistically brilliant film. It is usually cited as the first notable creative film in South India. It was also the first South Indian film to win the Indian President’s Gold Medal for the Best Film, which it did so in 1965. It was screened at various international film festivals and won awards at the Cannes and Chicago festivals. The film was included in the list of 100 greatest Indian films by IBN Live. Chemmeen was dubbed and released in Hindi as Chemmeen Lahrenand in English as The Anger of the Sea.
Karuthamma (Sheela) is the daughter of an ambitious lower caste Hindu fisherman, Chembankunju(Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair). She is in love with a young Muslim fish trader, Pareekutty (Madhu). Chembankunju’s only aim in life is to own a boat and net. Pareekutty finances Chembankunju to realise this dream. This is on a condition that the haul by the boat will be sold only to him. Karuthamma’s mother Chakki (Adoor Bhavani) comes to know about the love affair of her daughter with Pareekutty, and reminds her daughter about the life they lead within the boundaries of strict social tradition and warns her to keep away from such a relationship. The fisherfolks believe that a fisherwoman has to lead a life within the boundaries of strict social traditions and an affair or marriage with a person of another religion will subject the entire community to the wrath of the sea.
Karuthamma sacrifices her love for Pareekutty and marries Palani (Sathyan), an orphan discovered by Chembankunju in the course of one of his fishing expeditions. Following the marriage, Karuthamma accompanies her husband to his village, despite her mother’s sudden illness and her father’s requests to stay. In his fury, Chembankunju disowns her. On acquiring a boat and a net and subsequently adding one more, Chembankunju becomes more greedy and heartless. With his dishonesty, he drives Pareekutty to bankruptcy. After the death of his wife, Chembankunju marries Pappikunju (C. R. Rajakumari), the widow of the man from whom he had bought his first boat. Panchami (Lata), Chembankunju’s younger daughter, leaves home to join Karuthama, on arrival of her step mother. Chembankunju’s savings is manipulated by his second wife. The setbacks in life turns Chembankunju mad.
Meanwhile, Karuthamma has endeavoured to be a good wife and mother, but scandal about her old love for Pareekutty spreads in the village. Palani’s friends ostracize him and refuse to take him fishing with them. By a stroke of fate, Karuthamma and Pareekutty meet one night and their old love is awakened. Palani, at sea alone and baiting a shark, is caught in a huge whirlpool and is swallowed by the sea. Next morning, Karuthamma and Parekutty, are also found dead hand in hand, washed ashore. At a distance, there lies a baited dead shark and Palani.