No Malayali can ever forget Punjabi House, the laugh riot from the comic oeuvre of director duo Rafi Mecartin. More than 20 years down the line, the film is still as fresh and as rib-tickling as it was when released.
The super combo of Dileep, the wiry Harisree Asokan and the local 'moyalali' Cochin Haneefa, who incidentally, seldom remembered to wear his 'shaddi' (inner wear), was a heady mix of the comedy of errors and pure humour.
Punjabi House was one extended Punjabi family that spoke chaste Malayalam, at least, most of them, since Kerala was as good as their home. Hence, the mix of Sikander Singh, Maninder Singh and their motley crew of burly Punjabis was a fine foil for three puny Malayalis who had more brain than brawn when it came to wriggling out of the most absurd situations.
Another factor which worked for the film was its constant use of food as leitmotif. The first mention of food comes when the debt-ridden protagonist Unnikrishnan played by the Dileep, comes cycling home with a bag full of rice and vegetables.
Beleaguered on all sides by people to whom he owes money, Unnikrishnan realizes how fulfilling it is to buy food with the money one earns the hard way, by loading baskets of fresh fish catch in his case. Food thus earned by the sweat of one's brow should surely taste sweet!
The humorous outing now begins when the bumbling muthalali Gangadharan, played by Cochin Haneefa and his equally bumbling sidekick Ramanan, Harisree Asokan, pull out Unnikrishnan from the sea.
Enter food again in the form of a bowl of kanji (rice gruel) with which the kind-hearted men try to revive a dehydrated Unni. It's when the near-dead man guzzles down the delicious gruel mixed with chammanthi that the truth crashes on them. The soul they'd saved was a deaf-mute!
The situations that follow are hilarious with the two men trying hard to keep the constantly "jaba .. jaba.. jabajaba" mumbling Unnikrishnan in good humour by keeping his gluttonous tummy constantly full.
The very resourceful Asokan then comes up with a brilliant idea. He tells his boss to get Unnikrishnan a glass of water and convince him that its bulls-eye. After all, he's a 'pottan' and will believe it. At least he won't be able to contradict it, says Ramanan who realizes that feeding the deaf-mute was turning to be huge drain on their pockets.
There's more food-related fun as the trio move up to Punjabi House. Dead tired after a gruelling morning's work at the house, Ramanan goes to the kitchen and asks the maid for some 'chor.' All he wants is just a bit of rice. But the Punjabi-speaking maid takes him for a chor, a thief, and brings the house down. Ramanan thus learns the hard way how the Malayalam chor and the Hindi chor are so trickily connected.
As viewers hold their sides, comes the rot fun. To the Mallu palate used only to oil-soaked chappatis, the Punjabi roti is anything but edible. To the distraught Ramanan thoroughly disgusted with the dry rotis he's been dished out and trying to figure out how he will ever eat them, his vexatious exclamation 'che' rains down more rubbery rotis into his plate.
But the burly man who throws down the rotis is stunned by the apparently voracious appetite of a seemingly stick-thin Ramanan. He takes 'che' for six in Hindi and throws down more rotis which Ramanan is forced to eat with pickle and dal.
More side-splitting scenes come by with food as the focus. Ramanan and Unni get high on booze one night and Unni asks the about-to-pass-out Ramanan for some 'touchings.' Isn't there anything to 'touch' here, asks the sozzled Unni to which the very tipsy Ramanan says, there's just a wee bit of pickle. "Then take it out," says the smarty-pants Unni in his typical Malayali country lingo.