Aranmula Ponnamma is a National Award winning Malayalam film actress known for her roles as mother of the protagonist in numerous films. She is widely described as a mother figure in Malayalam cinema.
Aranumala ponnamma was born as one of five children of Malethu Kesava Pillai and Parukutty Amma in Aranmula, Pathanamthitta, Kerala, India. She started her career at the age of 12 as a Carnatic music vocalist. She began by singing before meetings organised by the Hindu Mahamandal on the banks of the Pampa river.
At the age of 15, she was appointed as a music teacher in a primary school in Pala, before starting to teach in the senior classes. Later she joined the first batch of students at the Swati Tirunal Music Academy. After the course, she was appointed as the music teacher in Cotton Hill Girls' High School in Thiruvananthapuram.
Ponnamma's acting debut happened only when she became 29, in a play titled Bhagyalakshmi opposite Augustine Joseph, father of renowned singer K.J. Yesudas. She went on to act in some more popular plays, before debuting in films. She debut role was that of the mother of the character played by Miss Kumari, a prominemt actress at that time in Sasidharan(1950).
The same year she did another mother role in the Thikkurissy Sukumaran Nair starrer Amma, which was the first film of noted producer T.E. Vasudevan and also the 18th Malayalam film. She soon got typecasted in mother roles. In her own words: "I did play a negative role in Paadunna Puzha and that of a wayward woman in Yachakan. But after that I was always cast as the mother.
As the mother of two children, I was very comfortable in that role. My role model was my mother, Parukutty Amma, who had to look after her five children on her own after my father, Malethu Kesava Pillai, passed away when I was nine. In fact, in Amma, my fifth film, I was merely acting as my mother."
In her career spanning over 60 years, she acted as the mother or grandmother of first generation actors like Thikkurissy Sukumaran Nair, second generation actors like Prem Nazir and Sathyan and third generation actors like Mohanlal and Suresh Gopi, who happens to be the husband of her granddaughter.
Ponnamma received the State and National awards for best supporting actress for her performance in Kathapurushan(1995), directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan. She was awarded the J.C. Daniel Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2006.