Tuesday, October 27
Keralavarma Pazhassiraja - Malayalam Cinema Can Be Proud
Movie - Keralavarma Pazhassiraja (Malayalam)
Director - Hariharan
Producer - Gokulam Gopalan
Story, Screenplay, Dialogues - MT Vasudevan Nair
Cast - Mammootty, Sarathkumar, Manoj K Jayan, Suresh Krishna, Padmapriya, Kaniha, Suman, Thilakan, Jagathy Sreekumar, Devan, Nedumudi Venu, Lalu Alex, Harry Key, Peter Handley Evans, Linda Arsenio
Music - Ilaiyaraaja
Cinematography - Ramnath Shetty, Venu, Manoj Pillai
Editing - Sreekar Prasad
Action Co-ordinator - Ravi Dewan
Sound Designer - Resul Pookutty
Art Director - T Muthuraj
Lyrics - ONV Kurup, Gireesh Puttenchery, Kanesh Punoor
Release Date - 16th October 2009
We rarely get to see historicals or period dramas in our language, Malayalam, mainly because our industry is very small and the producers cannot afford to spend lavishly on the budgets that such movies require. But this man, Gokulam Gopalan achieves the impossible by investing somewhere around Rs.25 Crores (10 Malayalam movies can be made with that budget) and getting together the best team possible to narrate the story of one of Kerala's most fierce warriors, Keralavarma Pazhassiraja. Another attractive feature is that the team which gave us the immortal classic, Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha - Hariharan, MT Vasudevan Nair and Mammootty, comes together in this epic movie too. The movie also boasts of a stellar star cast including a superstar from Tamil Cinema, Sarathkumar, making his debut in Malayalam. Besides these people, the producer has ensured that each technical department has the best people possible, including the Oscar winner Resul Pookutty, who was the last person to join the crew. The film took more than 2 years to make and is probably the biggest (in all senses) film to have come out in Malayalam.
The film begins with a narration in Mohanlal's voice which talks about the heavy taxation rules forced by the British on the people of Malabar. The story of the movie is about a prince who stood against this heavy taxation by the British to ensure a safe and peaceful neighbourhood for his people. This prince, Pazhassi Keralavarma stands against the company even when his uncle and former lieutenant join hands with the British. He forms his own army and decides to adopt a new way of fighting- guerilla warfare, and organizes an army which consists majorly of tribals. How he fights against the manipulative and shrewd people from the East India Company, with his army in the forest lands of Wayanad, forms the rest of the story.
The basic premise perfectly sets up the scenario for the various amazing battle sequences and confrontation scenes, which form a major part of the movie. The authenticity and visualization of these sequences are in fact, the best thing about the movie. In addition to this, we have absolutely amazing cinematography, great music , good editing and amazing sound recording and last but definitely not the least, a stupendous performance from each member of the cast, right from Mammotty to Mamukkoya. MT Vasudevan Nair has clearly left his stamp all over the movie, which requires him to merge part fact and part fiction to come up with a recreation of this warrior who fought the British around 50 years before the first organized revolt against the British which happened in 1857. This movie does not have the fireworks in dialogues which one would expect naturally out of MT, especially because of Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha. But here, MT focuses on narrating the story of the courage of those people and the devotion they had to their Raja. Yet there are several dialogues in the movie, which can only be written by MT like the one which roughly translates into 'We may die, but the glorious stories of our swords would never die' or another one which says, 'I feel sad for this unlucky land of ours' (These arent the exact great words that MT used, just what I roughly remember). It is very hard to recreate things the could have happened 200 years ago, but MT as always can be trusted in giving full authenticity to his screenplays. He has done the tough task of creating so many cinematic moments in a recreation of a true story.
Coming to the performances, the lead actor Mammootty who essays the title role of Pazhassiraja, does not hog the limelight. He graciously lets the other actors shine in their respective roles and gives a subdued and subtle performance. Those who expected an explosive performance on the lines of Vadakkan Veeragatha would be disappointed. But he is there throughout the movie as a strong force as a motivation for all his people. And towards the end, of course, there are some great cinematic moments which cleverly utilize both Mammootty the actor and Mammootty the star, like the one he kills a colonel of the army or the climax fight sequence. Even the shot of him watching over the victory of his army from a distance and smiling is great stuff. But there are a lot of instances where you feel that the amazing actor in Mammootty could have been utilized in a better way. He looks majestic in the Raja's attire and its very hard to imagine anyone else in the role of Pazhassiraja. The royal aura of the character is intact. His body language in the fight scenes keep varying. In 2 fights, his body doesnt move very flexibly and in the other 2 fights (including the one with the urumi and the climax) he moves smartly and does his stunts gracefully. Even though he was great, I wanted to see more from him in the movie.
The surprise package of the movie is Sarathkumar, in his career-best role. I have seen only one film of Sarathkumar earlier, Pachaikkili Muthucharam, and was impressed by his acting in that movie. But I've heard that he's not such a good actor and he keeps doing brainless action movies in Tamil. But in this Malayalam historical, he is given a solid chance to prove himself. He gets more dramatic moments and fight sequences than the lead actor Mammootty and naturally ends up getting more applause too. He perfectly fits the bill of Pazhassi's loyal lieutenant Edachena Kunkan, a fierce warrior and plays the role with utmost dedication and sincerity. His voice is dubbed by Shobi Thilakan, who has also done a great job. We realize the talent of both these people at the finale of a swordfight sequence between Sarath and Suman towards the end of the movie. Sarathkumar would certainly have a new found fan base in Kerala from now on.
Manoj K Jayan as the tribal leader Thalaykkal Chandu gives a deadly performance, especially in the battle scenes. He is shown as a person who can take on even a 100 other people at the same time and through his performance, Manoj makes us believe this can actually be true. He is absolutely sharp and fiery and is throughly devoted to his Raja. Watch out for him in the scene where he is held captive. Padmapriya also gets a great role as Neeli and she puts in a superb performance. She manages to do the fight scenes quite effectively and draws huge rounds of applause from the audience at many instances. But what happens to her character in the end? That is not shown. (I heard that scene was cut out from the movie). She could have used a dubbed voice instead of her own voice, even though the Tamil accent suited her tribal role. Suresh Krishna and Suman do their respective parts well. Kaniha looks beautiful and has nothing much to do other than crying or praying for her husband. Jagathy Sreekumar as the cunning assitant to the British does a great job. Thilakan, Nedumudi Venu, Devan, Lalu Alex, etc. give in sincere performances in their short roles.
But on the negative side, all the foreign actors performed very poorly. They were all hamming it up and none of them gave a sincere performance. A character called Dora, who is the collector Baber's girlfriend, was unnecessarily given some scenes. That character wasnt required in the movie at all. The director should have concentrated more while casting these actors. The better one of the lot though is the arrogant Major James Gordon played by Peter Handley Evans.
Now, to the most amazing parts of the movie - the technical departments. Another full detailed review should can be written stressing on the technical departments alone. Starting with cinematography, done by Ramnath Shetty. We all know that several other cameramen like Venu and Manoj Pillai have also worked on the movie. But it is Ramnath Shetty who is credited as the cinematographer and he has done a spectacular job. Even a layman, who does not understand the intricacies of cinema and cinematography can say from his heart that the cinematography in this movie was brilliant. There is a certain battle scene which happens at night. The cinematographer and DI artistes have some extraordinary work in that particular scene. And the amazing locations (is it actually Wayanad?) deserve special mention. My mouth was wide open seeing a lot of brilliant shots in the movie. The DI work is also excellent and gives the movie the exact colour tone it requires. There are no fancy frames and camera movements and everything is done in a classy way.
Editing by Sreekar Prasad is competent. Though the running time of the movie is almost 3 hours 30 minutes, we dont feel bored at any point of time. The film moves at a steady and interesting pace, thanks to the editor. Songs by Ilaiyaraaja are good, but not his best. But the song 'Aadiyushassandhya' by Yesudas and MG Sreekumar stays with you long after you leave the hall. It is almost like a theme for the whole movie. 'Kunnathe Konnaykkum' would probably fetch Chitra almost all the awards for best playback singer. The background score is strictly okay. Ilaiyaraaja could have done better in that department, though there are some really nice instrumental pieces used in some of the scenes. Action by Ravi Dewan (who had earlier done Jodhaa Akbar) is a very important facet of the movie as the whole movie revolves around battle scenes. He has done a great job and it is way above the standards of a usual Malayalam film. But the high leaps and flying shots and all looked very artificial and one could easily guess that all those stunts were done using cables and ropes. That could have been avoided. But the battles on foot and the swordfights were all amazing. The art direction is brilliant, considering that even a budget of 25 crores is too less to recreate the events which happened 2 centuries ago.
And lastly, the outstanding work by Oscar winner Resul Pookutty. People say that everyone is noticing the sound recording only because it is done by Resul. Even if it is like that, it is a good thing, because sound is also a very important aspect of cinema which is often ignored. And it was great to see that the speakers in Savitha theatre were finally working. Believe me, that theatre is supposed to be equipped with DTS, but they never switch on those speakers. Thankfully, they had the sense to switch on those speakers for this movie to reveal to us the amazing work done by Resul Pookutty. Be it the sound of striking swords, arrows hitting their marks, sounds of the forest or even minute sounds of footsteps or raindrops, Resul makes sure that the audience experiences all these sounds as it is happening around them. You can actually notice many people turning their heads around to see where the sound was coming from, at many instances. His work in the scene where rain suddenly comes while a person is hanged to death is outstanding.
Hariharan had been giving disappointing films after he stopped working with MT (Mayookham, Prem Poojari). But Pazhassiraja proves yet again that both these people together are an invincible force. They have given numerous classics earlier, including Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha, Panchagni, Nakhakshathangal, Parinayam, etc. Though Hariharan is from the old school of filmmaking, he has reinvented himself and delivers what this movie requires. He has proved again that, with the right script, he can deliver much more than the audience wants. There were several opinions that Priyadarshan would have been the best choice to direct this movie, as he has already had the experience of directing Malayalam Cinema's only other historical drama, Kala Pani. Though Hariharan may not have Priyadarshan's brilliance in capturing cinematic moments, he surely has done a great job in his own style and shut the mouths of his critics. He has managed to co-ordinate the amazing jobs by each member of the cast and crew and give a great final product to the viewers.
Other movies may not have this part of the review, but this movie certainly has one more star. It is none other than the producer of the movie, Gokulam Gopalan. It is his sweat and money that has gone into making this magnum opus. No other producer would have dared to spend so much money on a historical, that too in the present scenario of Malayalam Cinema, where the best movies are avoided and the worst movies are appreciated by the audience. He has managed to give a platform to our people to prove that even we can make movies which would surely find a place in the best of world cinema. The movie is going to release in dubbed versions in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and English. But the fact is that, this BIG film is after all, a Malayalam film made in the small state of Kerala, in our own language, Malayalam. And that is indeed a reason to be proud for each and every Malayali. I hope Gokulam Gopalan has inspired a lot of other producers to take risks like these and get fruitful results.
All in all, Keralavarma Pazhassiraja is a movie which comes once in a blue moon and is not to be missed at any cost. I feel like kicking myself for having missed the first day first show of the movie. I'm certainly going to watch it again. And let me make one thing very clear, please make sure that you watch this movie in a good theatre with good projection and sound system, otherwise you wouldnt be able to appreciate the amazing work done by the technicians in the movie. Go watch the movie immediately if you havent seen it so far!! Its truly a masterpiece. Hats off to each and every member of the team behind this magnum opus!!
Rating - 4.5/5