Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pazhassi Raja

If you're a true-blue Malayali, you have to be in one of two camps - the Mammootty camp or the Mohanlal camp. A minority might have sprung up recently claiming to like Dileep/Jayaram/Prithviraj, but I discount them. The Mammootty versus Mohanlal debate is too deeply entrenched in the blood of every Malayali.

Me, I'm a Mammootty fan through and through. I might like some of Mohanlal's earlier movies, but Mammootty has so much style, so much panache. I remember the exact moment I gave my heart to him. Anybody remember the movie The King? It featured Mammootty in the role of a dashing, rebellious District Collector, seemingly fighting all the crooked politicians on his own. Saying that it was not one of his best roles would be the understatement of the millennium. But "Wow!" thought my impressionable eight-year-old mind, and promptly surrendered itself.

And so, a decade and a half later, we come to Pazhassi Raja. I am no history buff, let me warn you at the outset - especially when it comes to Kerala. Before the movie was released, if you had asked me who Pazhassi Raja was, I would have probably guessed that he was a Tamil king from the seventh or eighth century. Obviously, I wouldn't have known that his real name was Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja. Yup, that's how far my knowledge of history goes.

I went for Pazhassi Raja for three reasons. One, that it featured Mammootty, of course. That too, in a role that reminded me of Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha. (By the way, check out the two screenshots below. Almost wenty years between the two movies, but what has changed? Even the user ratings are the same!)

Secondly, because it seemed to offer a treat for the eyes, set as it is in Wayanad, in my opinion THE most beautiful region in Kerala. And thirdly, well - it's a must-watch for every Malayali this year, isn't it?

Trust me, Pazhassi Raja doesn't disappoint on any count. The movie offers everything - political intrigue, mesmerizing battles, an excellent cast, enough history for those interested. And yet it leaves you thirsting for more, wanting to find out more about this incredible man, the 'Lion of Kerala'. Mammootty holds back on the glamour and gives a restrained performance that is well worth applauding - especially in the later scenes in which Pazhassi is holed up in a makeshift camp in the mountains of Wayanad, injured and apparently losing the battle with the British.

But what I liked most was the fact that the film does not belong to Mammootty or Pazhassi Raja in any way. The entire cast pulls out incredible performances - especially Sarath Kumar as Edachena Kunkan Nair, the Commander of Pazhassi's armies. The last fight scene he features in and the aftermath - I had goosebumps, I tell you. I also liked Padmapriya's performance as Neeli, the gutsy leader of the Adivasi women fighting for Pazhassi Raja.

The battle scenes are to die for, no pun intended. Well, you can't call them battle scenes because Pazhassi seemed to believe in oliporu - I guess that would translate best as guerilla warfare. So you have the red-coats trotting complacently through the lush green forests of Wayanad, only to be beset from all sides by well-camouflaged Adivasis. Later on, there is also the excellently-shot pre-dawn storming of a fort, and the final battle on a hill-top. A few gruesome hangings also happen along the way.

A minor point is the length - at 200 minutes, it's easily the longest movie I've seen recently. But it is so good visually that there are very few scenes that I would want cut. I also found it strange that there were no Malayalam sub-titles for the English dialogue. Granted 100% literacy and all that, but are all Malayalis expected to be so well-versed with English as to understand British accents?

Oh, and I can't end without a note on the audience. They cheered everything, starting with the 'Special thanks to Mohanlal' legend to the first appearance of Mammootty (the two camps do have a few overlaps, please note) to the hanging of a British officer. It's so true that you may take a Malayali out of Kerala, but not Kerala out of a Malayali. No, not even at a 200-rupee-a-head screening at PVR at 8:30 PM. But Nikhil, with whom I watched the movie, was disappointed - he said the comments were much better at the eleven o'clock show at New Theatre in Trivandrum, where he watched the movie last Saturday. I suspect it was more about the show timings than anything else.

By the way, if you want to know more about the historical setting, you can read Nikhil's review of Pazhassi Raja here.
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vijeesh vijayan, delhi said...

jade, watched the movie today....the effort does deserve credit but certain things were overlooked. Complete absence of care with regard to the possible adivasi slang that might have existed almost 200 years ago(the conversation between mooppan and chandu at the temple was pretty much modern sounding); the casting of the adivasi force (warriors) with hardly any kurichya warrior; the deviation of the account of last moments of Pazhassi Raja from the documented reports (authored by Thomas Baber in 1805). The place of the last battle on the hill contradicts the document which tells about the finding of his body in the banks of nulla near mavilathodu. What got into my nerves was the smiling lady who accompanied the lady of the king to the battle field just after his death. Lack of proper research and proper care in understanding the historical setting makes the movie "a commercial ended historical fiction". A person getting out of the theatre would take out the spirit of the legend for sure, but no real history.

Nikhil Narayanan said...

@vijeesh vijayan
Chipping in.
Regarding absence of Adivasi language:
Padmapriya spoke in a mixed up language, an effort to make it sound closer to the dialect(?) spoken by the tribals. Had MT done enough research and recreated the dialogues to that accuracy, how many of us would have understood without subtitles?
On PR's end: Baber's and later Logan's records mention that PR was shot. The dialogue where PR says Kanara Menon not to touch and defile is something almost similar to Baber's records.

Not sure of the place of the last battle.

PR was technically brilliant war documentary with noteworthy performances by most actors, with a script trudging on a facts-only path, promising not to move into fiction or add a cinematic twist.


vijeesh vijayan said...

Nikhil, you did have an answer to what should have been done about the treatment of adivasi dialect....SUBTITLES.... Unfortunately subtitles weren't included even for the english conversations. I couldn't help comparing it with the approaches of the movies like "Apocalypto"(Directed by MelGibson) or "The quest for fire" where you had tribes communicating in a way that was foreign to us, nevertheless was made comprehensible by the use of subtitles. "Kalaapaani" did make use of subtitles effectively. Well, i guess padmapriya was let to do her dubbing herself (her mothertongue not being malayalam!!!!) And wasn't there a bit of cinematic twist about the way the movie ended???? Veera pazhassi with a few soldiers approaches the hill top,.. the company soldiers halt at their sight... both parties are determined to fight eachother but deliberately spend time about evaluating the situation and exchanging conversation....the order not to shoot followed by the sword fight.... and finally PR is shot at even before any orders were made and that too when PR was sufficiently away from Baber, their commander. Perhaps Baber himself tells about an unsuspecting PR and his men being surrounded and about he being killed in the fight that followed.

Ann's said...

I was about to call it a day after being an unfortunate victim of all those mammooty-mohanlal fan fights:/

Your effort is appreciated but I tend to disagree with some of the facts.

If you feel yourself burdened by the hype created by this movie, I recommend a great theater review penned down with a pinch of humour. Check it out here…nice read …

The guy talks in a very similar tone as yours but 2 differences - shades of humour ( that's make this review diff from the rest i have to say) and yes - definitely a balanced overview...

Nikhil Narayanan said...

This Ann chettan is epic self promotion paripady.
Commented on my post as Sarah, here as Ann. Aaanapindam!!


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