The trio of Hariharan, Mammootty and M.T. Vasudevan Nair score a winner again as the magnum opus ‘Pazhassi Raja' sweeps the Kerala State film awards.P.K. Ajith KUmar

History, it is said, repeats itself. There was a sense of déjà vu when the Kerala State film awards for 2009 were announced and the period film ‘Pazhassi Raja' led from the front with eight awards in various categories, including awards for the best director, best actors and best scriptwriter.

A repeat of 1989 when the same team of M.T. Vasudevan Nair, Hariharan and Mammootty had swept the awards with their ‘Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha.' The same film had also annexed the National awards then. However, ‘Pazhassi Raja' was surprisingly left out in the cold when it came to the International Film Festival of India. Nevertheless the eight State awards must certainly be a shot in the arm for the team that made the epic. Moreover, ‘Pazhassi Raja' also won the best director award for Hariharan; the one that he had missed for ‘Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha.'

Courage and conviction

Late last year, during a visit to Kozhikode, while ‘Pazhassi Raja' was still running to packed houses in Kerala, Hariharan talked at length about the hardships he faced to bring Pazhassi's story to the silver screen. “There were so many problems, but somehow I had the courage and conviction to complete ‘Pazhassi Raja,' though it took me two years. I had great faith in the film,” he said.

His faith was not misplaced, as the film, the most expensive in Malayalam cinema ever, with a budget of Rs. 27 crores, went on to break all box-office records. And now with the bonanza of State film awards, ‘Pazhassi Raja,' has proved itself to be one of the masterpieces of Malayalam cinema.

This is Hariharan's second State award for the best director; the first was in 1994 for ‘Parinayam.' Classics such as ‘Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha' and ‘Panchagni' were also made by this veteran filmmaker but ‘Pazhassi Raja' was the director's film. A lesser director and technician would not have been able to achieve the technical brilliance evident in the film.

Hariharan captivated viewers with his tale of Pazhassi Raja, the king in exile who raised his voice, and a formidable tribal army, against the British oppression long before the uprising in 1857, considered to be the first war of independence.

One of the main reasons for the film's success was the apt casting – be it Mammootty in the title role, or Sarath Kumar, Manoj K. Jayan and Padmapriya, as the king's bravest warriors. With Manoj and Padmapriya too having won the State awards – for the second best actor and actress – the director's casting coup is all too clear.

Manoj, whom Hariharan had discovered nearly two decades ago through ‘Sargam,' says no other director deserves the State award more than his guru. “His winning this year's State award means much to me; it is a precious as my own award. A lesser man would not have been able to complete ‘Pazhassi Raja'; there were several setbacks to the film's shoot – there were mishaps, too many postponements of shooting…But Hariharan showed immense patience,” Manoj elaborated. The director too admitted shooting ‘Pazhassi Raja' was the hardest experience of his life.

Delay in shooting

“The film's shoot took two years to complete, when it should have been completed in eight months. The delay was not because of me. Neither was it because my producer, Gokulam Gopalan, was short of money; I must really thank my producer without whom a film like 'Pazhassi Raja' would never have been made. The delay was because some of the stars were not willing to allot the extra time that was required for the film. They probably didn't realise this film would become a milestone in their careers. Making ‘Pazhassi Raja' was a great challenge for me. Directing ‘Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha' was a cakewalk, compared to this.”

It is a fact that Hariharan has done much of his good work with M.T. The films they did together (‘Parinayam,' ‘Nakhashathangal,' ‘Panchagni,' ‘Amruthamgamaya' and ‘Ennum Swantham Janakikutty') have stood the test of time. “It was my friend and scriptwriter T. Damodaran who first suggested that I should work with M.T. I was an admirer of his novels and short stories. Right from our first film together, ‘Idavazhiyile Poocha Minda Poocha,' it has been a pleasure working with him,” Hariharan recalled.

The 1979 film was a turning point in Hariharan's career; till then he wasn't much more than a commercially successful director. ‘Idavazhiyile Poocha Minda Poocha' was the first of the several artistic films he made for a mainstream audience. He created sensible films and, more importantly, got large audiences to watch them.

Many of his films were were screened in prestigious international film festivals. ‘Parinayam,' for instance, released in 1994, should be among India's finest woman-centric films.

“I remember women journalists giving ‘Parinayam' standing ovations in festivals abroad. I was disappointed though that ‘Pazhassi Raja' was not chosen in the Indian Panorama section of the International Film Festival of India in Goa; I had wanted the world to know that Malayalam cinema too was capable of making, huge, technically sound films, and the Indian Panorama would have been the best window for that. I have plans to showcase ‘Pazhassi Raja' in festivals abroad,” he said.