Mammootty and Sarath Kumar speak to Subha J Rao about their epic film “Pazhassi Raja”
More than half-a-century before the 1857 Mutiny, a ruler deep down in the South — Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja of Malabar —rose in protest against the British. Joining him in liberating the land was a motley bunch of devoted soldiers, tribes, and locals. He battled the British till his death in 1805.
And then, the legendary hero got lost in the pages of history. He was resurrected on celluloid three decades ago, in a Malayalam film. Now, a team with an illustrious cinematic background has got together to make the warrior come alive again on celluloid, and in five languages — Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and English. The Rs. 30-crore film has been produced by Sree Gokulam movies and is slated for an October 2 release.
The film is directed by Hariharan, the script by feted wordsmith M.T. Vasudevan Nair, music by maestro Ilaiyaraja and sound by Oscar winner Resul Pookutty. And then, there are a galaxy of stars — Mammooty, Sarath Kumar, Suman, Jagathy Sreekumar, Thilakan, Nedumudi Venu, Manoj K. Jayan, Suresh Krishna and the like.
Talking about the film, three-time National awardee Mammooty says: “This will be a one-of-its-kind movie. We’ve stuck to history, but there are certain gaps. History is from one date to another. What happened in between? We’ve tried to fill those gaps plausibly. And, there are many versions of how Pazhassi met his end. We’ve given him a heroic death.”
Since the team was particular about authenticity, importance has been given to people, characters and nativity. In fact, half the film is said to be in English. Ask the actor, known for his intense portrayals, how he worked on the role, and Mammooty says: “I could take certain liberties with this historical character. But, I drew a character sketch, and worked within it. And, it helped that the director created the relevant ambience.”
Mammooty says the film, which took two-and-a-half years to make, is a tribute to the nation and a call to stir patriotism in people. “We are unaware of so many people who have struggled for our freedom. What a strong will they had!”
This film marks the debut of Sarath Kumar, who has star status in the Tamil industry, in Malayalam. “I guess it is divine destiny that Mammooty and I star in each other’s debut in a different language,” laughs Sarath. The two first worked together in Mammooty’s Tamil debut “Mounam Sammadam”.
“It has been wonderful working with him,” says the actor, even as Mammooty interrupts, only to say with rare candour, “This is one of Sarath’s best roles. Naan guarantee. You did a great job, Sarath.”
A smiling Sarath mulls a while before admitting that working in a different language probably brings out the best in him. “There is more homework to do when you work in another language. You concentrate more, and prepare better for the character.” Sarath plays Pazhassi’s lieutenant Edachena Kungan. And his gait and build suited the role to a T. “After all, the thalapathy should look believable, right?” he laughs. “And, it was a great learning experience,” he says, recalling how the tribals who were part of the movie, taught him how to wield a bow and arrow. There is an easy camaraderie between the lead actors. That, says Mammooty, is because of the time they spent together on the sets. “It was like living a bachelor’s life. We were very jovial and had a good time. We would eat together…” “And, that shows on screen,” adds Sarath. Sarath feels such a film is important at a time when we are forgetting history. “It is vital to know about our lesser-known heroes. And, as an actor, it has given me immense satisfaction.”
Mammooty thinks the time is just right for a movie of this scale. “Cinema has evolved, and so have people. And, this movie has shaped up well.” We’ll take his word for it, coming as it is from someone who is not known to make tall claims.