P.K. AJITH KUMAR

`Pazhassi Raja' will have M.T. Vasudevan Nair, Hariharan and Mammootty working together on a film after 18 years.

The last time they came together, they had created magic on celluloid. Hariharan, M.T. Vasudevan Nair and Mammootty, the team that gave us the unforgettable `Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha,' is back together after 18 years. And this time they are dreaming even bigger, in Panavision, to boot. The shoot of the film on Pazhassi Raja will begin in Palakkad next month. Mammootty, who plays the title role, will play Pazhassi Raja who fought the British in the jungles of Wayanad in the 1790s. "Our film `Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha' was the most challenging of all the films that I have directed, but this one will be a bigger challenge than that. When I made `Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha,' my ambition was to make an excellent Malayalam film. But I am planning to make Pazhassi Raja with an international cast." Hariharan had been waiting patiently for M.T.'s screenplay, his first since `Theerthadanam' (2001).

Martyr's story

"I was in no hurry, and we had discussed a couple of other themes before deciding to make the film on Pazhassi Raja. We had first toyed with the idea of a film on Payyampalli Chanthu, a warrior, and then we thought of making a film on Thalakkal Chanthu, Pazhassi Raja's lieutenant, as the hero. But eventually we realised that it was the story of Pazhassi himself that needed to be told, in a new light. In this film, we would be focussing on his valiant fight against the British," he says. But there has already been a Malayalam movie `Pazhassi Raja' that narrated the story of the valiant king. The film, directed by Kunchakko, was released in 1964."But my film will be entirely different," Hariharan says. "There have been many films based on `Vadakkan Pattu,' but didn't M.T. tell us a tale that none of us had heard before in `Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha'? He is doing it again with his interpretation of Pazhassi," adds the director. His admiration for M.T., who has scripted some of Hariharan's best films is evident. "I can't forget the reaction I got for `Parinayam' at various international film festivals, especially from women journalists and the audience," he says. Cutting back to his next project, the veteran director says he was attracted to Pazhassi's story because it was also the story of one of the first voices to be raised against British rule in India. "He was one of our first freedom fighters, but not many people outside Kerala know that. The story of his life appealed to me also because it offered tremendous visual possibilities - the forests and the wars. Venu will be the cameraman and Ilayaraja will score the music. Among those in the cast is Manoj K. Jayan. Tamil actor Sarath Kumar is also likely to act in the film." The film, produced by Gokulam Gopalan, is being planned as an Onam release. "I know expectations would be high. We are confident that we would be able to live up to the expectations of the people with the film on Pazhassi Raja," he says.

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Successful partnershipIn 1979, M.T. Vasudevan Nair wrote a screenplay for Hariharan, titled `Idavazhiyile Poocha Minda Poocha.' That was the beginning of one of the most successful partnerships in Malayalam cinema. The master writer and the veteran director joined hands to create many fine films, which have been received well by the critics and the box office.They handled a variety of themes with remarkable skill. If `Ennu Swantham Janakikutty', their last film together, was an endearing mix of fantasy and reality through the eyes of a teenaged girl, `Idavazhiyile Poocha Minda Poocha' was a sensitively told, complex tale of a woman's extramarital affair. "The best thing about our films, I feel, is that none of them was in any way like another. We never repeated ourselves," says Hariharan.`Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha,' `Parinayam,' `Amaruthamgamaya,' `Nakhashathangal,' `Panchagni,' `Vellam,' `Aranyakam,' `Valarthumrugangal' and `Evideyo Oru Shathru' (not released) are ample proof of that.