‘Kaalapani’ to ‘Iyobinte Pusthakam’: Malayalam movies showcasing various aspects of Independence movement and life in British India

Fahadh Faasil as Aloshy in Amal Neerad’s ‘Iyobinte Pusthakam’

Fahadh Faasil as Aloshy in Amal Neerad’s ‘Iyobinte Pusthakam’ | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

With India gearing up to celebrate the 75th year of Independence, TV channels and OTT platforms have started promoting the customary ‘Independence struggle’ movies. While there is no shortage of highly dramatised big-budget Bollywood or Tollywood productions, there is also a collection of more modest yet well-crafted Malayalam movies to choose from that present various aspects of life and struggle in British India.

Here is a list of five movies that you can either watch on YouTube or stream on OTT platforms:

Mathilukal (1990)

Mammootty as writer Vaikom Muhammad Basheer in Adoor Gopalakrishnan's 1990 movie 'Mathilukal'

Mammootty as writer Vaikom Muhammad Basheer in Adoor Gopalakrishnan's 1990 movie 'Mathilukal' | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Set in Poojappura Central Prison in Thiruvananthapuram, Mathilukal (walls) is a semi-autobiographical story by the beloved writer Vaikom Muhammad Basheer portraying Basheer’s own life in prison post his sentencing for taking part in the Independence struggle. Mammootty lives as Basheer, capturing his innate charm and innocence, while the late KPAC Lalitha brilliantly voiced Basheer’s unseen love interest Narayani, an inmate of the women’s jail on the other side of a high wall separating the two prisons. Superbly directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan, it is a laidback romantic movie with an in-form Mammootty, who won his first National Award for the performance.

Iyobinte Pusthakam (2014)

Lal as Iyob and Fahadh Faasil as Aloshy in Amal Neerad’s ‘Iyobinte Pusthakam’

Lal as Iyob and Fahadh Faasil as Aloshy in Amal Neerad’s ‘Iyobinte Pusthakam’ | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

A Shakespearean family saga, partly adopted from the bard’s King Lear and inspired by Fydor Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, Iyobinte Pusthakam (The Book of Job) is one of the most stunningly shot Malayalam movies of all time. Filmmaker Amal Neerad, who is also the cinematographer of the film, sticks to the moto ‘every frame a painting’. The result is not just a visually gorgeous movie, but also a superbly narrated pre-independence tale set in the high-ranges of Munnar in Kerala.

Where to watch them
Mathilukal (1990): YouTube (with English subtitles)
Iyobinte Pusthakam (2014): Disney+Hotstar
Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja (2009): Disney+Hotstar
Agnisakshi (1999): YouTube (No subtitles)
Kaalapani (1996): YouTube (with English subtitles)

It narrates the story of Iyob (a brilliant Lal) who takes over the tea estate as well as the colonial demeanour of his British master Harrison, who leaves for England to never return — and his sons, Dmitry (Chemban Vinod Jose), Ivan (Jinu Joseph) and Aloshy (Fahadh Faasil, in one of his best performances). While Dmitry and Ivan take up after their cruel father, Aloshy follows his mother Annamma’s (Reenu Mathews) footsteps to be a kind, yet brave, soul. The movie portrays a still-relevant clash of ideals between Iyob’s inherited feudal-colonial dominance and Aloshy’s (hinted as one of the participants of the famous Naval revolt of 1946) rebellious outlook and streak of independence. Watch out for Jayasurya’s chilling turn as the ruthless timber trader Angoor Rawther and Padmapriya as the enigmatic Rahel.

Also read: Does Fahadh Faasil’s ‘Malayankunju’ mark a new chapter in Indian cinema with its brilliant sound design?

Official trailer of Iyobinte Pusthakam

Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja (2009)

Poster of ‘Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja’

Poster of ‘Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja’ | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Although a commercial attempt with all the failings of one, Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja directed by Hariharan is one of the few movies that portrays the period in Kerala history when the British East India Company was gaining power in the Malabar region. Mammootty plays the titular prince of the erstwhile Kottayam kingdom of North Malabar, who waged years of guerilla warfare against the Company with the help of his own trusted lieutenants and the tribal communities of Wayanad, before getting ambushed at Mavila thodu, a stream near the present-day Kerala-Karnataka border.

Mammootty will soon feature in another M.T. Vasudevan Nair story Kadugannawa: Oru Yathra Kurippu, a travel novella set in Sri Lanka, directed by Ranjith for a Netflix anthology of ten M.T. stories.

However, the famous writer M.T. Vasudevan Nair, who scripted the movie, gave the prince a more cinematically heroic ending. Nevertheless, the movie is an engaging watch aided by the moving soundtrack of Ilaiyaraja and the brilliant sound design of Oscar-winner Resul Pookutty.

Agnisakshi (1999)

Shobana with Rajit Kapur in ‘Agnisakshi’

Shobana with Rajit Kapur in ‘Agnisakshi’

Winner of the National award for the Best Feature Film in Malayalam and nine Kerala State film awards, Shyamaprasad’s Agnisakshi (With fire as witness), is based on the eponymous novel by Lalithambika Antharjanam. Set in the thirties, when the movement for independence was gaining momentum, it was a period of social reformation and emancipation in Kerala. Helmed brilliantly by Shobhana (Devaki) and Rajit Kapoor (Unni), the film sensitively captures the angst and anguish of Devaki when her husband remains a willing captive of orthodoxy. It is about Devaki’s baptism by fire when she dares to aspire for a life that is not shackled to the domesticity and ritualistic life in a traditional, orthodox Namboodiri household.

Kaalapani (1996)

Mohanlal and Prabhu in ‘Kaalapani’

Mohanlal and Prabhu in ‘Kaalapani’

Priyadarsan’s film narrates the travails and torture of political prisoners in the notorious Cellular Jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands during the British Raj. The winner of several National and State film awards, Kaalapani had a multi-star cast led by Mohanlal, Prabhu, Tabu, Amrish Puri, Vineeth and so on. In 1916, Dr. Govardhan (Mohanlal) is deported to the Cellular Jail on a false case. His wife Parvathi (Tabu) keeps waiting in vain to hear from her huband. However, in 1965, his nephew Sethu (Vineeth), an army officer, comes across some old records and learns about what happened to Govardhan.

The mainstream film has been hyped with music, action and generous doses of fiction. Yet, it is an interesting watch.

Mohanlal and Priyadarshan’s next collaboration is a film adaptation of M.T. Vasudevan Nair’s short story Olavum Theeravum for the aforementioned Netflix anthology.

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Printable version | Aug 26, 2022 8:01:30 pm |