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Pazhassi Raja:Review

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When it comes to movies with hype attached,the cynic in me comes alive. The cynic grows bigger if there is too much talk about the budget. I had all these things in mind when I went to watch Pazhassi Raja on Saturday morning at New Theatre,Trivandrum.

The movie starts after Tippu’s defeat in the Third Anglo-Mysore War(1792). A large part of his kingdom was annexed to the English East India Company(EIC). Pazhassi Raja was an ally of the Company till the end of this war. The people were rebuilding their lives after Tippu’s raids that left Malabar in penury. Much damage was already done to the society by these raids. Atrocities on Hindus by Tippu had torn apart the social fabric. The equations were soon changing. The Company and its tax collecting middlemen were now exploiting the people of Kottayam with heavy taxes. Thus,the sigh of relief post the Third-Anglo Mysore war was short lived.
This is where the movie begins.Kanavath Shankaran Nambiar, a local chieftain(Devan) is asked by the Fort William Govt to collect taxes and dues. This agreement was temporary and Pazhassi Raja’s uncle Veera Varma Raja of Kurumbranadu(Tilakan) was put in charge of Kottayam by the Supervisor of Malabar. Veera Varma should have been happy with the Company collecting taxes, but Pazhassi Raja was not happy with traders(EIC) ending up as rulers and tax collectors. A Tahsildar and an earlier aide of Kerala Varma , Pazhayam Veettil Chandu (Suman) also soon became a close aide of the Company.

The movie portrays some of the revolts which the Company collectively called the Pychy(Pazhassi/Cotiote) Revolts. These revolts were against the unscrupulous and commercial administration of the company. The siege and the loot of Pazhassi Kovilakom by the company threw Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja(Mammootty)and his wife into a life in exile. Pazhassi Rajah’s ability to mobilize Kurichyar (tribals) and Muslims against the company goes on in the background. Every scene is so meticulously shot and the flow so smooth that you would fail to realize that the movie is 200 minute long.We should be thankful to Venu and Ramanath Shetty  for the gifting a visual treat. The battle scenes look stunning and captivates your eyes,ears and mind. Resul Pookkutty’s sound recording makes you ask if an SDM can get him an Oscar,what will he win for PR? :)

Mammootty does not portray a larger than life character but handles the character soberly,with finesse and perfection. More than Mammooty,I liked Sharat Kumar in the movie. He was very much apt for the role of Edachena Kungan,the army commander. His physique and histrionic skills leave him hand in glove with the role. It was his influence that brought in Thalakkal Chanthu(Leader of the Kurichyar tribe)(Manoj K Jayan)and the tribals into Pazhassi’s fold. The guerrilla war scenes involving Neeli(Padmapriya)(Chanthu’s fiancee), Thalakkal Chanthu are splendidly executed.

Suresh Krishna does justice to the character he plays; Kaitheri Ambu,Kerala Varma’s brother in law(Makkam’s brother). Kaniha gracefully portrays Kaitheri Makkam,Pazhassi’s wife. Though Kappulli Kanara Menon(Jagathy) and Bhandari(Jagadeesh)are not avoidable in a story around Pazhassi Raja, I do not understand their attempts at humor in many scenes.(Both of them work for the Fort William Govt).

Athan Kurikkal(Mamu Koya),Unni Moosa Moopan(Capt.Raju) and Palloor Emman Nair(Lalu Alex) are some of the characters, I feel should have been given some more importance, given their importance in history. But,a movie is different from a history text book. So,I am not complaining.

Asst. Collector Thomas Hervey Baber(Harry Key),the man who recorded Pychy rebellion does not impress me much. His fiancee Dora(Linda Arsenio)does a much better job. Subedar Cheran/Shekharan(Ajay Rathnam),who joined EIC’s side after Tippu’s death, is also a character worth a mention.

Having more mentions of years and places would have been useful for history enthusiasts. The tribal leaders could have been de-glamorized to look original. In spite of a few gravity defying action scenes,the stunts look very realistic in most cases. Art Director T Muthuraj has recreated the past in a seemingly authentic fashion.

Though most songs seemed to strike a dissonant chord,the movie does an exceedingly good job in leaving the audience riveted to the screens.

To sum it up,this story of valor and gallantry is a must watch for every Malayalee.

Thanks to Hariharan and MT for this fantastic movie.

Update: Nick Balmer clarifies by email that Baber’s wife Dora(actually Helen) leaving Baber before the fall of Pazhassi as depicted in the movie is “rubbish”.The relationship was strong till the end.
On Helen(Dora)’s love for India,he says, “Mrs Baber was certainly very sympathetic to the Indian’s she knew. She had Indian guests to stay in her house, which I believe was quite unusual. In 1818 these included the Tamborette and her sister from Travancore who came to visit her at Tellicherry.”

Nick Balmer is the great^4 nephew of Thomas Hervey Baber.He blogs at Malabar Days

PS: I am a bit skeptical about how the Telugu and Hindi versions would fare in the box office. Mammootty and Sharath Kumar should be able to pull off the Tamil version well. Good luck to Gokulam Gopalan, hope he recovers the 27 crores spent.

Footnotes:

Suggested Reading:

  • Pazhassi Raja : Chamayangalillathe by Mundakkayam Gopi(Sahya Publications,Kalpetta)
  • Kerala Simham by Sardar K M Panicker [Fiction]

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17 comments

1 Tweets that mention Pazhassi Raja:Review — Nikhil’s Musings -- Topsy.com { 10.20.09 at 9:04 am }

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nikhil Narayanan and Rahul Srinivas, Vasanth E.B.. Vasanth E.B. said: RT @nikhilnarayanan: #Mallu On my blog : #PazhassiRaja review http://bit.ly/pazhassi […]

2 Babu SyedNo Gravatar { 10.20.09 at 9:55 am }

You burden me by adding to the hype :)

3 Vineeth JoseNo Gravatar { 10.20.09 at 1:37 pm }

Well written, liked it.

4 BharatNo Gravatar { 10.20.09 at 2:00 pm }

I think “Dora”(the one in the movie) was introduced as Barber’s fiancee, who had later left him before geting married.
Isn’t it so?

5 manuscryptsNo Gravatar { 10.20.09 at 4:54 pm }

I thought it’d have made a great documentary (sans the songs, of course).. while it did give me some much needed history education, it didn’t quite reach the level a movie of this genre should have, in terms of style (detailing, some of the furniture was quite fabindia :|) or scale, and that took away from the mood and experience the film should’ve ideally created.. (typical example, the climax scene)
yes, some of the scenes were shot extremely well, but i felt it could’ve done with some more consistency, and better editing…
Agree completely on Sharat Kumar, he stole the show easily, in fact no one else came close, not even Mammootty, who, I think, unnecessarily underplayed the role :(
having said all of that, it is great to see movies like this in malayalam, and hopefully this will prompt even more well-funded projects and awesome movies :)

6 anandNo Gravatar { 10.21.09 at 2:00 am }

heard sometime bacckk that MT had at first planned the movie on the life of edachena kunkan rather than on pazhassi raja ..for the avge malayalee like me, pazhassi raja largely remained “just another” local oppressed cheiftain who challenged the british and got killed in the backlash..evn in schools, his sobriquet was more famous than the man himself . .
maybe this sorry state of malayalees knowhow of swantham history paved MT into remolding the script onto a bigger canvas narrating the whole anti fascist struggle with pazhassi in the lead..
MTs fore in transforming the proverbial sidekicks of our established folklores into heroes we never thot we had is legendary..bhiman in randaamoozham being one such lucky fellow..
so really wished if the film was on kunkans life as was planned earlier by MT , it wud have been more spl…
P.S. heard lalettans fans @ thironthoramm askin rival fans
“sharathkumarinte laetest malayaalam padamm eppadii??”

7 NikhilNo Gravatar { 10.23.09 at 12:40 am }

@Babu Syed
Heh!Should have come to the Emirates by now.
@Vineeth
Thanks :)
@Bharat
Clarified by email(Malabar Days).There was only one wife and that was Helen(Dora)
@manuscrypts
The movie was very documentary-esque as there was little fiction in the script and it was not written to have a climactic end.It was a no nonsense film,ya documentary if you want to call it so.
Liked your optimism.High five for that.
@anand
Even I heard something similar.
Leaving small factual aberrations like this one and Dora/Helen leaving Thomas Baber, most other things were consistent to our recorded history.
MT is a genius and does not need our endorsement. Kunkan would have been a good idea,then would a Gokulam Gopalam have come forward to produce it?
On the PS bit,even I heard :).

8 anandNo Gravatar { 10.23.09 at 11:14 pm }

“Kunkan would have been a good idea,then would a Gokulam Gopalam (GG) have come forward to produce it?”

i blieve GG bein an astute money spinner wud hav said an even louder YUPP to this..butt with a small little condition of a minor tweak in the cast..sharathkumar may switch over as the nue pazhassi raja an mammooka wud adorn the role of “The kunkan”..a la chandu of Oru Vadakan veeragatha..
Be it for GG or for ny avge malayalee the films biggest USP is the the ulti combo of MT-hariharan an Mammooka..an as long as this team remains, a change in NAYAKAN wud have never really mattered!! the reason 4 pazhassi raja might jus be to have a whole big canvass of n era many dont know!!
Angane allathundo gopalletta!! :D

9 Anish K.SNo Gravatar { 10.24.09 at 6:55 am }

Nice review Nikhil.

10 Pazhassi raja review | varnachitram { 10.25.09 at 9:11 am }

[…] Nikhil writes: The movie portrays some of the revolts which the Company collectively called the Pychy(Pazhassi/Cotiote) Revolts. These revolts were against the unscrupulous and commercial administration of the company. The siege and the loot of Pazhassi Kovilakom by the company threw Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja(Mammootty)and his wife into a life in exile. Pazhassi Rajah’s ability to mobilize Kurichyar (tribals) and Muslims against the company goes on in the background. Every scene is so meticulously shot and the flow so smooth that you would fail to realize that the movie is 200 minute long.We should be thankful to Venu and Ramanath Shetty  for the gifting a visual treat. The battle scenes look stunning and captivates your eyes,ears and mind. Resul Pookkutty’s sound recording makes you ask if an SDM can get him an Oscar,what will he win for PR? […]

11 Ruby ChandrasekharNo Gravatar { 10.26.09 at 12:10 pm }

The movie was very disapppointing – to say the least. If I am not greatly mistaken, it was the first time that the three stalwarts (MT, Mamooka & Hariharan) have come together after “Vadakkan Veeragatha”…. Expectations were high but was sorely disappointed.
sceneray was spectacular but might as well have been a documentary on wayanad…. the story line was just not gripping enuf( not sure if its a script problem, though).

I agree that Sharat Kumar came off better than Mammotty ( May God forgive me for I worship Mammooty – but truth needs to be told!)

Abt Sound recording – Pookkutty justified the 2.5 Cr he has charged by making it cacophonious than anything!

And Good Old kalaripayattu gave way to Matrix like stunts…. Made me want to go back and watch one of those Prem Nazeer movies again…..

12 JCNo Gravatar { 10.27.09 at 7:07 pm }

Good review, and yes, you never realise that you sat for more than 3 hours, but is it captivating, like, say, vadakkan veeragaatha? I would say no.

I still watch vadakkan veeragaatha whenever its on tv…but i am not sure of this movie.

the most important thing that the movie lacks is strong script, it doesn’t go into detail of how it all began….though its titled on pazhassi, nothing of his early life is shown, neither the other characters.

of the 3.5 hours, it could have atleast dedicated 20-30 minutes on that, and then built up the story…….also the reason / or the way people turn against Pazhassi is hardly shown……they should have shown the greed or the discomfort/unhappiness that led to them turning their back……for eg., Nedumudi’s character suddenly arrives, and shows him ditching for a bottle of whisky and tobacco leaves….its totally unbelievable, there is no substance in it, knowing the position / control he possess.

comparatively if you look at vadakkan veera-gaatha the build up of the story is so beautifully done, that lends substance to the whole script.

the other things, like music is average. the background score and cinematography is brilliant. the fights, especially the guerilla ones of manoj and padma are really good, while the others, especially the one-to-ones were quite matrix style and a bit over the top.

in all a good attempt, and one of the watchable film of the year…..if rated on a scale of 5, it gets 3, though the box-office collections will break records, no doubt.

13 jeyamohan.in » Blog Archive » பழசி ராஜா தள்ளிவைப்பு { 11.11.09 at 12:03 am }

[…] http://blog.nikhil.co.in/2009/10/pazhassi-raja-movie-review.html - he says he liked Sarath’s acting better […]

14 SarahNo Gravatar { 11.18.09 at 12:27 am }

I was about to call it a day after being an unfortunate victim of all those mammooty-mohanlal fan fights:/. Glad that I found yours that I finally gave some peace to my disturbed soul. No, not all my time was wasted..thanks dude..a scholarly piece.

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

http://journosworld.blogspot.com/2009/11/kerala-varma-pazhassi-raja-1775-1805.html

15 gv manikandanNo Gravatar { 11.24.09 at 2:38 pm }

art direction work very super i conform hope national award winner in the year 2009 t muthuraj nalvalzthukkal sir

16 GirishNo Gravatar { 01.09.10 at 4:35 pm }

Nikhil’s review was good. Ruby’s comments reminded me of the facile “reviews” of Bollywood movies we often see in glossies written usually by pretentious hacks.

The movie was very good of course, except that they should have spent a little more money and effort on getting decent and believable-looking actors for the Brit characters and a bit more of effort(research)on dress, uniforms, furniture, and yes, weapons (in a scene where the EIC soldiers are charging, you can actually see “bayonets” about to drop off the end of the rifles!) used by the Brits. At least twice, I saw English officers snapping off American military-style salutes.

Yes, Sharath Kumar was a suprise package with occasional glimpses of vulnerability coming out through cracks in the uber macho tough guy-hardbitten soldier facade that Kungan wears around him like an armour.

Its a bit unfair to compare this to “V.Veeragatha” because MT had a much smaller canvas and theatre there and could therefore produce a character and story that were almost Shakespearean.

PS. The scene were Pazhassi appears for the first time in the lamp-lit room, coming into the old man’s vision from blurred to sharp – I think I actually gasped, forgetting the fact that my tastes are straight!!

17 DevikaNo Gravatar { 04.12.10 at 2:36 am }

Helen Baber had a thriving business ‘entertaining’ male guests including British military officers and wealthy locals. She had at least one child through one of these encounters.

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