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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.


Suggested Reading:

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

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October 20, 2009   17 Comments