Monday, December 14, 2009

Pazhassi Raja (1964)

HISTORICAL Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair in and as Pazhassi Raja

Pazhassi Raja,' released in 1964, takes us back to the 18th century. The film tells the story of Kerala Varma , the King of Pazhassi, who stood up against the unjust policies of the East India Company.

Produced and directed by M. Kunjacko under the banner of XL Productions at Udaya Studios, the film was probably the second historical movie in Malayalam. The first historical movie, ‘Veluthambi Dalava' (1962) was a box office hit. Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair who had donned the role of Veluthambi was selected for the role of Pazhassi Raja. But ‘Pazhassi Raja' was not as successful as the former film. This was a time when Udaya Studios and Neela Productions competed against each other. Five days after ‘Pazhassi Raja' was released Neela came up with ‘Karutha Kai,' which went on to become a hit.

‘Pazhassi Raja' was shot entirely at Udaya Studios. Therefore some of the scenes, especially the war sequences, lacked technical perfection. The film demanded lavish sets but this could not be provided at the studio. Film historians believe that if the movie had been shot outdoors perhaps the result would have been different.

The noted Malayalam playwright P. Kunjanandan Nair, popularly known as Thikkodiyan penned the dialogues for the movie. This was one of the main attractions of the film. R. K. Shekhar who had worked as assistant to many music directors earlier, composed the music for the film. This was his first independent work. The music was another highlight of the film.

The story is set at a time when the East India Company was trying to establish its control and most of the city states in Kerala had surrendered to the company. Sankara Varma (Nanukuttan), king of Kurumbranad, had also surrendered. Kerala Varma (Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair), king of Pazhassi and nephew of Sankara Varma, fought against the Company. Sankara Varma's niece Ammu Thampuratty (Rajasree, Gracy in the title cards) and nephew Unni (Boban) escape and seek refuge in Pazhassi Raja's palace.

Tipu Sultan invades Malabar in an attempt to bring the city states that surrendered to the Company under his control. Unable to fight with the ferocious troops of Tipu Sultan, the British decide to have a treaty with Pazhassi Raja with whose support they hoped to defeat Tipu Sultan. Pazhassi's guerrilla warfare succeeds. The British manage to free all the city states captured by Tipu Sultan.

Pazhassi's crafty uncle convinces the British authorities to allow him collect the taxes in Kottayam. He goes to declare that he is the real heir to the dynasty. Pazhassi Raja opposes this move. The British Commandant Wellesley (Satyapal) invites Pazhassi Raja to his bungalow to discuss the issue. Ammu Thampuratti and Unni who reach the bungalow in disguise inform Pazhassi about the treacherous plans of the British. When Pazhassi defies the British they try to arrest him. The Kurichya bowmen of Pazhassi defeat this ploy and rescue their king.

The British troops capture Pazhassi Raja's palace. The Raja and his military commandants and attendants, Kaitheri Ambu (Dr. Chandraguptan), Kannavathu Nambiar (Prem Nazir), Unni Moosa (Sankaradi) and the Kurichya leader Chandu ( Vincent Chacko) escape to the dense Puralimala forests from where they begin guerrilla warfare against the British. An official of the Company, Baber (Satyan), who reaches Pazhassi's hideout with the help of Pazhayam Veedan (Kottayam Chellappan) is beaten up and sent back with a warning.

The British decide to go all out against Pazhassi. A bitter struggle ensues. Pazhassi manages to recapture his palace. In the meanwhile Baber takes custody of Pazhassi's wife Maakkam (Sreedevi) and his infant son (Ponnumol). The war intensifies. The British try all nasty tricks to defeat the Raja. They even set his palace on fire. Finally, Pazhassi Raja's men are beaten. The ‘Lion of Kerala' as Pazhassi was popularly known, swallows his diamond ring and commits suicide.

Kottarakkara excelled in the role of the Raja. His commanding voice was a huge plus. Satyapal as Wellesley and Satyan as Baber also did justice to their villainous roles. The comic scenes, involving S. P. Pillai, Manavalan Joseph and Nellikkodu Bhaskaran, failed to evoke the desired response.

There were 12 songs in the film, penned by Vayalar Rama Varma and set to music by Shekhar. Some of them became instant hits. The K. J. Yesudas hit, ‘Chotta muthal chudala vare…,' P. Susheela' lullaby, ‘Muthe vaa vaavo muthu kudame vaa vaavo …' and the comic number ‘Saayippe saayippe, aslam alaikkum…' sung by P. Leela and Mehaboob were the pick of them. Other popular songs include, ‘Kannu randum thaamarappoo…” (Susheela), and ‘Paathira poovukal vaarmudikettil….” (Leela).

Will be remembered: As the first independent work of music director R. K. Shekhar. For the good music and for the excellent performance of Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair in the title role.

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