(Reviewed by SI reader you know who with editing by you know who while retaining the spirit of the original.)
Pazhassi Raja or Keralavarma Pazhassiraja turned out to be a let down, albeit one with redeeming elements.
And the letdown is not because the much hyped Malayalam historical film isn’t good in its own right but for squandering the opportunity of entering the pantheon of great films.
If you count yourself among the ranks of those who demand no more than a thumbs up or down from a reviewer and would rather make the rest of the judgment yourself, let me not put your patience to trial.
Its failings notwithstanding, Pazhassi Raja is still worth watching on the big screen.
Now for those who relish some background, here’s a roadmap of what to look out for so that you don’t miss the finer points.
Those familiar with the history of Kerala or that of South India would recognize Pazhassiraja (Veera Pazhassiraja/Lion of Kerala) as the King of the Kottayam Royal family that reigned over Malabar region in the 18th century.
When the valiant Tiger of Mysore Tipu Sultan and his fearsome hordes came calling to the region, the Kings (including Pazhassiraja’s brother) and affluent families fled south.
To safeguard his land and his people, the brave Pazhassiraja now joined forces with the British traders to rout Tipu on the battle field.
Not long after Tipu’s defeat, the vily British showed their true colors to the erstwhile ally by taking over all of Pazhassiraja’s lands in the Malabar and began inquitously taxing out the citizens of everything they owned.
Allies had turned foes and Pazhassiraja was now forced to take up arms against the British.
Realizing early on the futility of fighting against the superior firepower of the British with mere spears and swords, Pazhassiraja cleverly took the battle to the woods for Oliporu or guerilla warfare.
For Pazhassiraja, who had the loyalty of the Kurichiyar tribe, the woods offered several advantages – a familiar terrain to them but inhospitable to the British soldiers, a setting where bow and arrows were as effective as, if not more than, guns at short ranges and the ability to lay traps and ambushes.
The movie starts off in the waning years of the 18th century (1796, to be precise) when the British East India Company (‘The Company’) decides to act against the Kings and chieftains (under the leadership of Pazhassiraja, played by Mammooty) for defaulting on the taxes owed.
In these uncertain times, we encounter Kurumbranadu Raja Veeravarma (played by Thilakan), the uncle plotting to usurp power from Pazhassi and a host of other characters notably Kanara Menon (played with elan by Jagathy Sreekumar), the translator/intermediary and an officer with the British.
With the help of his turncoat uncle, the British try to arrest Pazhassi and put him on trial on a litany of false charges. But by the time they raid his palace, the wanted bird has already flown the royal coop.
The escape, however, costs Pazhassi his unborn child and considerable family wealth.
From then on, it’s the saga of how one strong-willed man unites a disparate people into a common struggle against the Company equipped with a bigger army and greater resources.
Hats off to Venu and Ramnath Shetty for breathtaking visuals and reminding us of the almost-forgotten notion that cinema is at the end of the day a visual medium.
Some of the bewitching shots pack such beauty that you would be forgiven for mistaking them for a Raja Ravi Varma painting.
The interior sets deserve special mention. The Ettukettu and other shots of the houses are so magnificent that you wouldn’t think twice before answering what the best thing about the movie was.
A close second are the sounds. Thanks to Oscar winner Resul Pookutty’s stellar work, the euphony holds you in thrall and heightens the excitement, particularly in the battle scenes.
M.T. Vasudevan Nair’s script is praiseworthy and forms the soul of the movie. Nay, it’s what saves the movie from being just a series of compelling visuals.
The second half could have done with some tightening though.
Whether editor A. Sreekar Prasad or the script is to be blamed is a fit topic for squabblers to quarrel over ad infinitum. Also, some characters like Dora were unnecessary and expendable.
While Mammooty, Sarathkumar (Edachena Kunkan Nair, Pazhassi’s army chief) and Manoj K. Jayan (Thalakkal Chandu, a tribal leader) do not disappoint and deliver a consistent, credible performance, they do not soar to great heights.
Still, the sui generis charisma and charm that’s delighted legions of Mammooty fans for so long is evident here too.
Mammooty has the goods to pull of an Emperor and so the King he plays here is well served. The role is a welcome respite from the spate of comedies (in name only) this actor has been dishing out lately (Pattanathil Bhootham anyone?).
And for the ditherers still in two minds, no, Mohanlal couldn’t have pulled it off in a hundred years.
Music by Ilaiyaraaja is passable at best and tiresome at worst.
The goras playing the Brits are hopelessly inadequate to the task, overacting in most of their scenes.
And why the anger all the time? Not the intimidating type too, just childish rage.
Harry Key as Asst. Collector Thomas Hervey Baber is tolerable but for someone who is cast as Pazhassi’s nemesis, he just is woefully wanting.
Overall, the imports turn out to be one of the big disappointments of the movie.
Linda, Linda, Linda! Acting is not the same as performing an item number.
Of course, you know that having studied acting and done Broadway. Perhaps your recent Bollywood and Tollywood forays have taken the shine off your acting skills.
Sure, we saw you in Sachein and Thotti Jaya but what we needed in Dora (the fiancee of Asst. Collector Baber) was a woman with strength and class but alas your measly offering is unacceptable and crass. It didn’t help that your role was poorly fleshed out but you could have at least salvaged some dignity.
You look pretty, we certainly get that. But the law of diminishing returns sets in quickly. After a short while, every time you appear on the screen all we can mutter is OMG! Why is she here? Get her off! Get her Off!
Sadly, Linda is not the worst. That discredit and shame belongs to Kanika Subramaniam (who plays Pazhassi’s wife).
Kanika, what ever did you accomplish in the Tamil film Varalaru that convinced Hariharan to cast you here. Boggles the mind, really.
Truth be said, you cannot play a queen or even her maid-in-waiting if your life depended on it. Linda, at least, had the excuse that her part was expendable but alas you don’t even have that solace. You let us down in crucial scenes and no, you aren’t eye-candy enough for us to overlook your acting deficiencies.
Some amateurish stunts notwithstanding, Padmapriya, the other female lead, does a commendable job as Neeli (the fiancee of Thalakkal Chandu).
The movie gets ‘filmy’ as it moves along.
Although the first half is saved from damage, the second is choc-a-bloc with cliches and ‘filmy’ moments.
The super-duper-mega star in Mammooty is fortunately restricted to raiding a camp on his own and fighting 20 guys alone at the end! Not that it’s done badly but you instantly get that these are for the fan-boys.
The final fight scene is an irony in the sense that for someone who has fought and mastered the art of Oliporu all his life, why the final stand in the wide-open?
The sum of these vexing kinks is what foils Pazhassi Raja from achieving the thrust to the pinnacle of greatness.
For what it’s worth, the movie appears to be a sincere effort on the part of the makers to entertain.
And like I said at the outset, it’s worth your time and money once.
good job, both the I know whos.. maybe Hariharan lost his panache with age and probably rusty after so many years of being idle.. Was Nakhashathangal starring the now-dead Monisha Unni any good? why do many good actresses die in their teens or early 20s.
Hey, don’t be harsh on Kanika.. I like her a little bit because she is a mechanical engineer. Interesting that he chose a Tamil girl, when there are so many talented mallu girls swarming the south Indian movies.
I have also heard rave reviews about national awards (for Mammootty, screenplay and art direction) winning Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha.. SI, get hold of that movie or ask your coolie to review it.. 😉
1.You write: I have also heard rave reviews about national awards (for Mammootty, screenplay and art direction) winning Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha.. SI, get hold of that movie or ask your coolie to review it.. 😉
You mean our outsorceree?
2. You write: I like her a little bit because she is a mechanical engineer.
We were doing one of those fast reading things and read ‘bit’ above as tit and wondered what ‘tit’ had to do with being a mechanical engineer. Then we read it again. 😉
HalfDak will likely respond to your other points.
Hariharan does an ok job. But, you know, that wasn’t enough here. The most expensive Malayalam film. The script by none other than M T.
The best thing I can say regarding Kanika is that it could have been worse. What if the directors had decided to cast Nayantara or Ash (for a bolly touch)?
Haven’t seen Nakhashathangal but it looks interesting.
“get your coolie..”
Please, do you want SI to be put on a stake and burned 😉
A fine novel centered around the stake and witch-burning is The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow.
Here’s the NYT review and the Amazon.com page for the book.
We read the book last year and enjoyed it. Most libraries in the U.S. should have it.
An excerpt from the NYT review:
Pretty decent review.
But we could make out that it’s not from SI.
Mostly it is straight forward like in wikipedia. There is no sarcasm 🙁
Is the movie faring well at the box office?
Far too frequently, in India decent movies tend to languish at the BO.
Liked this review.
Definitely the downside of the film were the hamming foreign actors, who laugh every time someone is sentenced to death and pass sick comments like ‘Its a jolly good party’…..
However, Raja’s background score was nothing short of awesome.. this comes from someone who vouches for Rahman.
But I feel the reviewer needed to bring in more specific points than ‘not being able to join the pantheon of great films’ to term this a letdown…
and liked the way you took a dig at my review from passionforcinema.com, on the Kanika eye-candy thing… she does not know to act, but eye-candy she is…
Thanks guys, a nice read…
We believe the reviewer has provided enough ‘specific points’ to justify his position on why Pazhassi Raja missed the chance to join the ranks of great films.
HalfDak will also likely respond to your note later on this and the other points.
I am not looking for points from the reviewer as to why Pazhassi in not a ‘Great’ film.. no one said its a Great film, ever… but read again.. my statement was
“But I feel the reviewer needed to bring in more specific points than â€˜not being able to join the pantheon of great filmsâ€™ to term this a letdownâ€¦ ”
to call it a letdown, letdown in what terms..not becoming a great film.. thats meaningless analysis… There are two kinds of films, good and bad.. If the reviewer feels Pazhassi was a good film, calling it a let down is meaningless.. And how can a letdown be worth a watch.. oxymoronic ain’t it?
You write: how can a letdown be worth a watch.. oxymoronic ain’t it?
No, a contradiction in terms it ain’t.
When expectations are sky high (like from the work of a superstar or great writer), a movie or book can be a letdown but still worth a watch/read.
The reviewer will surely respond in detail later.
1) Thank you.
2) I had read your review a couple of days ago and liked it.
3) I didn’t intend to take a dig at your review when I said Kanika wasn’t eye-candy enough to overlook her acting deficiencies.
4) Music is a highly subjective experience and with all due respect to your opinion I stick to what I said though I would like to clarify that while BG score wasn’t dissappointing, the songs were.
5) The movie is a letdown solely because what we get is lesser than what we expect. You might say its unfair to the makers. But life is often unfair.
6) It’s worth a watch because it outshines every Malayalam movie in recent memory like the moon does the planets.
how was mamooty as a actor …..i have always liked Mohanlal …
Thank you and I will work on the sarcasm.
Mammooty as an actor never falters in Pazhassiraja. He has rightly redeemed himself from all the crappy movies he has been into lately.
Mohanlal has lately been out of touch to put it mildly. Although at one time better than Mammooty in everything he did, age has taken its toll.
@Dr.UnkHaf D. Aktar: Very good review sir! Please keep em coming!
@SI: You should be looking to find more people to review films for you. In this way, you can over a variety of films and also thrill your viewers with info of films that they are very worthy.
@Dr.UnkHaf D.Aktar again :): I have not watched an entire malayalam film my whole life, but so far, I have enjoyed even the shortest scenes I watched from Malayalam. Could you spend some time to review films like Kaasi (The one starring kalabhavan Mani and Kausalya), Dr.Ambedhkar(not sure about the title, but it had Mammotty in the lead) and of course, Manichitrathazhu! We would love to know more about good films. And of course, Malayalam cinema has no dearth of good films.
You write: You should be looking to find more people to review films for you. In this way, you can over a variety of films and also thrill your viewers with info of films that they are very worthy.
You are right.
That’s why we requested HalfDak to do this review for all of us.
Smart as we are, it takes time (even for us 😉 ) to get a sense of a person. So it’s not going to be easy to find people.
Yes!! Somebody must review Manichitrathazhu! An awesome film! 🙂
Can i give the review?(lol). You can surely stop writing your blogs after that, SI! 😉
Several people have asked for Manichitrathazhu review.
We’d have done it….Unfortunately, Enikku Malayalam samsaarikkan ariyilla (dunno Malayalam).
Source: Malayalam phrasebook: Phrase List: Basics
He he… I am a Malayali sir. Ente mother tongue Malayalam aanu (my mother tongue is Malayalam). 🙂
There are many Doctors, Architects and what not floating here, and you want me to write the review? Funny. I Hope, Dr.Aktar will do a fantastic job once again!
Hey, Tamil ‘n’ Malayalam are like cousins to each other, and being the wise man/men you/we are, surely you will understand it within no time. 🙂
Half-Daktar is probably now 3/4th Daktar and too busy performing intense gynecological ‘tests’ on unsuspecting women and suspecting teenagers.
Well, if you want your embarrassing porn links to disappear then the Manichitrathazhu review will go a long way in convincing us. 😉
Honestly, I don’t know much about Gynaecology, but something that’s done on the veg-eye-na. 😛
@Dr.Un-Half-Aktar: If so, then you are one hell of a lucky person! Doing ‘tests’ and ‘ODIs’ dowwwnnnnnnn ‘there’! 😀 Wooohooo. 😛
S*it, I should have had opted for Biology as my elective in +2. 🙁
Going through http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gynaecology now. 😀
This is one interesting subject! Gonna do an R&D on this one! 😛
First of all, the spelling of this thing itself boggled my mind. Was it an e or an a in between n & c? You see, both of us were wrong! There is both of ’em in Gynaecology. 🙂 😀
SI, pleaaaseee! I was just being childish the other day ‘n’ typed all those ‘things’ that came to my mind. This is really embarrassing! I hope, there are no girls in this blog? Pleaaaseee, delete all those junk comments. 🙁
Make way, folks! Gynaecology is going to get raped by Curiousboy tonight! 😉
1. You write: the spelling of this thing itself boggled my mind. Was it an e or an a in between n & c? You see, both of us were wrong! There is both of ’em in Gynaecology.
No. We were not wrong.
The American spelling does not include the ‘a’ after the ‘n’… Source: Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th Edition) P.558
2. The only absolution for you in re your embarrassing, junk comments is to do the Manichitrathazhu review for SI. That way, you’ll also expand your fan-base among readers.
You being doctor, how could you find time to watch movie, read review, write review and now, respond to comments and all? For SI, it is understood 😉 But how come you??
You write: how could you find time…For SI, it is understood
Gosh, this kid is a medical student, en route to being a doc.
One of our Mallu friends is a doc and we’ve had the chance of observe him and his classmates at close quarters while they were students.
Some of their principal preoccupations – boozing, a desperate itch to smoke pot, learning roller-skating, photography, rock-climbing, attending cabarets, sleeping…. Studies comes last, if at all.
Once one of the medical students was desperate to smoke pot and entreated us to get some. Those days, ‘Kerala Grass’ was considered the best quality marijuana and was sold in sealed plastic bags. So we went over to the bus-stand area and purchased a plastic sachet for Rs 5 or Rs 10 (can’t remember now) and went over to the medical college hostel in hopes of a good time.
We had a few drags and felt nice. Then the idiot newbie (again, a Mallu) took a few drags, was quickly high and all was fine for a few minutes. But it was his first time and in a few minutes he felt very sick and begged us to take him to the hospital immediately. To our horror, he started this ‘I am dying….I want to go to the hospital’ rubbish. Smoking pot is not a big deal in India. But falling sick and going to the hospital and the inevitable police case could turn the whole thing into a nightmare. It was with the greatest difficulty we and another Mallu friend managed to restrain him until he came down to terra firma and stopped this ‘I am dying….I want to go to the hospital’ nonsense. We were quite shaken up by the whole incident and promised ourselves that never again would we offer pot to others. At best, when people wanted a good time we’d take them along with us to a strip club. 😉
Bottom line, medical students/doctors have as much time to fritter away on frivolous pursuits as SI or the vetti readers of this fine blog.
1)Thank you. But you should know I don’t deserve the entire credit even by a long stretch.
2)Haven’t heard of Kaasi. Not seen Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (that got Mammooty his third national award). The film is supposedly good. Manichithrathazhu is enjoyable for only those who haven’t seen its ‘n’ remakes.
3)Quality of Malayalam films has been steadily decreasing over the years is the general perception.
Not only has Daktar got plenty of time to spend on various movie blogs, he has an incredible passion for computers..
my guess (he is probably going to slam me for propounding this “theory” — atleast he will know how SI feels when we are guessing where they/he/she is gay or not) is that his first passion is *not* medicine.. but his mom runs a huge hospital and wants her son to take the reins soon.. and (he may like this conjecture) he is incredibly brilliant to juggle all 3 (movies, computers and medicine)..
and one final guess.. he probably smoked all of the 17$ that SI sent him.
If HalfDak didn’t have other interests, you’d have called him monomaniacal. 😉
@SI: Studies come last, if at all.
Everything you said is so damn true!! LOL 😀 Personally, I would put sleeping just below smoking pot and definetly above all the
physical activities. Wow, you have spelled out the soul of med students.
The Dr. in front of my id doesn’t stand for doctor. Its a typo caused by my incessant boozing. Its really drunk half-doctor (nearly half).
LOL. Not falling into the trap of responding to your conjectures. But I don’t smoke or drink as of yet.
Nice review, UnkHaf Ji! 😉
3)Quality of Malayalam films has been steadily decreasing over the years is the general perception.
100% true. I don’t even remember when I stopped enjoying malayalam movies. 🙁
Have you seen any of the Padmarajan movies?
1) Thank you. Have you seen Pazhassi Raja yet?
2) I have seen Namukkuparkan Munthirithoppukal and Njan Gandharvan. I vaguely remember the former while the latter did make an impression on me at the time. The songs were a huge factor. I listen to ‘Devangangal’ even now.
3) Of course, even before I knew his films, I had heard of the mysteries surrounding his death.
4) There seems to be a lot of catching up to do for me when it comes to classics. Feel like seeing Deshadanapakshikal karayarilla and Thoovanathumbikal.
“I don’t even remember when I stopped enjoying Malayalam movies”
I do. It was probably when stardom and fan-boyism got prominence over the rest of us 🙁
Its Deshadanakkili Karayarilla..
So now this marks the advent of SI into malayalam movies.. 🙂 ..!!!
Yes, thanks to HalfDak.
the last good malayalam movie in recent times ….was …Arabikatha ….if you get a CD with subtitles ..watch it ….different and sensible story with lot of humour ….script and screenplay are very good ..
Ah, a political movie. We’ll see if we can get it here.
The critical malayali in the last link has a point.
The climax was changed apparently. Probably reshot to appease mammookka fans.
1. Read the comment by Critical Malayali.
Going by his/her/its logic, Amitabh Bachchan should have stayed behind in Uttar Pradesh, Sridevi in Tamil Nadu, MGR on the tea estates of Kandy…..Ben-Hur should have featured someone from Jerusalem…not Charlton Heston.
That’s pure son-of-the-soil baloney.
Why shouldn’t a historical movie not feature stars from other regions if they are capable.
The only thing that should matter is if the chosen ones can do justice to their roles.
2. Was the climax changed after release of the movie or changed from the historical perspective?
*cringe* I was sorry the moment I submitted it.
But you can’t look over the historical inaccuracies and the fact that Indians are gullible to propaganda. You don’t know how this movie has been sold to us in Kerala. They are saying its the bringing back of a lost/forgotten part of history and a lot of other BS too.
The climax is changed from the historical perspective. Some say he committed suicide when his capture became inevitable.
1. Show us a movie that’s not been subjected to charges of historical heresy.
For that matter, what’s history but an approximation of the truth.
2. You write: You don’t know how this movie has been sold to us in Kerala
Should recover its money and make a tidy profit too then.
It seems the movie is being released in Tamil and other languages too.
Most likely, it should make its way across the Atlantic too in early November. We might see the Tamil version should it land here.
3. You write: the fact that Indians are gullible to propaganda…
Indians will swallow anything that has power, pelf or privilege attached to it.
When I said ‘reshot’, I was referring to the wiki article on the movie which says over 5 crores had been spent reshooting scenes (making total costs to 32 Cr). I suppose there must be an alternate ending. Fits in with the fact that the current one isn’t that good.
Thanks for the clarification.
zoobie doobie zoobie doobie pampaaara zoobie doobie parampaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Sorry about your head injury.
@ Dr.UnkHaf D. Aktar: Mohanlal couldn’t have pulled it off in a hundred years.
Why should he prove himself? he’s already proved many times that he’s the best. just because his performance was a bit overshadowed by Kamal haasan’s wild antics doesn’t make him a bad actor. He’s done many offbeat and diverse roles than mamooty.
Agree that mamooty is decent actor by the standards of indian film industry a bhacha when compared to Mohanlal’s acting skills. First of all how many mohanlal movies did you watch apart from that crappy UPO. yes even if mamooty [Trash Talk] he’ll definitely not able to pull it off in acting in 100 years if you want to see mohanlal in his vintage best watch “Thanmathra” it’s a great portrayal by mohanlal
Hopefully, SI blog reader Dr.UnkHaf D. Aktar, who reviewed Pazhassi Raja, will respond to your points.
Hey, this looks like a nice arrangement.
Can I try my hand at reviewing stuff too at SI.com? That is, for dumb shit like vettaikaran you feel are not worth your time or films that don’t release in the east coast?
You write: Can I try my hand at reviewing stuff too at SI.com
You are welcome to review TamilPadam.
To cover the expenses for you and your gayfriend/girlfriend, we’ll send you $17 via PayPal.
The only reasonable requests we have are that the review must be original and we must have it by Tuesday night 8PM Eastern Time (it’s around 8AM here now, so that gives you 36 hours).
If you agree, we’ll send you $17 by PayPal to the e-mail address you used when registering.
Caveat: The final decision on publishing any content is always up to SI.
@SI: “The only reasonable requests we have are that the review must be original and we must have it by Tuesday night 8PM Eastern Time (it’s around 8AM here now, so that gives you 36 hours)”
The original part, sure, but the deadline is a bit of a sticking point. I am planning to go for the afternoon show(around 1:00 PM) at a local multiplex on Wednesday. I cannot make it before that. So that means I will need 48 hours(or thereabouts) from the time of posting this message to post a review. What do you say? Deal?
@SI: “To cover the expenses for you and your gayfriend/girlfriend, we’ll send you $17 via PayPal.”
That would be a kingly sum. Thank you.
Btw, how do you post it? As a comment or what?
1. You write: but the deadline is a bit of a sticking point. I am planning to go for the afternoon show(around 1:00 PM) at a local multiplex on Wednesday. I cannot make it before that. So that means I will need 48 hours
OK, let’s make it 9:00AM Eastern by Wednesday.
2. You write: Btw, how do you post it? As a comment or what?
If we decide to publish it, it’ll be as a regular review with credit to you.
3. We’ve just sent you $17 by PayPal (to the e-mail address you used when registering with SI). Please check your e-mail.
We look forward to your review of TamilPadam.
“If we decide to publish it, it’ll be as a regular review with credit to you.”
Sorry, I had meant, how do I post it?
Doubt cleared now.
We presume you’ve seen the PayPal e-mail on how to send the review.
Nobody is trying to take any credit away from Mohanlal. But there are roles that suit some actors better than others. Pazhassi’s is one such.
Just to clear things up, I like to believe I am a fan of good acting and not actors.
Regarding your query on the number of his films I watched, being someone who makes references to Neelan (Devasuram), Sunny (Manichitrathazhu) and Jagannathan (Aaram Thampuran) every 10 minutes, I’ll have to say “Zapharon ki zindagi kabhi khatham nahi ho jati, Shambo Mahadeva!” 😉 (sorry guys, lost in translation)
And finally why trash Mammootty? You can make your point without doing that.
You write: Regarding your query on the number of his films I watched…
The commenter didn’t pay attention to the note on top of Pazhassi Raja review or the comments and mistakenly believed we wrote the review. Plus the filth on Mammootty….. 🙁
Doh! Reposted it! Sorry.
Looking forward to your review.
After seeing that both were the same, we deleted the earlier version.