Films about the freedom struggle and its fighters have generated many classics in Tamil cinema but they are now
a thing of the past. So Pazhassi Raja, dubbed from Malayalam, is a rare entry in the genre. The film was
the most expensive film in Malayalam cinema and has also turned out to be its biggest blockbuster. Chronicling
the life of the titular king, who was one of the first to wage a war against the British, it narrates a
little-known part of history and does it well but the lack of nativity prevents it from being as exhilarating
and inspiring as it should be.
The film is set in 1792 after Tipu Sultan has handed over the Malabar province to the East India Company,
which levied heavy taxes and snatched away the basic rights of the people. When his palace is raided, Pazhassi
Raja(Mammootty), the king of Thalassery in the Malabar region, goes on the run with his pregnant wife(Kaniha)
and his loyal followers. With his army general Edachena Kunkan (Sarathkumar) and allies like the tribals
Thalackal Chanthu (Manoj K Jayan) and Neeli(Padmapriya), he stands up to the British but reconsiders his
decision for the good of the common man.
It is easy to forget the fact that we are watching a dubbed film when the film's setting and culture are
universal (Arundhati and Sindhanai Sei are a couple
of recent examples of this). But that obstacle is a little more difficult to overcome in Pazhassi Raja.
It is steeped in Keralite history and culture and so its a little off-putting to hear everybody converse in
Tamil. While the movie has enough to make us admire its protagonist and his war against a much stronger
adversary, the disconnect makes us watch the proceedings with a detached feeling. The patriotic stirrings
and palpable excitement that arise when we see Veerapandiya Kattabomman or Kappalottiya Thamizhan
are missing here.
Mammootty has a rather small band of followers whose strength is knowledge of the lay of the land rather than
numbers or weaponry. So they indulge in guerilla warfare against the might of the British army and this makes the
skirmishes more intimate and easier to follow. Ofcourse the logistics also become simplified with these
small-scale battles(compared to wars with huge armies clashing with each other). So the fights are energetic
and well-staged with the forest being utilized well for camouflage, fashioning weapons, etc.
Considering the story is about Pazhassi Raja's fight for freedom, this is a film where the end is a foregone
conclusion. Still the movie creates a memorable group of characters and adds enough variety to the battles
to keep things moving. The loyalty and devotion that Sarath, Manoj.K.Jayan and Padmapriya show towards
Mammootty is admirable and the tough life the band leads, staying in one place only as long as the British
army doesn't find it and enduring the tough terrain and weather, is showcased well.
Mammootty looks regal and in control as the king. His controlled acting and measured way of talking fit
the role but there are a couple of places where one wishes he had been little more flamboyant. Sarathkumar
makes a strong impression as his Commander with some subtle acting that we never saw in all those
larger-than-life roles he's been doing in Tamil. The fact both Mammootty and Sarath have dubbed with their
own voices is welcome. Padmapriya enjoys her role while Suman doesn't quite earn our revulsion as he
sides with the British to bring Mammootty down. Ilaiyaraja's background score also comes off as low-key
considering that the movie is aiming to be an inspirational tale. One of the songs sounds a bit like
the duet from Siraichaalai.