Telugu Actor Nagarjuna after acting in slick urban movies decided to take a different path recently. He acted in a movie set in 16th century Andhra called Sri Ramadasu and this historical/devotional movie is a big hit. When was the last time we saw a movie in Malayalam in the history/devotional genre?
One area in history which we have explored in depth is the story of Chekavars. From Prem Nazir to Mammotty to Kunchako Boban, almost all heroes have played some Vadakkan Veeragatha character. The past three generation of Malayalees have been educated in the life style of Aromal Chekavar and Chanthu. Except for that the only historical movies we can think of is 1921 by I.V.Sasi, Perumthachan by Ajayan, Vaishali by Bharathan and Swathi Thirunal by Lenin Rajendran. In terms of devotional movies, there have been almost none since the days of Bhakta Hanuman in the 70s
Currently Malayalam cinema stories fall into few buckets. Either they are that of the All Sacrificing BrotherTM, or light comedies, meaningless mimicry shows, or Suresh Gopi’s English teaching movies. The producers are not willing to think beyond these are look at other genres like historicals. Sometime back we heard that there was a plan to make a movie on Pazhassi Raja, but it did not go far.
Making historicals is not an easy task. While most films in India become historicals by just making the stars wear costumes of a previous era, we think that is insufficient. Historical films have to represent the culture and physical behavior of those times. Information has to be gathered on what food they ate, how they slept, and what music they listened. If you don’t pay serious attention to such factors, you will end up with a movie like Santosh Sivan’s Asoka, in which we saw Prince Asoka of 3rd century B.C dancing to Anu Malik’s 21st century music.
After beating to death most stories in revenge and romance, Hindi films too have turned to historicals in a big way. We had a few movies on Bhagat Singh,and one each on Subhash Bose and Mangal Pandey. Rajkumar Santoshi is making a film on Prithviraj, Sanjay Leela Bhansali on Peshwa Bajiraoâ€™s life and Ashutosh Gowariker on a young Akbar.
Currently one Malayali is making a historical movie, but it is being made in Hindi. This movie by Shaji Karun on Raja Ravi Varma’s life in Maharashtra has Ajay Devgun playing Raja Ravi Varma and Vidya Balan as the model who inspired him.
There are many stories that can be told in our films, on Malayalees like Umar Khazi who fought for non-taxation, much before Mahatma Gandhi, or Adi Shankara who revived Hinduism or Narayana Guru or Chattampi Swamikal. There could be movies based on the battle of Kulachal in 1741 in which the forces of Marthanda Varma defeated the forces of Dutch East India company or on the arrival of Vasco da Gama in Calicut in 1498. It takes a person with money and passion for history to make such movies.
Post Script: We recently read news reports about Lenin Rajendran’s new ventureÂ based on Pazhassi Raja’s life. Suresh Gopi will be acting as Pazhassi Raja.