'Vaishali' was the 'Baahubali' of those times! The 1988 Malayalam film was in fact known as a painting in celluloid, the prettiest Malayalam film ever made and a Bharathan masterpiece. The best thing probably about the director was casting the right artistes and extracting good performances from them. The movie was a huge commercial success and is still marvelled at by movie buffs just as the new generation is amazed by the S. S. Rajamouli masterpiece 'Baahubali'.
The cinematography of 'Vaishali' was by Madhu Ambat, one of the finest lensmen in the Indian film industry. Together, Bharathan and Madhu crafted one of the finest pieces of celluloid magic. It has achieved cult status in Malayalam cinema since 30 years of its release. On this occasion, we go back to the memory lane with veteran actor Babu Antony on his fondest memories about the movie.
“It took almost 8-10 years for Bharathettan (Bharathan) to develop a script for the movie. He later approached many producers and many were hesitant to take it. Finally, Atlas Ramachandran came on board and decided to take it up. I was in Bombay at the time. In a hotel where I stayed, Bharathettan and producer too joined and held auditions for the lead roles.
Actress Suparna Anand had done an album at that time and was brought via an agency team. While the roles of Rishyashrungan and Vaishali were set, Bharathettan randomly told me that I should join the cast. Laughingly, I even replied him saying I am not for such films as those are not my cup of tea, Babu Antony told Onmanorama.
“After a few months, Bharathettan called me up asking me to come to Mysore. After finishing my other works, I went for a night drive along with a friend and reached the location where Bharathettan had asked me to join. By the morning, I saw people were coming for auditions again and I could spot 2-3 men dressed up as a king. Suddenly, Bharathettan came and asked me to put up the costume.Despite telling him that I won't be able to do it, he made me take a few snaps. Unlike today, the stills had to be developed. Once it was done, seeing the negatives, he just said, “You are doing it”. Even then, I was hesitant to do it. Now as I speak about it,
I realise the role of King Lomapada was meant for me. Truly, it was a miracle that happened to me," Antony revealed.
The movie is set in the water-parched Anga country ruled by King Lomapada. It narrates how princess Vaishali lures young seer Rishyasringa out of the forest so that he holds rituals to bring rain. Envy, revenge, love, seduction, a curse and its alleviation -- what more can you ask of a story? Indeed a piece of craft!
Release: August 25, 1988
Lyrics: ONV Kurup
Starring: Sanjay Mitra, Suparna Anand, Babu Antony, Geetha, Nedumudi Venu, Ashokan, Parvathi, VK Sriraman