‘Pathonpatham Noottandu’ (Nineteenth century), the latest movie by veteran filmmaker Vinayan released on Thiruvonam day, offers a veritable visual treat to viewers. The film, with Siju Wilson enacting the title role, deals with the untold story of Arattupuzha Velayudha Panicker, a social reformer in the erstwhile kingdom of Travancore who fought for the rights of the backward castes and the downtrodden.
During the nineteenth century, people belonging to the so-called lower castes faced widespread discrimination and injustice. Inhuman taxes such as ‘mulakkaram’ (breast tax), ‘meesakkaram’ (moustache tax) and ‘talakkaram’ (head tax) were imposed on them. Driven by greed, the feudal lords and the royalty in Travancore surrendered the kingdom to the British at that time. In that melee, nobody noticed the pitiable condition of the downtrodden.
However, Velayudha Panicker emerged as the saviour of women of the Ezhava caste who had no right to cover their breasts and the tenants who were starving. Velayudhan was born as the son of Govinda Panicker, a warrior who was proficient in Kalaripayattu and astrology belonging to Mangalam village at Arattupuzha in Alappuzha district. The youngster, then known as Arattupuzha Velayudha Chekavar, soon realized the injustice suffered by the lower castes and reacted against it whenever he could.
Govinda Panicker raised Velayudhan as a warrior who feared nobody. As a result, the feudal lords in the area soon became jealous of Velayudhan as he was brave as well as wealthy.
The movie also deals with the life of Nangeli, a lower caste woman who sacrificed her life by chopping off her breasts before the feudal lords who had arrived to remove the cloth covering her breasts. Velayudhan is also shown rescuing Nangeli on several occasions when she reacts against those denigrating backward caste women.
Meanwhile, the Maharaja of Travancore seeks the help of Velayudha Chekavar to counter noted robber Kayamkulam Kochunni, who steals the valuables belonging to the deity at Padmanabha Swami Temple. When Velayudha Chekavar succeeds in the mission, he is bestowed with the title of ‘Panicker’ by the king. However, the jealous and greedy feudal lords are not pleased by this turn of events and wait for an opportunity to do away with Velayudha Panicker by deceit.
The movie about a forgotten historical figure who possessed extraordinary skills in martial arts, a big heart and an entrepreneurial spirit is a great comeback for Vinayan, who has a string of popular releases behind him. The film also realistically presents the shocking conditions in which a large section of our society lived.
Siju Wilson excels as Velayudha Panicker. The six months the actor spent preparing for the role have not gone waste. Siju learnt martial arts and horse-riding, among other skills, to transform successfully as Velayudha Panicker. With the best role in his career, it is certain that Siju would find his place as an action hero in Malayalam.
Nangeli, brought to life effectively by Kannada actress Kayadu Lohar, is another highlight of the movie. Other notable performances include those of Chemban Vinod Jose as Kayamkulam Kochunni, the robber who steals from the rich to feed the poor; Anoop Menon as the Maharaja of Travancore; Sudev Nair as Padaveedan Nambi; Deepti Sati as Savithri and Poonam Bajwa as Maharani, among others. Vinayan’s son Vishnu Vinay also has essayed a key role.
The technical aspects of the movie are also exceptional. In fact, ‘Pathonpatham Noottandu’ is a cut above the rest of the period films released recently. Art direction by Ajayan Chalissery transports the audience to the nineteenth century and the cinematography by Shaji Kumar captures the beauty of Travancore of those days.
The background score by Tamil musician Santhosh Narayanan is engaging and M Jayachandran’s music which accompanies the dances is a bonus.
Produced by Gokulam Gopalan under the banner of Gokulam Movies, ‘Pathonpatham Noottandu’ has V C Praveen and Baiju Gopalan as co-producers. The story and script, also by Vinayan, bring focus on a historical character without the clutter of VFX, which has been the bane of many movies of this genre.