I know it doesn’t get cheesier than this. but just couldn’t help it I somehow felt that I really had to get my hands on this movie by Sasi Kumar and watch it this Onam. With the movie produced in the early 80′s, the color palette was another compelling reason, and of course another chance to see our leading men in tights ! Though Sreekumaran Thampi had directed and produced one called Thiruvonam (1975), I doubt whether it had anything to do with Kerala’s favorite myth.
Knowing him, he would have been metaphorically speaking. (Note to self : Need to watch that too.) I think this was one of the rare movies where you saw MG Soman in a mythological role. Were there any? Please do write in. Anyways, the story about King Mahabali , which you can read in detail here, has been given the Sasi Kumar treatment of corny dialogues, stilted situations and everything that comes with the “Mythological production” package. Produced under the Sree Murugalaya Films banner, the movie had its Screenplay written by Palani Swami and Dialogues by the one and only N Govindankutty. The best part of the movie? MG Soman as Narada ! .
On screen, its the King’s birthday and the 24th anniversary of his becoming King and its business as usual. A woman wants him to help her save her husband from the clutches of death, held captive at the borders, and the King sets to personally see to that without batting an eyelid.This, much to the consternation of his Raj Guru (TG Ravi!), the royal patriarch (Adoor Bhasi) or even the crown prince (Raj Kumar).
You could smell something fishy right away, as this comes following yet another ‘whining session’ at MahaVishnu’s celestial sanctum, as the Devas come in for the millionth time, expressing their displeasure about him patronizing an Asura king, without precedent. The Preserver of the Universe wearily explains why but they want him removed. They are further incensed that he has now conquered the heavens, their celestial abode too, after Earth. But he rules fair, just and in righteousness. It’s disorienting, so unlike an Asura king !
Obviously, it is a test. The Devas are once again astounded at the integrity and sense of duty of King Mahabali. Narada, who ‘appears’ on the scene, even expresses his wish that the king might one day even rule Indraloka, and his throne.The modest king disagrees. At Indraloka, meanwhile, the dance and revelry continues with a dance recital by the Rambha, Urvasi, Thilothama trinity. It was refreshing to see a very different Indra, CI Paul, if you please, another great actor who never got his due.
There is a dance sequence ( wasn’t it obvious) by the celestial seductress trinity in the court of Indra, and I guess this must be probably the last in the line of the mythological costume-drama dances in Malayalam cinema. I can’t, at this point, think of a later one. Regardless, I can see that Minai is going to be delighted.
Here is Swarangal, lyrics by Pappanamcode Lakshman, set to music by MK Arjunan, sung by Madhuri and Lathika.
Narada doesn’t waste time in informing Indra about this new shower of blessings bestowed upon Mahabali by MahaVishnu, and that even his throne is at stake if things go their way. Ever the fatalist, Indra is enraged, but the Sage has a plan.
Although Mahabali himself would never pose a threat, his son Bana, an ardent devotee of Siva, if ever wants it in himself to get his illustrious father the title of the ruler of Indraloka, then Indra doesn’t stand a chance. ‘Remove Bana‘, he says. Indra thinks that’s a very, very good idea. He plans to slay Bana at the Siva temple he frequents at the city outskirts, but Bana is a tough nut to crack. He also has his ‘Super Vest’ that saves him from any weapon-inflicted injuries. Indra flees. Nandini ( a very slim Unni Mary), the daughter of the temple guard who was decapitated by Indra for resisting him is taken by the Prince to the palace. A visibly moved King also promises to build a life-size statue of the temple guard and have it installed at the temple courtyard, the entrance ramparts to his kingdom, technically Kerala.
Mahabali gladly takes her in, so does Vindhyavali (Jayabharathi as the Queen ) and becomes a part of the royal family.There is a battle of ideologies that is gaining critical mass in the inner council. The King is a peacenik, and so does the royal patriarch, but the Rajguru has other plans. With the help of the young Prince, he wants to put the Asuras supreme, once and for all. He has had enough. At the statue installation ceremony, the Prince does something that he says would make this instance of injustice stay eternal in every Asura’s mind, make them aware of the injustice meted out to them by the Devas and keep the ‘Fire of Retribution’ burning inside.
He chops off the statue’s head. The King is enraged. The incident is also promptly reported to Indra by sage Narada. The bristling, lord of the heavens summons the gods of fire, water and wind and order them to wreak havoc on Mahabali’s kingdom, make him begging for celestial assistance on his knees looking at his ravaged land. The King opens out his royal granaries to his famine-stricken subjects, and also decides to pray to his favorite deity, MahaVishnu. The prince, meanwhile, sets off to pray to his favorite deity, Siva, check what his Lord would want to say on this. Sage Narada, who coincidentally drops in to check in on Mahabali, advises him to erect a statue of Indra and perform pujas to propitiate him. The efforts bear fruit. The land is blessed with rain again and the king is mighty pleased.The crown prince gets back and is exasperated to find his arch foe’s statue in the premises. He chops off its hand, and this time, the King loses it. The father sends his son to the dungeons. The heartbroken mother pleads her son’s case to the sovereign who relents as Nandini puts in a personal request. The prince’s ego is hurt and doesn’t take kindly to this generosity. But the royal couple is delighted at this new development of love. The young hearts are united by the King, after a bit of prodding and convincing. It doesn’t take long for them to break out into a song.
Here is Sougandhikangal, lyrics by Pappanamcode Lakshman, set to music by MK Arjunan, sung by Krishna Chandran and Vani Jayaram.
But it unfortunately stops at the serenade. The groom refuses to consummate the marriage till his vow to have his illustrious father proudly ensconced on Indra’s throne draws ire and fire from his mother, the Queen. She won’t have any of it. The Queen literally drags him to the wedding chamber only to find the bride missing. Indra has abducted her, in the guise of the prince, enticing him on a midnight sortie in his personal aircraft! Yes ! The one and only Pushpaka Vimana.
But Lord Siva intercepts them enroute, aware of his most famous devotee’s faith in him. He warns Indra and gets her back to his devotee, her husband.A bruised Indra goes wailing to MahaVishnu who offers a solution.Get immortal by churning Palazhi and getting the celestial nectar of immortality.But, there is a problem.They would need Asuras too, and for that they need Mahabali, their King’s consent. So off goes Indra, tail neatly tucked, sheepish and crawling into Mahabali’s court. The King happily agrees. The rajguru sees through the plan. The Prince is enraged. But the King’s word is final. They will join in, without any conditions.
This is the last straw. The Rajguru and the Prince offers a counter-suggestion to tide over the insult of returning empty-handed after the ‘churning’ – offer a Maha Yajna that lasts 12 years to propitiate MahaVishnu. A Yagna so intensive and powerful that MahaVishnu will have no alternative to offer him the throne of Indra.King Mahabali though apprehensive, agrees. Rajguru Shukracharya starts off the yagna, with Bana and his troops standing guard to the yagna shala. Narada conveys the same to Indra. A quaking Indra again orders the three forces of nature to wreak havoc at the yagna shala. Bana requests his favorite deity Siva to intervene. Lord Siva creates a protective shield over the yajnashala, which I found very cute, the depiction that is. The even-more-scared Indra goes wailing back again to Maha Vishnu. The Lord caves in and decides to put an end to this madness and appears on earth as the son of his ardent devotee couple, Kashyapa and Athidhi. He has 12 years to get his plan working. But Rajguru is already aware of this impending danger, and orders Bana, to kill the baby in Kashyapa’s hermitage, but its the Lord, remember. The couple is instructed to relocate to Sage Bharadwaj’s ashram. 12 years pass in a flash. the King is overwrought and overwhelmed in the last day of the Maha Yajna. The young Vamana grows up and is asked by the sage Bharadwaj to get him 3 paces of land as dakshina. The lad plans to go and get it granted by the King and appears at the yagna sala.
The young brahmin lad intercepts the King just before he steps in for the last rites to finish the yajna. The Rajguru Sukracharaya recognizes the lad and has this deep sinking feeling. He tries his best to prevent him from this act of generosity before the yajna is over. The King stands his ground. Sukracharya looks on despairingly at the King who just signed his own death warrant. With the first pace, the lad spans and traverses the earth, the second the heavens and asks King to grant him space for the third. The King gladly offers his head. The Lord sounds apologetic and benevolent at the same time as readies for the final act. Before banishing him to the dark netherworld, he is given permission to visit his kingdom once every year, and assures him that he would personally escort the King every time.
And so it goes, with every year. Though the screenplay drips of stilted melodrama and dialogues that at times border on amusing, on retrospect, its a fantastic slice of mythology that we need to know, that takes us one step closer to our roots and the land we live on. Socialist or not King Mahabali always stands as the best embodiment of civic administration that any human community can ever have, maybe authoritarian to some, but a working prototype for the philosophies of governance that followed centuries after. Enough of the flowery c**p.
Related : King Mahabali aka Maveli on Film