Padayottam, (Military Advance / Military Assault ), unlike its Anglicized pasty synonym, carries with it a churning, lethal, powerful force of dynamism, more like a virtual, deadly juggernaut promising fury, death and destruction. N Govindankutty, in his inspired screenplay from Dumas‘ The Count of Monte Cristo, ingeniously packs it all under the weary, steely visage of a lone being, back from the dead.Its a one-man revenge-machine, and unlike its parent story, the stakes are higher, much higher. Also, the primary emotions are vengeance and justice. Hope, mercy and forgiveness which seemed to have been buried along with the ‘former life’ of Udayan Thamburan ( Prem Nazir) thankfully appears for a crucial moment and disappears forever. Even if you take the list of the costume dramas aka screen adaptations from the Vadakkan Pattukal that came out of Navodaya ( and Udaya for that matter), this walked the fine line between the clunky, kitschy opulence and a unique story line that actually engaged you.
Padayottam, the movie was, for its time, a celluloid celebration of grandeur – the biggest starcast of the times in a costume drama played out on the biggest screen of the times ( a technical marvel of those times ) – how more superlative can you get ? Speaking of the technical aspect of the movie ( the ingeniously processed 70mm film of our own, a first for India ), I was able to clarify much of the nagging doubts on that aspect from the Director of Cinematography of the film, Sri Ramachandra Babu, one of those ‘quiet’ revolutionaries, ( and a wizard at his craft ) and he happily send across a lot of archival details which I have shared in a separate post, here. There was also the maverick genius, J Williams who pitched in with his crafty, ingenious solutions for the ‘action scenes’ and captured them for posterity, which is also discussed here.
Padayottam was also the first movie (?) I guess ( please correct me if I am wrong here) to have the technical aspect of the film woven into the title, as a part of the film title itself ! Navodaya followed the practise for My Dear Kuttichathan too, with the 3D aspect embedded along with the film title.
Padayottam was clearly a Prem Nazir film, I mean, he owned the screen. But the marked difference was that never before, or actor had he been presented in such a manner in a ‘period’ drama wreaking vengeance in the way Padayottam showed you. That was ‘fundamentally refreshing’, at least for me. .
So, as the lights dimmed and the special, extended audio tracks with custom speakers roared to life for the first time on August 6, 1982, for our very own 70mm spectacle, this was what was narrated onscreen.
Prince Udayan ( Prem Nazir in leathers), younger nephew to the king of the provincial Kolathiri Nadu, ruled by the ageing Kolathiri Raja ( Thikkurissy Sukumaran Nair ) is out on a ‘sit-rep’, along with his trusted bosom-pal Moidootty ( Sathar ). The battle against the marauding Kodumalakoottam – vandals ganged up under the ferocious Kungkan ( Ceylon Manoharan ) has been giving the Kolathiri army hell since the past six days, and they seem to be almost decimated. Kungkan can almost taste victory and ransom but the wizened abd battle-hardy Commander-in-Chief Vayanadan Gurukkal ( GK Pillai) rouses them for a final assault. He does after his second-in-command Kammaran ( Mammootty in leathers ) questions his authority and the sense in prolonging this losing battle. The Chief can sense treason and berates him, but in the next few minutes, in a perverse twist of fate, Kammaran gets his ‘revenge.’ The C-in-C is mortally wounded and taken inside, where he hastily scribbles out a note expressing his suspicions on Kammaran’s loyalty, lest he fail to make it alive. But Kammaran, manages to intercept it right inside the tent, murders the C-in-C and keeps it away for ‘future reference.’ The note fortunately, only mentions sedition in the high ranks but does not mention any name.The retreating army by now has won the battle but is shocked to find their C-in-C dead of his wounds. It is Kammaran who breaks the sad news to the Prince.
The victorious army returns home. Kolathiri is safe for the moment but one never knows. The young Prince can’t wait to meet his elder brother Devan ( Madhu), the perceived heir to the throne, a man of letters and of a fickle heart. There is also the love of his life Parvathy Devi ( Lakshmi in silk and tears), who also holds a secret place of adulation, unknown to her, in the elder prince’s heart, but like his demanour, its quiet. But Kammaran has his doubts. The elated Raja announces prince Udayan to take over the throne. The elder Devan feels almost relived. He can, now, be with his academic pursuits and marry the woman of his dreams, while his young brother takes on the heavy responsibility. But, deep within the palace walls, conspiracy and anger is rife, and simmering.
Perumana Kurup, the royal treasurer is bristling with rage. He expected the meek and pliable Devan to be the natural heir to the throne but this called for more machinations to make his favorite, Kammaran, to the Royal Seat. Kammaran is equally perturbed, but is consoled. Opportunities will present itself, all one has to do is wait. The crown prince, meanwhile can’t wait to spend some quality time with the love of his life. he also feels it to be the right time to present the ‘case’ to his elders, which includes his elder brother, of their life together.Perumana kurup almost walks in on the two lovebirds at the local temple festival, and files it away for future use.
Devan’s secret love gets a well-aimed, hard kick in the face with the families coming together for the grand wedding of the crown prince and Parvathi Thamburatti, and with one day left for the royal union, the Devious Duo hit upon a plan to remove the prince and instate Devan as the king in one clever move. The Kodumalakoottam has regrouped again and is wreaking havoc at the borders of the province. The crown Prince doesn’t even think twice to rush to the border much to the consternation of the entire well-wishers. But Devan will have none of it, his inexperience not withstanding, and a ‘concerned’ Kammaran agrees to accompany him, managing to poison his mind enroute, eliciting a silent affirmation in having his ‘traitor of a brother’ punished. It isn’t soon that a ‘message’ is received from the battle front mentioning Kongkan and his gang has had a change of heart and wants a truce agreement, a final settlement of gold and a royal pardon signed, only by Prince Udayan. He leaves for the battle front for the Final Settlement, ransom, and rides straight into an ambush. Captured, bound and gagged, he is sold off to the deep-sea renegade pirates, specifically to the Pirate-with-No-Name ( Achenkunju in spike-hair, leather micro-skirts ). Thus starts the second phase of Udayan’s eventful life.
Showing remarkable defiance to the Pirate leader’s authority, remarkable restraint to the 90′s style ‘cabaret’ by the on-board beauties, and throwing caution to the winds in fraternizing with other prisoners, he meets Kunjali (Nellikode Bhaskaran), the faithful Man Friday to the greatest diamond trader of the Malabar coast Ali Raja ( Balan K Nair in a thawb, ghutra and the perfect cocky sneer to go with it ). Kunjali, emaciated, a shadow of his former ferocious self and at death’s door shares with Udayan, a similar tale of deceit and ambush which killed Ali Raja and destroyed his family, save for his daughter whom he has cleverly ensured a secure life. Surprisingly, the evildoers are the same – Kungkan and his hordes, and Perumana Kurup. There is also the island which Kunjali shares the location where Ali Raja has stashed away his life’s fortunes. All he asks for is revenge. After all, that’s the only emotion that helps keep Udayan alive in the hellhole.
Kunjali passes away-there is a mutiny on board the slave ship in the dead of the night and in the ensuing bloody battle, The Spiked One and almost all his crew are killed. Udayan is free. The dawn breaks. Its a new beginning. The narrative shifts to Kolathiri Nadu, and a majestic ‘Floating palace’ that sets anchor across from the Raja’s palace, on the river. The whole province is above themselves with excitement. Rumors fly fast. Some say its a millionaire from the Persian lands, “even beyond !”, suggest others. But everyone agrees on one aspect, whoever owns the flotilla had to be rich beyond even the Raja’s imagination, and by virtue, power.
The new ‘Persian trader’ surveys a Kolathiri Nadu that seems like a pale ghost of its once-bounden riches. The ruler of the land, Devan, married to Parvati, now sees the future of his lineage and the land in the crown prince Chandru (a lean, haggard Shankar). The crown prince has his best friend in Kamaran’s son Kannan ( an equally raw Mohanlal ) – who are practically thick as thieves in everything. Udayan takes a ride around the countryside, visits his old manor, now in ruins, comes to know that his family was forcefully evicted and his mother died a painful death. His dear comrade Moidutty is dead and long gone, but Moidutty’s sister, little Ayseha, another one from his heart’s neighborhood, is now grown up and looks at him with hazy, forlorn eyes. Does his face and the burning eyes remind her of someone from years past ? She just can’t seem to put her finger on it. The Persian Trader, his ‘beautiful daughter’ along with his anchored floating palace has by now become the favorite topic of discussion in Kolathiri Nadu. But vengeance has already unsheathed its flaming sword.
Udayan comes to know about the Royal Sceptre and the Crown Jewels missing since the assassination of Kolathiri Raja and has a deep suspicion that it would be in the Royal Treasurer’s possession. He surmises he would be in a bit of a bind as he has been unable to sell it as the new King has by now declared it stolen from the palace. Also, years on, the two fellow-conspirators seem to disagree more and resentment is now the favorite emotion amongst them.The King, Devan, is merely a pawn in their scheme of things in the impoverished Province. The ‘Persian Trader’ sends/spread word about his willingness to buy anything in antique jewelery and Perumana Kurup bites it, hook, line and sinker. They decide on a secret rendezvous for the trade-off, but not before the ‘Persian Trader’ has got the entire population around in the dark, waiting, as witness to the treachery.
The scenes that follow after being caught by the people, as an ashamed, terrified, angry and scared-of-the-Royal-wrath Perumnana Kurup tries to wiggle free in front of the King, protesting his innocence, should be one of the finest moments in the onscreen career of N Govindan Kutty as an actor ! You just got to watch it. His nemesis comes at the hand of the Princess Laila (Poornima Jayram), who appears to testify at the trial to reveal her identity as Ali Raja’s daughter, about his involvement in her family’s murder.
Princess Laila also manages to make prince Chandru fall helplesslyin love with her. With Perumana Kurup out of the picture, Udayan now trains his guns on Kammaran. And it isn’t soon that an opportunity presents itself.The old war-horse with the King’s tacit approval, approaches the Persian Trader for his generosity in filling the state’s almost-empty coffers, as a long term loan. Udayan agrees, but on one condition – he would want Kammaran to become King. It doesn’t take long for the rusty wheels to whir in action and he has a plan to bump off the King. Well, an old plan that always worked. In the mean time, Prince Chandru drops on his own , to check the possibility of financial aid for the state and Udayan agrees. Chandru’s anger is rising. The King had just been double-crossed by his Senapati. Unperturbed, Kammaran recycles the same ‘message’ to the King that the Kodumalakkoottam wants to enter into a final peace treaty where they would take the money and will go away for ever, but they need the King in person for the treaty ! But the ambush just got a new script along the way.
The Commander-in-Chief outruns his own band of soldiers who give chase, flees into the forest where his dutiful son finds him and prepares for his last stand, while enabling his father flee furthur. It isn’t soon that prince Chandru appears along with the soldiers and the thicker-than-thieves are engaged in a mortal swordfight, and end up Chandru killing Kannan. But Kannan has mentioned something to his dear friend in his final moments that enrages Chandru, who is now beyond himself, as he rushes to confront the ‘double-crossing Persian trader’, and challenge him to a Duel to Death. Little does he know that he is about to endanger his very life. The smiling Udayan, calmly accepts the challenge and the matter seems of little consequence to him. But the Queen Mother knows the danger that has befallen on her son and pays a visit to the Floating palace in the middle of the night.
Does the once-love-of-her-life listen to her heartfelt plea to save her son’s – the crown prince of the land’s, life ? What happens to Kammaran in the end? Does he get his comeuppance like Perumanna Kurup ? What about the King himself ? Does he recognise his younger brother at some point? What happens then ? How does the crown prince react to his father’s treachery that cost his uncle his youth ? And above all, there is a dark secret that is going to shatter the very being of Udayan’s life, that is known to the King and the Queen. How does Udayan react when he come to know that ? I sincerely recommend you watch the movie to find that out.
So, is there a copy of the movie available commercially ?
Yes. You could get the VCD here.