[ Remitha brings up the lighter side of the Oh-So-Serious-70 MM Movie making and the grandeur of Padayottam (1982) ]
When The Count of Monte Christo, Alexander Dumas’ sweeping tale of love, betrayal, revenge and eventually forgiveness, was adapted for the Malayalam audience, the result was a melting pot of the international kind. From sartorial ‘elegance’ to home décor, what ended upon the screen was a potpourri of colour and pageantry with influences drawn from around the world.
You see, there is something about a man, macho enough to go about in hot pink and periwinkle blue. And when there is a whole army of them, the machismo is simply overwhelming. Couple it with leather breastplates, fancy, frilly lungis, fencing swords and glowering sneers, and the stage is set for the testosterone to burn up the screen.
The glut is only redeemed by the style statement flaunted aboard the slave galley that Udayanan /Prem Nazir is sold to, betrayed by his own brother. But then, like they say, all’s fair in love and war, and the lusturous Lakshmi/Parvathykutty was merely a pawn the plotters used to turn brother against brother. The proverbial carrot so to say, with which the scheming villain played by Govindankutty and his henchman Kammaran/Mammootty nudge the wishy washy Devan/Madhu in the ‘right’ direction.
While the ‘slave drivers’ go trouser less, sporting executioner’s headgears, the nasty captain wears something that looks like a rooster costume. Weird head comb and all— now, now, wouldn’t want to leave any doubts as to who the cock of the walk is would we? Oh, and did I mention the leather gear, whips, handcuffs, branding irons and dancing girls in strips of ribbon? Maybe there were blindfolds too😉
Udayanan lives through hell on the galley, till his day of redemption. A revealed secret treasure and a bloody mutiny later, Udayanan is now Thampan, the man with the ‘floating palace,’ oodles of money, the power which comes with it, a ravaged face, haunted eyes and burning revenge in his heart, who returns to Kolathiri Desam to extract his pound of flesh. Predictably, no one, not even his brother recognizes him, except of course for the woman he loves and had hoped would be waiting around for him.
It looks like he stopped by in China en route on a shopping spree to revamp his depleted wardrobe. And so now all he dons is a flowing scarlet robe with a Chinese dragon emblazoned on it. In what could be seen as a doff to the original Count, his robe sports a high ‘Count collar’. And in keeping with the dragon motif, there is a large dragon adorning the wall behind Thampan’s ‘throne’ too, in his floating palace. What’s with the Feng Shui?
Speaking of motifs, the imagery of chess runs through the movie and we have the famous chess song and dance sequence with human chess pieces running around on the gigantic board in an enthusiastic game of chess. And this is where the Producer Appachan arranges for a nice reunion of his historic finds – Sankar, Poornima Jayaram and Mohanlal (back then that was the pecking order), fresh from their runaway hit debut. And contrary to his debut, here we find a nicer Mohanlal who appears as… wait for it… here it comes… Mammootty’s son!
And Sankar seems to have a penchant for the official battle garb of the Redcoats.
Well, things run their course, revenge is wreaked, shattering secrets are revealed, sins are forgiven and finally Udayanan/Thampan walks away into the sunset, still a broken man, channeling Abraham Lincoln as the words ‘With malice towards none’ roll on to the screen.