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Exclusive! Priyadarshan: My conviction is in the emotional thread of Marakkar rather than on its grandeur

The director of the magnum opus Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham, which has Mohanlal in the lead, talks about confusion about the movie’s release platform, its historical characters and more

  • Sanjith Sidhardhan

Last Updated: 09.21 AM, Nov 30, 2021

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Exclusive! Priyadarshan: My conviction is in the emotional thread of Marakkar rather than on its grandeur
Priyadarshan, Mohanlal and Manju Warrier

A wait of almost 25 years will culminate on December 2 for director Priyadarshan. The filmmaker was first interested in the idea to make a movie on the Zamorin naval chief Kunjali Marakkar IV in 1996 when the late scriptwriter T Damodaran pitched him a story after Kaalapani. But since then, he has had to wade through troubled waters owing to lack of budget, multiple movies on the subject, the COVID-19 pandemic and lately, a confusion about its platform of release. But now, he’s ready for the world to see his magnum opus, which has already won the National Award for Best Feature Film this year.

In an exclusive interview with OTTplay, the filmmaker tells us about his state of mind ahead of the release of the Mohanlal-starrer, the historical characters in the movie and more.

Finally, Marakkar is set to release. But again, there was this whole confusion about whether it will release on OTTs or theatres the past month.

There was an uncertainty on when the theatres would reopen in Kerala and so the producers said that they couldn’t hold the movie for long, as huge amounts of investment were involved and the pressure of interest was getting worse. When the theatres reopened, the exhibitors weren’t ready for any kind of share divisions and so there were arguments about that. Also, there was this doubt that even if theatres reopen, will people come to the cinema halls? The fear factor was there. So, all of these confused the producers. But, I think it’s become a record now. For six days, there isn’t a seat available in theatres for reservation.

It's a massive film made on a huge budget and even went on to win multiple National Awards. It’s a film that you had been planning since 1996. So, what is your state of mind right now, days ahead of its release?

I am convinced about the emotional thread of Marakkar rather than its grandeur. That’s what is going to appeal to the audience. The massive scale in which it is mounted, the technical perfection and other factors are all just bonuses. I am depending on my screenplay instead of everything else.

Apart from Kunjali Marakkar IV, the movie also has a host of historical figures such as Chandroth Panicker (Suniel Shetty). It’s conjecture whether Panicker existed in the same period as Kunjali Marakkar IV. So, how were the characters selected?

The Kolathiri Panickers existed during the Zamorin’s reign. So, while the confusion is justified, most of the characters in the film lived in that era. I am not sure if they lived in the same time as Kunjali Marakkar IV because I couldn’t find too much about him in history.

Also, the Chandroth Panicker in Mamamgam and Marakkar are different. There could have been two Panickers because those days, the families used to repeat the names. I have done it too, Kalyani is my grandmother’s name. So, it’s a system that used to be followed in North Kerala. The grandson used to have the grandfather’s name.

Also, the man who founded the Zamorin empire was Mangattachan. It’s mentioned that (poet) Poonthanam Nambudiri had met him and he believed that it was Sri Krishnan. There was a man who was the main general of the Zamorin army and for the movie’s story, I have shown that he has two sons. So, Marakkar is a mix of history and fiction.

The film is driven by veterans such as yourself and Mohanlal, but it also has a young team behind and in front of the camera such as Siddharth Priyadarshan, Ani IV Sasi, Pranav Mohanlal, Keerthy Suresh, Kalyani Priyadarshan and Ashok Selvan. How much did that help in the making of the film?

It helped immensely. It’s a story that spans decades. While Mohanlal plays Kunjali Marakkar IV, we also show the younger version of his character through Pranav. Those scenes have given a different look to the movie and enabled the participation of people of two generations.

How delighted were you that your son Siddharth won the National Award for Special Effects for his debut film and that too for a movie you had directed?

Basically, I didn’t see any excitement on his face when he first heard the news or when he accepted the award. He’s not a person who gets excited; he hardly talks. I know that he is happy he got it. But in this case, the father is more thrilled than the son. It is also historic for a father and a son to win the National Award, so there is nothing more to ask from God.

You had said that the success of your previous projects gives you the confidence to make bigger films. What will Marakkar’s success mean to the Malayalam film industry, which has already been in the spotlight in the past year due to the quality of the movies that were streaming on OTTs during the pandemic?

I think Malayalam films’ exposure will increase and the market of our films will become larger. Naturally, we get to spend more money to make Malayalam movies. If our films can have a pan-Indian appeal, it automatically benefits the industry. Movies like Marakkar help forward that cause. Moreover, people will be aware that we have an industry that is capable of making movies on par with international standards. We pulled off this film within Rs 100 crore and in 100 days.

What’s surprising is that when a behemoth like Marakkar is set to hit theatres, you have turned your focus to a small film – Appatha – which has Urvashi in the lead. Is that something that you enjoy more?

I actually enjoy doing small films more. It’s not the money that matters; the moment you get excited about doing something, you do it – be it small or big. It’s also great working with Urvashi after 28 years. She has become much better than what she was. The experience has made her a much polished and stronger actor.

What’s the status of Hera Pheri 3?

I am not directing that. However, I am working on another script with Akshay Kumar. We might start shooting it in August 2022.

You are also directing two segments for the Netflix anthology based on MT Vasudevan Nair’s stories. One of them has you teaming up with Mohanlal again.

I have finished directing one segment. I have one more left, but I will do it only after Marakkar’s release.

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