The epic historical drama, which is directed by Priyadarshan, won this year’s National Award for Best Feature Film
Mohanlal and Priyadarshan’s films are always worth the wait, but Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham has got the audience holding their breath for over a year and a half now. The magnum opus, which was initially scheduled for release in March 26, 2020, has been delayed multiple times due to the surging COVID-19 cases in the country. However, the anticipation for the film has not abated one bit.
For one, the movie is touted to be the most expensive Malayalam ever made, with a budget reportedly touching Rs 70 crore. Most of the movie was shot in the Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad where Baahubali art director Sabu Cyril had erected huge sets of ancient warships and palaces for the movie’s shoot. The team had created old mast ships and Portuguese war galleys for the movie and the production design in itself was a massive undertaking. Four life-size ships were built for the shoot the war sequences for the film.
The cast of the movie is another added attraction. Apart from Mohanlal, who plays the lead character of Kunjali Marakkar IV, the film also has Manju Warrier, Arjun Sarja, Prabhu, Suniel Shetty, Kalyani Priyadarshan, Pranav Mohanlal, Keerthy Suresh, Nedumudi Venu, Ashok Selvan, Siddique, Mukesh and Suhasini Maniratnam in pivotal roles.
What’s the story of Kunjali Marakkar?
Marakkars is the title given to the naval chieftains of the Zamorins or Samoothiris, who ruled Kozhikode, Kerala. The upcoming film is reportedly set between 1505 and 1601, with Fazil playing the first naval chief named Kutyali Marakkar. According to history, there were four Marakkars - Kutty Ahmed Ali, Kutty Pokker Ali, Pattu Marakkar and Mohammed Ali. While all four Marakkars together had served for 80-odd years, Priyadarshan's film will mostly focus on Kunjali Marakkar IV’s reign in the last 12 years as he and his group of sailors fought against the invading Portuguese troops while dealing with the treacherous Zamorins.
Marakkars were initially merchants who had offered their men and vessels to Zamorins to defend their coastal territory against the Portuguese. The Zamorins had initially appointed Marakkars, who have their roots in Arabia, to trounce Portuguese's attempts to take over the sea and not lose the monopoly of trading spices to the rival kingdom of Kochi. This led to naval warfare between the troupes for the best part of the 16th century till the Portuguese convinced the Zamorin king that Kunjali Marakkar IV was trying to take over his kingdom. This led to the two rivals joining forces to defeat Kunjali Marakkar IV.
About 40% of the movie is reportedly set at sea and the battle sequence of the film has been rated highly by those who have worked in the movie, including Suniel Shetty. Priyadarshan’s son Siddharth, who handled the VFX for the movie, won the National Award for Best Special Effects for the film, with the duo of Sujith Sudhakaran and V Sai being awarded the National Award for Best Costume Design. The team reportedly took 14 months of post-production to finally arrive at the VFX for the epic historical drama.
Is Mammootty in Marakkar?
Incidentally, before Priyadarshan and Mohanlal announced their film on Kunjali Marakkar IV, cinematographer Santosh Sivan and Shankar Ramakrishnan had also said they are planning to go ahead with their project with Mammootty in the lead. Priyadarshan had then given an ultimatum stating that if the other project doesn’t go on floors within the next 12 months, he would start work with his movie, which he had been first discussed about in 1996 when he, Santosh and Mohanlal had been shooting Kaalapani.
Interestingly, the first movie on Kunjali Marakkar released in 1967 and had Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair in the titular role. The film won the National Award for Best Feature Film in Malayalam that year.
Is Marakkar based on a true story?
Priyadarshan in earlier interviews said that during his team’s research for the film, he found that there were different versions of Markkar – for instance, the Europeans considered him a villain while the Arabs hailed him as God. But for the basic plotline of the Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham, the filmmaker relied on the thread of a story about Marakkar IV that he had read in his Class 3 text book and then fictionalised the rest. Veteran filmmaker IV Sasi’s son Ani has co-written the script of the magnum opus with Priyadarshan.
On playing Kunjali Marakkar IV, Mohanlal in an interview with Kochi Times in February 2020, said, “When foreign powers were trying to invade our land, he was at the forefront of resistance and that’s probably why he is regarded as the first Naval commander of India. He was an expert navigator and that’s why we have dubbed him the Lion of the Arabian Sea. I consider it a blessing to play a historic figure like him.” The actor also said that the team is dedicating the movie to the Indian Navy.
Incidentally, the film also has Chinese actor JayJ Jakkrit playing Marakkar’s sidekick Chinali. Legend has it that Kunjali Marakkar IV rescued Chinali from a Portuguese ship when he was young. Mohanlal’s son Pranav will be playing the younger version of Marakkar in the movie.
When will Marakkar release?
While two theatrical dates have already been announced for the movie since it was postponed last year, the film is yet to hit theatres. However, Priyadarshan had said that the team is willing to wait for theatres to reopen before releasing the movie.
The film’s overseas rights too have been sold for record prices and so, the team is also looking for a date when other countries, especially the Middle East, the US and Europe, open theatres at full capacity and not just Indian. In order to make up for revenue, theatres in Kerala have also currently guaranteed a 21-day run for Marakkar. The movie will be released in Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and Kannada. The makers also have plans to release the movie in English and Mandarin.