One year of 'Pulimurugan': How Mohanlal pulled off a box office miracle despite flaws

'Pulimurugan' was the first Malayalam film to make over Rs 100 crore at the box office.
One year of 'Pulimurugan': How Mohanlal pulled off a box office miracle despite flaws
One year of 'Pulimurugan': How Mohanlal pulled off a box office miracle despite flaws
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“Chavittiyathaanu ningalude prashnamenkil ente nenjathu chavittikko.Ennittu aa thakkol ingottu thannekku. Ente lorry enikku venam!" 

(“If that kick is your problem, you can kick me on my chest. But please give me that key. I want my lorry”).

In Pulimurugan, this scene where Murugan (Mohanlal) realises that Kayikka (Sudheer Karamana) won’t give him back his lorry could have ended with two possibilities. One - just don't wait any more, directly attack all the men and get back your lorry. Second - try making a request, fold your hands, smile when all others laugh at you and resort to attack when there is no other way in sight.

The makers chose the second way, an old school technique that still works, which was one of the reasons why Pulimurugan clicked with the viewers.

On October 7 last year, when Pulimurugan released, many didn’t have the slightest clue on what was in store for the next few weeks. Pulimurugan was an instant success and brought back the kind of hysteria that was seen last in the Kerala box-office during Premam.

It pulled several families and elders to cinema halls after a long while. The most surprising sight was to see them even flocking for special midnight shows.

Pulimurugan went on to finally become the first Malayalam movie to collect 100 crores at the box office and ended up collecting a lot more than that magical figure.

To put into perspective how big a feat it was for a Malayalam movie to achieve this, we can take into account the number of screens that a big movie from our neighboring state gets. Pulimurugan released in 325 screens in India on its first day. However, a Tamil movie like Theri would get a lot more than that in Tamil Nadu alone. 

Pulimurugan was a far from perfect movie. It had designated actors to praise the lead character at various intervals which could get on your nerves after a while. Characters like Julie (Namitha) and Poongayi Sasi (Suraj Venjaramoodu) looked forced into the narrative and could have been easily done away with.

The movie even gained negative reviews from several quarters unlike Premam. However, as noted earlier, the movie still scored its points in its characterization of Murugan. The makers unleashed Murugan during the action scenes. But when he was not doing stunts, Murugan remained grounded and was a simple man who loved his brother and feared his wife.

This was in contrast to Mohanlal’s characters in mass movies, say Narasimham or Ravana Prabhu, which was likely to be the reason the character was accepted by families across the state.

Finally there was Mohanlal himself. The actor was 56 years old when he acted in the movie. He was overweight and did not have a physique that suited the role. But he made up for that with his energy and commitment, giving his all in for the movie’s action sequences. There were wires or perhaps even dupes, but the fact that we haven't seen him doing these stunts for over 3 decades played a great part in adding to the excitement.

Particularly the last 12 minute action sequence where director Vyshakh and action choreographer Peter Hein made good use of Mohanlal and Shaji Kumar’s camera work did make up for how the movie was sagging until then.

The ample time spent in the VFX department during the post-production work also showed.

Still, Pulimurugan might not have sold this volume of tickets had it released in another era than now. What favored Pulimurugan was the same aspect that featured in most of its negative reviews – that it stood far from realism.

During a period when Malayalam industry was reining in realistic cinema, perhaps an overdose of it, a group of cine-goers found a change by going back to the larger than life hero. We could argue that the success for such a mass action movie is not a healthy sign for meaningful cinema. But unlike in Tamil or Telugu, it had been a long time since lovers of the action genre saw something like this in Malayalam.

Mohanlal and the makers of Pulimurugan capitalised on it. Now it will be interesting to see when another Malayalam movie can cross the box office milestone set by Pulimurugan. Which genre would it be? Would it be action again? Would it be a movie by a younger actor like Dulquer Salmaan or Nivin Pauly? Or would it be Mohanlal again?

We never know. Because even when you tell Mohanlal that he has given Malayalam cinema’s box office its important milestones, from the movie that ran more than 365 days (Chithram) to its first 50 crore movie (Drishyam) and also 100 crore movie (Pulimurugan),  he will still say, "Not everything, not yet”.

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