1921 to Thuramukham: Malayalam period films that came before Malaikottai Vaaliban

All that is known about 'Vaaliban' so far, in the words of its director Lijo, is that it is a period film which demanded someone of Mohanlal’s gravitas.
Mammootty in '1921'
Mammootty in '1921'YouTube / Saina Movies
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Two days before the release of Malaikottai Vaaliban, a Mohanlal film much looked forward to since he is tying up with maverick filmmaker Lijo Jose Pellissery, we go back to a few other period movies which have come out in Malayalam and created a few ripples. All that is known about Vaaliban so far, in the words of Lijo, is that it is a period film which demanded someone of Mohanlal’s gravitas. 

1921 (1988) - This retelling of the Mappila Lahala of 1921 by IV Sasi has Mammootty play the lead fictional character of Khader. In the film, Mammootty, playing a Muslim bullock cart driver, and Suresh Gopi, a revolutionary from a privileged Hindu caste family, join the team of Variyan Kunnathu Kunjahammed Haji, leader of the Mappila Lahala (Malabar Rebellion), in his fight against the British rule. 

Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha (1989) - In this adaptation of a story from the famed medieval ballads of Kerala (called vadakkan paatukal), writer MT Vasudevan Nair, as his ways are, portrays the characters in a new light. In MT’s take, the character of ‘Chathiyan Chandu’ (Chandu, the betrayer) is written as a brave, misunderstood warrior, forever in love with his cousin Unniyarcha, one of the rare women fighters celebrated in ballads. The songs of the film and Mammootty’s loud retorts as Chandu, when he speaks to Unniyarcha’s children, are still popular, 35 years after the film’s release.

Thalappavu (2008) - Prithviraj plays Comrade Joseph in the film, an adaptation of the real life story of Naxal Varghese, an activist who spoke up for the rights of Adivasis in Wayanad in 1960s, and the circumstances of his death, later revealed by a repentant police constable, P Ramachandran Nair. This debut in direction by actor Madhupal was well-received for its making.  

Pathonpatham Noottandu (2022) - Director Vinayan, in this film, tells the story of the renaissance hero, Arattupuzha Velayudha Panicker, who fought for the rights of the oppressed caste people in 19th century Travancore. Siju Wilson played the role with surprising agility, riding horses and fighting with swords like a trained professional. The film portrayed many discriminatory practices of the time, including slavery and forbidding women of the lowered castes to cover their upper bodies. 

Read: Pathonpatham Noottandu celebrates Velayudha Panicker, Kerala’s unsung historical hero

Thuramukham (2023) - Acclaimed filmmaker Rajeev Ravi recreates in painful detail a Kochi of the 1940s and 50s, when a draconian system of paying labourers was practised in the harbour. Coins called chappa were thrown into the air and workers were made to fight for it to claim their right to work for the day. Nivin Pauly, Joju George, Arjun Ashokan, Poornima Indrajith and Nimisha Sajayan played the lead characters. 

Read: Rajeev Ravi’s Thuramukham is a densely packed period drama which has its moments

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