Appreciating Mollywood Milestones: Padayottam (1982)

“The sound of horses galloping flooded the theatres; sounds that could be traced as moving from the sides into the theatre screens, and the audience realised that they were part of something magical; something of epic proportions.”, the first time I heard about Padayottam was from my father, as he was lauding about the movie when he saw a clip from it on YouTube. Seems he saw the movie twice at Thrissur Ragam Theatre (Now Georgettan’s Ragam), one of the four theatres where the movie was released in 70mm along with 6 track audio and was floored by what he experienced there.

He talked animatedly and could recall dialogues like “Kaikal Viraykkunno Kammara…” & “Nomaanu Aarekkat Ambaadi Thambaan”, made iconic by Nazir’s legendary delivery. Seeing my father bubble with nostalgia, I grew curious to know what was so great about Padayottam and why it was a technical milestone. So I set about watching and then researching this awesome movie.

The Story

The story of the movie is inspired by, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, the story of an innocent man wrongly, but deliberately imprisoned and his brilliant strategy to seek revenge against those who wronged him. Heartening to see due credits given in the opening credits. But the screenplay by N Govindan Kutty ensures that the story is adapted to a Malayali audience keeping in mind the ‘Brahmaanda Chalachitram’ aspect and ensures space for visual spectacles.

The opening credits, with coloured negatives of Kalaripayattu and thumping background scores sets you up for something epic to come. The opening shots are of two men galloping across the screen and the 6 track starts playing its tricks with your mind; the sound seemingly travelling across the screen. You are introduced to the likes of Prince Udayan, played by Prem Nazir along with his brother from another mother Moithootty, played by Sathar (had it been shot today, multiple slo-mo shots of the hero riding the horse, riding across the horizon ending with a stylistic takedown of the enemy army).

Padayottam is the story of Prince Udayan, the successor to the Kolathiri kingdom, who is betrayed by his cousin Devan and is forced to go into exile. Years later Udayan returns to Kolathiri to take his revenge in the guise Aarekkat Ambadi Thamban.

Highlights

  • Prem Nazir’s performance as the vengeful hero is considered to be one of his best, put in the leagues of Iruttinte Athmavu and such, winning him critical and audience acclaim.
  • The movie also featured cast from the producer’s earlier industry hit, Manjil Virinja Pookkal with Shankar, Mohanlal, Poornima Jayaram in important roles. One Superstar played the son of the other in the movie (You Know Who)
  • Iconic scenes in the sea, showing ships and pirates were a rarity in Malayalam movies and added to the wow factor.
  • Iconic Malampuzha, Kava location with several scenes enacted with 1000+ junior artists, huge sets and spectacular dance sequences.
  • The scene post-interval shows the return of Udayanan as Aarekkatt Ambadi Thamban shows a floating fort in the water floating towards the Kolathiri Desam shot using a helicopter! A fucking fort, guys!
  • The alter-ego Aarekkat Ambadi Thamban and his Chinese  Feng Shui inspired palace interiors and costumes (don’t miss the dragon on the wall).
  • Iconic dance sequence on the floating fort at night, with dancers dressed up as black and white chess pieces and lyrics symbolising the carefully laid out plans/ traps by Thambaan.

    As reminisced by the cinematographer K Ramachandra Babu, “The chess dance sequence on a boat at night had around 30 dancers in the scene, apart from the crowd. The sky, river, the nearby hill and other details had to be visible. There was a palace on the hill and that also had to be lit up for the scene. We planned to shoot all the long shots during the  ‘magic hour’  But the work had to begin by afternoon. And we could take only one or two shots a day. So we used an additional camera and finished the long shots. But the result is visible in the movie.

Technical Leaps

The first indigenously produced 70mm movie with 6 track stereophonic effect, Padayottam immediately transported the audience into a viewing experience that was previously unknown to Malayalakkara.

You might ask, “Why 70 mm?”

The 70mm film offers a richer visual experience and extremely detailed images that are a joy to watch ideal for larger and wider screens.

“And why was it a big deal?”

The production costs were extremely high, with almost 10 times the usual production costs.  As described by K Ramachandra Babu, the cinematographer of Padayottam, while usually 70mm movies were shot using 65 mm camera and 65 mm film negative and printed on 70 mm film, the lack of availability of 65 mm cameras in India pushed Indian filmmakers to film movies in cinemascope format and then get them reprocessed to blow up to 70 mm.

And while the likes of movies like Sholay was 70 mm movie, all the post-processing was carried out overseas. But Padayottam, shot in cinemascope, was processed in Prasad Labs Chennai. So Padayottam was the first indigenous 70 mm movie in India.

This led to another challenge; when the negative shots in cinemascope are blown up,  they might lose clarity and sharpness. So even while shooting the movie, clarity and sharpness had to be ensured.

And curiously, we see this feature is highlighted as part of the movie logo, as part of the marketing strategy! Not sure if this was a trend back then, but it was followed by Navodaya Studios in My Dear Kuttichathan 3D.

The film’s other USP was its six-track stereophonic sound. Jijo and Appachan were adamant to provide the maximum immersive experience to the audience which made them opt for this audio experience.

The arrangement required 5 speakers behind the screen, one for each track and the 6th track connected to the side speakers; the 5 speakers ensure a sound arrangement corresponding to the position of the object in the screen while the sounds off the screen (Outfield/ Non-Diegetic Sounds) are played across the side speakers.

According to cinematographer KRB, the recording of effects itself took a whole month. All the six tracks had to be mixed properly to ensure the quality of sound in theatres. The test print was screened in a 70 mm theatre in Chennai to make sure it was perfect. The same print was screened in all the 4 releasing centres in Kerala in the presence of the Director, the Cinematographer, the Sound Engineer, and the Lab Technicians. Projection and sound systems were corrected in all the centres before releasing the movie. In Sree Padmanabha Theatre in Thiruvananthapuram, they had to replace the existing screen because it was not big enough!

Box-Office Response

A star-studded affair put on a grand canvas, the movie was released only in 4 theatres across Kerala – Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam, Thrissur, and Kozhikode – in the 70mm format (back then, Kerala boasted the largest number of 70 mm theatres in India.) on August 6, 1982. It was later released in cinemascope format across all theatres, and received good collections.

Although the recovery rate was slow, it became the highest-grossing Malayalam film of the time. 

The movie was nothing short of technical brilliance, and Jijo Punnoose and Navodaya Appachan went on to take Malayalam cinema to larger heights with the first 3D film that stunned audiences across the country.

You can watch this gem on MXPlayer.in or the MX Player app.

References:
Padayottam | The Magic Ana Machinery Of 70 MM
Padayottam (1982) | A Sketch In Vengeful Grey
Padayottam| In Conversation With Cinematographer K.Ramachandra Babu, ISC

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