Speaking to Silverscreen India a day before the release of the film, Ani, who made his directorial debut with the romantic comedy Ninnila Ninnila earlier this year, said, “I am nervous. Given all the hype around Marakkar and the National awards it won, I hope people don’t watch it and get underwhelmed. Because when you have so much expectations, you also have the tendency to get underwhelmed by what you see.”
The pan-Indian historical period war drama, which released worldwide on Thursday on 4,100 screens with 16,000 shows per day, was touted to be one of the most expensive films from the Malayalam industry. Headlined by actor Mohanlal and helmed by director Priyadarshan, Marakkar is produced by Antony Perumbavoor through Aashirvad Cinemas.
The film, which won three awards at the 67th National Film Awards for Best Feature Film, Best Costume Design and Best Special Effects, narrates the story of Kunjali Marakkar IV, the last of the Malayali naval leaders deployed by the Zamorin of Calicut to fight in the war against the Portuguese in the 16th century.
Priyadarshan and Ani collaborated on Marakkar’s screenplay.
Speaking about how it all began, Ani said he started off by assisting Priyadarshan and worked with him until Oppam (2016). “After that film, I started to pitch my own stories to different people. Around the same time, Priyadarshan was also planning Marakkar. His office is like a second home to me and I keep visiting all the time. Sometime in 2018, during one of my visits, he said that he was planning something big and exciting. He told me it was about an actual person, Kunjali Marakkar, who was like a pirate and later became a naval commander. Given my own interest in pirates, I asked if I could write it with him, and he agreed.”
“It is fun working with him; it was a very different process, very disciplined. He was open to suggestions and the writing process was very spontaneous. He treated me like an equal and made sure my ideas were incorporated. The pre-production work on the film was extensive,” Ani added.
Asked how the screenplay was adapted to accommodate so many characters, Ani said, “Except for two or three fictional characters, the rest of them were drawn from real-life people who were part of the history. A lot of these characters are described in songs and literature, some in paintings. But some of them had to be fictionalised to an extent since we had only limited facts on them.”
The writer noted that his favourite character is Arjun Sarja’s Anandan.
Speaking about the casting process, Ani said that each character dictated the choice of actor. “For example, Mangattachan (portrayed by Hareesh Peradi) was said to be one of the greatest army chiefs of Zamorina. When you have characters with such a legacy and prominence, you have to choose actors who can pull it off.”
Marakkar’s inception dates back to the 90s, just after Priyadarshan had completed Kaalapani (1996). Late screenplay writer T Damodaran, who wrote that film, was supposed to write the screenplay of Marakkar as well. “The seeds for this film were sowed about 20 years back. But they couldn’t get the budget to make a film of this magnitude. The technology to realise it on screen also did not exist then,” said Ani.
Adding that Damodaran had given about 20-30 books to Priyadarshan for research, he continued, “However, each book had different version of the story. So the biggest challenge was to create a coherent story from the common facts existing in all the literature. Only certain incidents that coincided in all the literature and paintings were kept intact in the story, while the rest were fictionalised. For instance, Keerthy’s costumes were created by referring to Raja Ravi Varma paintings, while the weapons were made by referring to gaming visuals,” he explained. “The main challenge was to create a world that feels like it existed but probably didn’t in exactly the way it is depicted.”
The writers adopted a linear screenplay for Marakkar keeping in mind that the film is intended for audiences beyond Kerala as well. “We needed to make people understand who this person is and where he is coming from. The film begins from his childhood and narrates events sequentially until his death. It is a biographical drama with fictional elements, primarily told from Kunjali Marakkar’s perspective. However, there are a few crucial scenes included which Marakkar would not have known about directly,” said Ani, adding that the team worked on the screenplay for about 5-6 months.
The filmmaker-writer said his biggest takeaway from the experience was the confidence he has gained. Besides this, he also learned people/celebrity management since there were about 30-40 big personalities on the sets.
“The way it all came together, bringing together so many people and portraying so much information on screen, was the most impressive part,” he concluded.