When you choose such a list, it’s one of the toughest things to make choices. A few weeks back, I had to choose between Aboorva Sagotharargal and Michael Madana Kamarajan, and I chose the latter because of the cultural impact the movie. This week, I had to choose between Pulan Visaranai and Captain Prabhakaran. After careful and few discussions (thanks to Gopalakrishnan), I have chosen Captain Prabhakaran because it had an antagonist close to reality and also triggered the rise of Vijayakanth.
Captain Prabhakaran (1991)
It isn’t easy to make movies based on real-life people. Selvamani mastered this art but he slowly induced real-life characters into the movies. For instance, his first movie had a character based on the infamous murderer, Auto Shankar. In Captain Prabhakaran, he graduated to create a full-fledged villain character based on forest brigand Veerappan.
The movie is about an honest forest officer, Prabhakaran who is posted to Sathyamangalam, a notorious area controlled by Veerabhadran (played by Mansoor Ali Khan). He also wants to avenge the death of his friend Rajaraman (Sarathkumar). He scores small wins against Veerabhadran but finds that the Police Commissioner and District collector are co-conspirators with the criminal. The rest of the movie deals with how Prabhakaran fights Veerabhadran and the corrupt officials. Captain Prabhakaran had Vijayakanth, Sarath Kumar, Mansoor Ali Khan, Ramya Krishnan and Roopini in the lead. The movie was produced by Ibrahim Rowther and directed by RK Selvamani. Liyakath Ali Khan wrote the dialogues and Ilaiyaraaja score the music for the film.
Why is it so special?
- An action movie becomes significant only when it has a compelling antagonist. There is a reason why Hollywood scriptwriters take extra effort to make their antagonists stronger. You need Jai and Veeru to fight Gabbar Singh; you need to have a Joker to fight the Batman. Selvamani created one of the most menacing villain characters of Tamil cinema with Veerabhadran. The character was based on forest brigand Veerappan and characterisation were inspired by Gabbar Singh but the brutality Mansoor Ali Khan unleashes through his Veerabhadran is plain evil.
When Gabbar Singh would cut the hands, Veerabhadran would brutally slash the person to death. He rapes and murders at will just for the sadistic pleasure he gets out of it. Tamil cinema didn’t see such kind of extreme violence until then. There was no purpose to his madness, unlike Gabbar. That’s what made the character memorable. Mansoor Ali Khan in his first significant lead antagonist role sizzled on screen and is still remembered for that role.
- Selvamani should be appreciated for two things – impeccable casting and seamless screenplay. He went for relatively unknown faces for his antagonists and supporting characters. The screenplay flows like a river and never hits a snag. He had strong influences of spaghetti western movies but made sure the cultural ethos were preserved. Blending the story with a character based on a real-life criminal was a masterstroke.
- Vijayakanth was on a roll during those years. He had a slew of hits in different genres, but he got established in honest government officer roles through Chathriyan, Captain Prabhakaran and Maanagara Kaval. His screen presence and daredevilry provided the necessary image for the honest, righteous officer. It’s hard not to notice that he is seen only after 30 minutes into the movie as Selvamani takes his time to establish the characters and the background story but the introduction sequence is pure brilliance.
- The grandeur, level of detailing and technical brilliance of the movie are unimaginable. For instance, Veerabhadran’s den setup and the climax fight sequence were wonderfully picturised. Selvamani was a bold filmmaker, and he stood by his guts to create a movie of his choice.
- Selvamani had a lot of faith in his supporting actors. Ramya Krishnan and Livingston ( he was credited as Ranjan at that time) had stronger roles in the movie.
- Ilaiyaraaja’s Music is another masterclass. For example, he uses the Prabhakaran’s theme only when he takes charge against Veerabhadran. Analysing Ilaiyaraja’s music in a big star action vehicle like Captain Prabhakaran will help you understand how uncreative are current crop of music composers. His Aattamma Therottama rendered by Swarnalatha became a staple number in all dance competitions after that.
Why is it on the list?
- The movie boldly tackled a real-life story and blended it with the right dose of fiction. It has become a rarity in Tamil cinema. There are only a few directors who attempt such movies – AMR Ramesh was the other one who made movies on Veerappan and Ottrai Kan Sivarasan.
- Captain Prabhakaran redefined the idea of spaghetti western action thrillers in Tamil. Until then, the movies were cheap imitations of Hollywood flicks. Selvamani adapted instead of imitating spaghetti westerns
- The political significance of the film. Vijayakanth’s political ambitions were probably triggered at that time, and Captain became his official sobriquet.
- One of the biggest hits in Tamil cinema and cemented the place of Vijayakanth as a force to reckon.
RK Selvamani wanted to study movie making, but his father made him join Applied Mathematics. He scooted class every day and studied at the film institute. He joined as an Asst director with Manivannan and was looking for opportunities using his final project movie. He tried approaching Ibrahim Rowther (who was the manager for Vijayakanth), but he was wading off Selvamani.
To impress him, Selvamani created a portfolio of Vijayakanth photos superimposed on Hollywood action hero pictures. Rowther was looking to make a Hollywood style cop movie with Vijayakanth. And that’s how Selvamani ended up with Pulan Visaranai. Although Rowther wanted to do Pulan Visaranai, Vijayakanth had only night call-sheets. Pulan Visaranai was shot mostly in night effect, and it suited the story too.
- After Pulan Visaranai, G.Venkateswaran (GV) asked Selvamani to make a movie for him and offered him 25 Lakhs, but Selvamani was loyal to Rowther and Vijayakanth. He went back to make Captain Prabhakaran.He never shied away from making bold movies, and most of his movies had a real-life element. His Kutrapathrikkai on Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination stayed with the censor board for 13 years. It eventually made it to the silver screen in 2007 with substantial cuts. Except for Arasiyal and Makkal Aatchi, he didn’t make an impact after that
- Born as ESI Muhammad Meeran in Javvadhu Patti (near Ottanchathiram), Mansoor Ali Khan went to Mumbai (then Bombay) to do an acting course and also learnt Karate. He came to Chennai (then Madras) to join the movies. He had to struggle nine years before he got a break. He did a small role in Velai Kidachachu and was selected for Pudhu Nellu Pudhu Naathu. Later, he landed up with the role of a lifetime – Veerabhadran. He got into production and direction with “Rajadhi Raja Raja Kulothunga Raja Marthanda Raja Gambeera Kathavaraya Krishna Kamarajan”. Known to speak his mind in TV interviews and public functions, now he is active in film politics.
- Vijayakanth’s rise cannot be analysed without discussing the impact of Ibrahim Rowther. Both started their friendship in Madurai and moved to Chennai to make it big in movies. They used to stay at Rohini Lodge in T.Nagar and look out for opportunities. Ibrahim Rowther became Vijayakanth’s manager and later produced a streak of big-budget hits under Rowther Films. They had a fallout, and he was dismissed from DMDK (Vijayakanth’s political party) in 2012. Rowther joined ADMK and passed away due to multiple organ failures in 2015. The last film he produced is “Puriyatha Anandam Puthithaga Arambam” with Krish and Srushti Dange in the lead, directed by Syed Ibrahim.
- Vijayakanth’s 100th movie. The movies of all the big stars including MGR (Oli Vilakku), Sivaji Ganesan (Navaratri), Rajinikanth (Shree Raghavendra) and Kamal Hassan (Rajaparvai) had below average collections or were box office failures when they were released.
- An individual post on Vijayakanth’s rise in movies and politics is on the cards. I will update the link once I finish the post.
YouTube Link for the movie
- The Best of Tamil Cinema – Volume 2 – by Dhananjayan G
- Interview of RK Selvamani in Morning Cafe – Puthuyugam TV
- Interview of Mansoor Ali Khan on Nettv4u
- 100th film jinx grips the mighty sans ‘Captain’ (The featured image is sourced from the same article)
- Selvamani Image source – 99doing.com
- Ibrahim Rowther passes away – The Hindu – Dated 23.07.2015
For the rest of the movies in the list, please visit the following link –