Last updated

Kaalapani poster.jpg
Directed by Priyadarshan
Screenplay by T. Damodaran
Story byPriyadarshan
Produced by Mohanlal
R. Mohan (co-producer)
Amrish Puri
Cinematography Santosh Sivan
Edited byN. Gopalakrishnan
Music by Ilaiyaraaja
Pranavam Arts
Shogun Films (in association with)
Distributed byPranamam Pictures
Shogun Films
Amitabh Bachchan Corporation (Hindi)
Release date
  • 6 April 1996 (1996-04-06)
Running time
180 minutes
Budget2.50 crore [1]

Kaalapaani (transl.Black Water) is a 1996 Indian Malayalam-language epic historical drama film written by T. Damodaran and directed by Priyadarshan. Set in 1915, the film focuses on the lives of Indian independence activists incarcerated in the Cellular Jail (or Kālā Pānī) in Andaman and Nicobar Islands during the British Raj. The ensemble cast includes Mohanlal, Prabhu, Tabu, Amrish Puri, Nedumudi Venu, Sreenivasan, Tinnu Anand, Annu Kapoor, Alex Draper, Sankaradi, and Vineeth. The film was produced by Mohanlal for Pranavam Arts in association with R. Mohan's Shogun Films.


The film is about the lives of prisoners in British India who are brought to Kālā Pānī. The name Kalapani is derived from the mode of imprisonment in British India. Ilaiyaraaja composed the music, the cinematography was by Santosh Sivan, and the editing by N. Gopalakrishnan. The film introduced Dolby Stereo into Malayalam cinema. It was made on a budget of 2.50 crore, making it the costliest Malayalam film made until then. [1]

Kaalapaani was released on 6 April 1996 in 450 theaters worldwide, which was the largest release for any Indian film until then. The film is now regarded as one of the classics in Malayalam cinema. [2] Originally made in Malayalam, the film was dubbed and released in Hindi as Saza-E-Kala Pani, Tamil as Siraichalai, and in Telugu as Kaala Pani. Amitabh Bachchan bought the Hindi dubbing rights, besides narrating the prologue for the Hindi version. The film won four National Film Awards, including the awards for Best Art Direction (Sabu Cyril), Best Special Effects (S. T. Venky), and Best Cinematography (Santosh Sivan). The film also won seven Kerala State Film Awards.


In 1965, G. S. Sethu of the Indian Army goes to Ross Island, Kaalapaani to find the whereabouts of his aunt Parvathi's husband Govardhan Menon, who has been sent to jail in 1916 during the period of British rule. In an old room containing record of prisoners held at the jail, Sethu comes across Govardhan's records and learns his story.

Govardhan, a doctor and Indian nationalist, is wrongly accused of bombing a train carrying 55 people, including British officials. On his wedding day with Parvathi, he is deported to a cellular jail at Port Blair, Andaman and Nicobar Islands. There, hundreds of Indian prisoners are incarcerated in the cellular jail, including leading participants of the independence movement.

David Berry is a sadistic jailor who is of Irish descent, while Len Hutton is a kindhearted English doctor. Savarkar is incarcerated and tries his best to keep the spirit of the prisoners going despite unbelievable torture.

Parvathi keeps waiting for Govardhan to come back. Due to Len's efforts, the government decides to investigate the matter of the torture meted out to the prisoners. 14 people are ordered to be released. One of them is Mukundan, Govardhan's friend. David and the jail warden Mirza Khan hatch a plan to incite a prison riot and shoot down 13 prisoners while they are escaping. Mukundan refuses to escape and is taken on the pretext of meeting the Chief Commissioner, and is shot and killed. Seeing Mukundan's dead body, Govardhan throws down David from one of the towers and kills Mirza Khan by strangling him. Govardhan is hanged to death.

All this is shown in intermittent flashbacks. Sethu, after knowing Govardhan has already been hanged to death 45 years ago, decides to not tell the truth to his aunt as her wait of 50 years would have been in vain. The film ends with Sethu lying to her that he met Govardhan and talked to him about her, indicating she will never come to know about Govardhan's death and will keep waiting for him for the rest of her life.




Director Priyadarshan co-wrote the screenplay with screenwriter, T. Damodaran. The basis for the story were existing accounts of life in cellular jail, particularly excerpts from biographies of political leaders of the Indian Independence Movement. Most of these excerpts covered the ruthless routine of prisoners in jail, under the command of Jailer David Barry, Major James Pattinson Walker and Petty officer Mirza Khan. [3] [4] [5]


While the Pre-World War I ports were recreated on the Andaman Islands, several huge sets were built on a 1.5 acres space in Murugalaya Studio, Chennai to replicate the Cellular Jail. In Madras, the sets of Cellular Jail cost about Rs 12 lakh to build on 1.5 acres at the Murugalaya Studio. Apparently, director Priyadarshan was adamant and determined to be faithful to the details of the era. He says: "The Andamans had not seen a horse in 20 years. We had to carry four horses there at a cost of about Rs 3 lakh. When the filming was over, we presented them to the Andamans administration." [1] Prior to the making of the film, Prabhu had broken his knee and during his recovery phase, put on considerable weight. In order to accommodate his physique into the script, Priyadarshan altered the character to make him eat constantly in the film. [6]


The budget of the film, 2.5 crore (equivalent to 12 croreorUS$1.5 million in 2020), was much larger than the average 1 crore for a Malayalam film at the time. [1] The shooting was completed in 72 days at Andaman and Nicobar Islands, several parts of Kerala and Chennai. Post production took more than four months to complete. Composer Ilaiyaraaja completed his symphonic score in 16 days; audiographer Deepan Chatterji completed the sound design and mix in 90 days. This is the first Malayalam film to recorded in Dolby Stereo. [7]

The film is shot in the Malayalam language. However, numerous portions contain dialogues in Hindi, English, Tamil, Bengali, Telugu, and German.


Soundtrack album by
Released5 March 1996 (1996-03-05)
Genre Feature film soundtrack
Label Sagara
Producer Ilaiyaraaja
Ilaiyaraaja chronology
Thedi Vandha Raasa
Nammoora Mandara Hoove

The music was composed and conducted by Ilaiyaraaja. K. S. Chithra was the only female singer in all the versions, while male singers kept changing from version to version.

Track list

All lyrics are written by Gireesh Puthenchery, except where noted.

Malayalam (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
1."Aattirambile Kombile"  M. G. Sreekumar, K. S. Chithra 5:01
2."Chempoove Poove" M. G. Sreekumar, K. S. Chithra4:59
3."Kottum Kuzhal Vizhi" M. G. Sreekumar, K. S. Chithra, Chorus5:43
4."Marikkoodinullil" K. S. Chithra, Ilaiyaraaja 5:07
5."Vande Mataram" Javed Akhtar Mano, Choir 6:06

All lyrics are written by Arivumathi.

Tamil (dubbed version)
1."Alolam Kili Thopilae" S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, K. S. Chithra5:01
2."Suttum Sudar Vizhi"M. G. Sreekumar, K. S. Chithra, Chorus5:43
3."Sempoove Poove"S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, K. S. Chithra4:59
4."Mannan koorai chelai"K. S. Chithra, Gangai Amaran 5:07
5."Ithu Thaai Pirandha"Mano, Choir6:06

All lyrics are written by P. K. Mishra, except where noted.

Hindi (dubbed version)
1."Zindagi Mein Tum Mile"  Hariharan, K. S. Chithra5:01
2."Bachpan Ke Saathi Mere" Hariharan, K. S. Chithra, Choir5:43
3."Sandhya Ki Laali" M. G. Sreekumar, K. S. Chithra4:59
4."Baaghon Ki Bahaarein" K. S. Chithra, M. G. Sreekumar5:07
5."Vande Mataram"Javed AkhtarMano, Choir6:06
Telugu (dubbed version)
1."Chaamanthi Poove" S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, K. S. Chithra4:59
2."Kannekommana" S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, K. S. Chithra5:01
3."Mojullona" K. S. Chithra5:07
4."Vande Mataram"Javed AkhtarMano, Choir6:06
5."Yakshakanne" S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, K. S. Chithra, Choir5:43


On 31 May 1996, P. S. Joseph from India Today wrote, "This ambitious venture by a director known for his comedies in Malayalam, and some competent films in Bollywood like - Muskurahat (1992) and Gardish (1993), does not carry the impact it ought to. Despite its flashes of brilliance and exceptional photography, and a Rs 3.10 crore budget - the largest ever for a Malayalam film - Kaalapaani does not linger in the memory after you leave the cinema hall." [8] However, he praised Sabu Cyril's art direction calling it "exceptional" and Amrish Puri's performance writing, "The redeeming feature is Amrish Puri - the inimitable actor with a menacing voice and remarkable screen presence. He walks tall in the prison, epitomising the brutality and viciousness of the British Raj." [8] Kalki magazine reviewing Tamil dubbed version Siraichalai praised the performance of Mohanlal but felt Prabhu was wasted while also criticising modern wardrobe choices for a periodic subject and concluded a film that should have reached international standards like Schinder's List, in the course of the story, nationalism is beaten, Prabhu-Mohanlal friendship, division and tragedy hence revenge thus becoming ordinary fare. [9] In January 2021, Gokul Nair of Film Companion wrote, "A great deal of effort has been out into making Kaalapaani, one of Priyadarshan's darkest films. The violence depicted is graphic and accurate, be it the mass shootings, the severe beatings, or other forms of torture."


National Film Awards 1995
Kerala State Film Awards

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mohanlal</span> Indian actor and producer

Mohanlal Viswanathan, known mononymously as Mohanlal, is an Indian actor, film producer, playback singer, film distributor, and director who predominantly works in Malayalam cinema besides also having sporadically appeared in Tamil, Hindi, Telugu and Kannada-language films. Mohanlal has a prolific career spanning over four decades, during which he has acted in more than 400 films. Mohanlal's contributions to the Malayalam cinema have been praised by his contemporaries in the Indian film industry. The Government of India honoured him with Padma Shri in 2001, and Padma Bhushan in 2019, India's fourth and third highest civilian honours, for his contributions to Indian cinema. In 2009, he became the first actor in India to be awarded the honorary rank of lieutenant colonel in the Territorial Army. Mohanlal was named as one of "the men who changed the face of the Indian Cinema" by CNN-News18.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Priyadarshan</span> Indian filmmaker

Priyadarshan is an Indian film director and screenwriter who predominantly works in Malayalam and Hindi cinema. He was one of the first directors in India to introduce rich color grading, clear sound and quality dubbing through his early Malayalam films.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cellular Jail</span> Indian island colonial prison

The Cellular Jail, also known as Kālā Pānī, was a British colonial prison in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The prison was used by the colonial government of India for the purpose of exiling criminals and political prisoners. Many notable independence activists, including, Diwan Singh Kalepani, Yogendra Shukla, Batukeshwar Dutt, Shadan Chandra Chatterjee, Sohan Singh, Veer Savarkar, Hare Krishna Konar, Shiv Verma, Allama Fazl-e-Haq Khairabadi, Sudhanshu Dasgupta were imprisoned here during the struggle for India's independence. Today, the complex serves as a national memorial monument.

<i>Kilukkam</i> 1991 Indian film

Kilukkam (transl. Jingle) is a 1991 Indian Malayalam-language musical romantic comedy film directed by Priyadarshan and written by Venu Nagavalli. The story set in Ooty revolves around tourist guide Joji (Mohanlal) and photographer Nishchal. They happen to meet a lavish tourist Nandini (Revathi), whom they bet their fortunes on. It also stars Thilakan, Innocent, K. B. Ganesh Kumar, Sukumari, and Sharat Saxena, with Murali and Jagadish making cameo appearances. The music was composed by S. P. Venkatesh. Kilukkam was released on 15 August 1991. The film was the highest-grossing Malayalam film at that time and ran for more than 365-days at the theaters. Kilukkam won five Kerala State Film Awards, including Best Actor for Mohanlal, Second Best Actor for Jagathy Sreekumar, Best Editor for N. Gopalakrishnan, and Best Cinematographer for S. Kumar. The film is regarded as one of the best comedy films of Malayalam cinema. It was remade in Telugu as Allari Pilla and in Hindi as Muskurahat by Priyadarshan himself. Later, the film had a sequel Kilukkam Kilukilukkam (2006). The movie was reported to have been inspired by the 1953 American movie Roman Holiday.

<i>Summer in Bethlehem</i> 1998 film by Sibi Malayil

Summer in Bethlehem is a 1998 Indian Malayalam-language romantic comedy film directed by Sibi Malayil and written by Ranjith. It was produced by Siyad Koker under the company Kokers Films. The film stars Suresh Gopi, Jayaram, Manju Warrier and Kalabhavan Mani while Mohanlal makes a cameo appearance. The music was composed by Vidyasagar. It tells the story of Ravishankar (Jayaram), the bumbling friend of a successful landowner Dennis, and the vacation visit by Ravishankar's relatives in Dennis's estate known as Bethlehem Estates in a fictional town of Chandragiri in the Nilgiris.

<i>Yathra</i> 1985 Indian film

Yathra is a 1985 Indian Malayalam-language romantic drama film written and directed by Balu Mahendra. The film stars Mammootty and Shobana, while Adoor Bhasi, Thilakan and Alummoodan play supporting roles. The film tells a fictional story but is built upon the human rights violations by the police and the prison authorities in India during the emergency of 1975–1977, when the fundamental rights of the citizens were suspended. It is an adaptation of the 1977 Japanese classic The Yellow Handkerchief. The film was remade into Telugu as Nireekshana (1986) and Tamil as Adhu Oru Kana Kaalam (2005).

<i>Mithunam</i> (1993 film) 1993 Indian film

Mithunam is a 1993 Indian Malayalam-language domestic drama film, directed by Priyadarshan and written by Sreenivasan. The film stars Mohanlal and Urvashi. It was produced by Mohanlal under the banner of Pranavam Arts and was distributed by Pranamam Pictures. The film features songs composed by M. G. Radhakrishnan and background score by S. P. Venkatesh.

<i>Vellanakalude Nadu</i> 1988 Malayalam film by Priyadarshan

Vellanakalude Nadu is a 1988 Indian Malayalam-language political satire crime film directed by Priyadarshan, written by Sreenivasan and produced by Maniyanpilla Raju. The film stars Mohanlal, Shobhana, Thikkurissy Sukumaran Nair, M. G. Soman, Sreenivasan, Karamana Janardanan Nair, Maniyanpilla Raju, Sukumari, K. P. A. C. Lalitha and Lizy. The film tells the story of contractor C. Pavithran who has obtained a road contract. This film was a critical and commercial success, becoming one of the highest-grossing Malayalam films of the year. It ran for over 200 days in theatres. Priyadarshan later remade the film in Hindi as Khatta Meeta, released in 2010.

<i>Thenmavin Kombath</i> 1994 film by Priyadarshan

Thenmavin Kompath is a 1994 Indian Malayalam-language romantic comedy film written and directed by Priyadarshan. It was produced and edited by N. Gopalakrishnan. The film stars Mohanlal, Shobana, and Nedumudi Venu, with Kaviyoor Ponnamma, K. P. A. C. Lalitha, Sukumari, Kuthiravattam Pappu, Sreenivasan, Sankaradi, and Sharat Saxena in supporting roles. The background score was composed by S. P. Venkatesh, while the Berny-Ignatius duo composed the songs. K. V. Anand was the cinematographer.

<i>Boeing Boeing</i> (1985 film) 1985 Indian film

Boeing Boeing is a 1985 Indian Malayalam-language romantic comedy film written and directed by Priyadarshan.The movie is a remake of 1965 film Boeing Boeing which was based on the 1960 French play of the same name. The plot follows Shyam (Mohanlal) who is dating three flight attendants at the same time and the scenario get complicated with the arrival of his friend Anilkumar (Mukesh) along with other obstructions.

Onnanu Nammal is a 1984 Indian Malayalam-language film directed by P. G. Vishwambharan and written by John Paul. The film is inspired by a story of Kaloor Dennis. The film stars Mammootty, Seema, Mohanlal and Adoor Bhasi. The film has music composed by Ilaiyaraaja and Guna Singh with the former composing the songs and latter, the film score.

<i>Mukunthetta Sumitra Vilikkunnu</i> 1988 film by Priyadarshan

Mukunthetta Sumitra Vilikkunnu is a 1988 Indian Malayalam-language romantic comedy film directed by Priyadarshan and written by Sreenivasan. It stars Mohanlal, Sreenivasan, and Ranjini. The story is based on the Marathi play Sasa Aani Kasav, which was earlier adapted into the 1983 movie Katha.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pranavam Arts International</span>

Pranavam Arts International was an Indian film production and distribution company based in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, founded in 1990 by Indian actor Mohanlal. Since then the company has produced a total of 11 films, including two of the most-expensive Malayalam films of its time—Kaalapani (1996) and Vanaprastham (1999). Vanaprastham was selected at the Un Certain Regard section at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival. The company has won a National Film Award for Best Feature Film (Vanaprastham) and two Kerala State Film Award for Second Best Film. The company's distribution division was called Pranamam Pictures.

<i>Chenkol</i> 1993 Indian film

Chenkol (transl. Sceptre) is a 1993 Indian Malayalam-language action drama film directed by Sibi Malayil and written by A. K. Lohithadas. A sequel to his 1989 film Kireedam, the story continues Sethumadhavan's (Mohanlal) story after his prison term and his life back into society. The movie was produced by Krishnakumar. It also features Thilakan, Surbhi Javeri Vyas, Keerikkadan Jose, and Kaviyoor Ponnamma. The film's music was composed by Johnson. Lohithadas won the Kerala Film Critics Award for Best Script for the film.

<i>Pinnilavu</i> 1983 Indian film

Pinnilavu is a 1983 Indian Malayalam-language drama film directed by P. G. Viswambharan and written by Thoppil Bhasi, based on the story of the same name by C. Radhakrishnan. It stars Madhu, Srividya, Mammootty, Mohanlal, Poornima Bhagyaraj, M G Soman, Mukesh, Maniyan Pillai Raju, and Sukumari. The music was composed by Ilaiyaraaja. The film is about a fight of ethics between a father and son.

<i>Run Baby Run</i> (2012 film) 2012 Indian film

Run Baby Run is a 2012 Indian Malayalam-language comedy thriller film directed by Joshiy, produced and distributed by Milan Jaleel through the company Galaxy Films. It was the first independent screenplay of Sachy following the split of Sachi-Sethu duo. The film stars Mohanlal and Amala Paul. The music was composed by Ratheesh Vegha, while cinematography was done by R. D. Rajasekhar.

<i>Sometimes</i> (film) 2018 film by Priyadarshan

Sometimes is a 2018 Indian Tamil-language psychological drama film, written and directed by Priyadarshan. Produced by Isari Ganesh, Prabhu Deva and A. L. Vijay, the film features Prakash Raj, Sriya Reddy and Ashok Selvan. The music was composed by Ilaiyaraaja and the cinematographer was Sameer Thahir.

<i>Oppam</i> 2016 film by Priyadarshan

Oppam (transl. Along) is a 2016 Indian Malayalam-language crime thriller film written and directed by Priyadarshan from a story by Govind Vijayan. It was produced by Antony Perumbavoor for Aashirvad Cinemas and starred Mohanlal and Samuthirakani. The film contains songs composed by the group 4 Musics, and the score was composed by Ron Ethan Yohann. N. K. Ekambaram was the cinematographer.

<i>Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea</i> 2021 film directed by Priyadarshan

Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea is a 2021 Indian epic historical action film directed by Priyadarshan. Set in the 16th century Calicut, the film is based on the fourth Kunjali Marakkar named Muhammad Ali, the admiral of the fleet of the Zamorin. Priyadarshan scripted the film with Ani Sasi. The film is produced by Antony Perumbavoor's Aashirvad Cinemas. Marakkar features Mohanlal in the titlular role, alongside ensemble cast in supporting roles. In the film, Upon being terrorised by an oppressive Portugual regime, legendary naval chieftain Kunjali Marakkar IV wages an epic war against the Europeans and their allies.


  1. 1 2 3 4 Radhakrishnan, M. G. (15 June 1995). "An epic gamble". Indiascope. India Today Group. Archived from the original on 7 April 2020. Retrieved 30 May 2015.
  2. Rajpal, Roktim (14 August 2015). "Mohanlal's 'Kaalapani' to Mammootty's 'Pazhassi Raja': Southern films that reminisce about the battle for free India". IBN Live . New Delhi. Archived from the original on 16 August 2015. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  3. O.N Jaiswal. "CELLULAR JAIL :WITNESS TO GORY SUFFERINGS OF FREEDOM FIGHTERS". Press Information Bureau. Archived from the original on 30 October 2015. Retrieved 21 April 2015.
  4. Gönderen Yılmazzz. "Cellular Jail Port Blair — Andaman and Nicobar Islands". Ritemail. Archived from the original on 22 May 2015. Retrieved 21 April 2015.
  5. Cathy Scott-Clark, Adrian Levy (23 June 2001). "Survivors of our hell". The Guardian . Archived from the original on 5 February 2020. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  6. "Rediff On The NeT: Transcript of the Prabhu Chat". Archived from the original on 3 March 2000.
  7. Nair, Ranjith (1–14 September 2011). "ഈ സിനിമയെ ഞങ്ങൾ സ്നേഹിക്കുന്നു". Vanitha (in Malayalam). Malayala Manorama.
  8. 1 2 "Film review: Kaalapaani, starring Mohanlal, Prabhu, Tabu". India Today. Archived from the original on 31 March 2023. Retrieved 31 March 2023.
  9. "சிறைச்சாலை". Kalki (in Tamil). 21 April 1996. p. 23. Retrieved 16 May 2023.