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Kaalapani (English: Black Water) is a 1996 Indian Malayalam language epic historical period drama film co-written and directed by Priyadarshan, set in 1915 it focus on the lives of Indian freedom fighters incarcerated in prison during the British Raj. The film stars Mohanlal, Prabhu Ganesan, Tabu, Amrish Puri, Nedumudi Venu, Sreenivasan, Tinnu Anand, Annu Kapoor, Alex Draper, and Vineeth. Kaalapani is regarded as one of the classics in Malayalam cinema.[2] Originally produced 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.[3]

DVD cover
Directed byPriyadarshan
Produced byMohanlal
R. Mohan (co-producer)
Screenplay byT. Damodaran
Story byPriyadarshan
Prabhu Ganesan
Amrish Puri
John Kolvenbach
Nedumudi Venu
Alex Draper
Music byIlaiyaraaja
CinematographySantosh Sivan
Edited byN. Gopalakrishnan
Pranavam Arts
Shogun Films Ltd. (in association with)
Distributed byShogun Films Ltd.
Amitabh Bachchan Corporation (Saza-E-Kala Pani)
Release date
  • 6 April 1996 (1996-04-06)
Running time
178 minutes
Budget2.5 crore[1]

The film is about the lives of prisoners in British India who are brought to Kālā Pānī, the Cellular Jail in Port Blair, Andaman and Nicobar Islands. 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 2.5 crore, making it the costliest Malayalam film made until then.[1]

Kaalapani was released on 12 April 1996 in 450 theaters worldwide, which was the largest release for any Indian film until then.[4] The film won three National Film Awards. including the awards for Best Art Direction (Sabu Cyril), Best Special Effects (S. T. Venky), and Best Cinematography (Santosh Sivan). Along with that it won six Kerala State Film Awards.



In August 1964, G. Sethu (Vineeth) of the Indian Army goes to Port Blair and Ross Island, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, earlier infamously called as 'Kaalapani' during the British Raj, to find the whereabouts of his paternal aunt- Parvathi's (Tabu) husband Govardhan Menon (Mohanlal), who had been sent to the Cellular Jail here in Port Blair 49-50 years ago (in March 1915) during the British Rule. Sethu, upon the recommendations of the Lieutenant Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, is helped by Nair (Maniyanpilla Raju), an official in the administration to enquire about his uncle. In an old room containing records of the prisoners held at the jail, Sethu comes across his uncle, Govardhan's records and learns his story.

Govardhan, a humble Malayali from a family of wealthy landlords, is a doctor and an Indian nationalist. He believes in 'Ahimsa' (non-violence) and is against the forcefull recruitment of Indians by the British government to participate in the ongoing first World War; he encourages the people in his village to boycott British goods and clothes. He is also against his feudal cheiftain uncle's (Nedumudi Venu) loyalty to the British government and marries Parvathi against his family's wishes. Parvathi is enchanted by Govardhan's personality and his determination to achieve Indian independence. But, fate acts otherwise and he is wrongly accused of bombing a train carrying 55 people, including British officials. On his wedding day with Parvathi, he is arrested and was first sent to a jail in Madras, from where he was later deported to the Cellular Jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands for a life-term of 25 years. While in the ship taking him and the other new prisoners to the Andaman island jail, the British captain brutally shoots down certain convicts infected with smallpox, as he believed the disease will spread throughout the ship. The bodies are then thrown in the Indian Ocean-Bay of Bengal route. In the Cellular Jail, hundreds of Indian prisoners are incarcerated, including leading participants of the freedom movement. The extremely inhumane conditions faced by the prisoners in the jail are acurately depicted.

David Barry (Alex Draper) is a young sadistic jailor who is of Irish descent, while Len Hutton (John Kolvenbach) and his wife are kind-hearted English doctors. Veer Savarkar (Annu Kapoor) is incarcerated here and tries his best to keep the spirit of the prisoners, despite going through unbelievable torture meted to them by the jail authorities. On his very first day itself at the sinister prison, Govardhan witnesses many brutalities inflicted upon him and the other prisoners by the British officials and their tainted Indian police servants. There, one of the prisoners, Ram Lakhan (Tinnu Anand), a Brahmin, is stripped of his sacred thread by the prison guards on the orders of the ugly, cruel, and villainous jail Warden- Mirza Khan (Amrish Puri) (who was straight out from the Afghan army). Govardhan is forced to lick and clean Mirza Khan's boots when the former tries to help a fellow prisoner (Ajayan Adoor) who is ill. Mirza Khan and Barry regularly incite communal hatreds and violence between Hindu and Muslim prisoners, thereby implementing the British policy of 'divide and rule'. Mirza Khan asks Govardhan to convert to Islam and become his servant but the latter refuses to do so.

Govardhan befriends Mukundan Iyengar (Prabhu Ganesan)- a voracious and plump foodie, who was jailed here for committing terrorist activities in Calcutta against the British Rule. Mukundan constantly escapes from the prison and each of his escape-attempts end in failures. He is then caught and beaten up by Mirza Khan and the jail police. On his twelveth failed escape-attempt, the jail court warns him with a death sentence if he tries to run from the prison in future. Mukundan believes in Tamil regionalism and Marxist principles to get rid of the British Rule. But, Govardhan always encourages him to address himself as a proud Indian instead of addressing himself as a Tamilian to promote oneness.

Ram lakhan is forced by Mirza Khan and Barry to consume human excrement for going on a hunger strike to get his thread back. Without no alternative to escape from this torture, he commits suicide by jumping from one of the towers while being chased by the guards in the night. The next day, his death is covered up as suicide- that he hung himself in the cell. But, Veer Savarkar and other political prisoners sense foul play. All the prisoners, despite many of them being forcibly fed by the jailors, sit on indefinite hunger strikes as a result of this, until they are assured by the government that Ram Lakhan's death would be investigated.

In May 1916, a midnight ecape-attempt by Pandiyan (Delhi Ganesh) and his group of fellow prisoners is blown-up by the clever Moosa (a.k.a Kannaran)(Sreenivasan), a spy of Mirza Khan and Barry. The escaping prisoners are caught by Barry and the police. Pandiyan and his two lieutenants are hanged to death. And their 40 other followers- who were sentenced to hard labour by the jail court for escaping, are instead ruthlessly gunned down upon the orders of Khan and Barry. The news of this massacre is leaked out secretly by the benevolent Dr. Len and it is spread throughout mainland India. It becomes a sensational issue to the effect that the Indian Press and Nationalist leaders like Subhash Chandra Bose and C.R. Das, compel the British government to set up an enquiry commission to investigate the mass-murder, cases of torture meted out to prisoners (one of them, Parmanand (Govind Menon) has his tongue punctured by Mirza Khan for speaking the truth), and cases pertaining to the arbitrary extension of prisoners' sentences.

Govardhan stands out tall amongst the prisoners. He helps his fellow prisoners and owes up the blame for escaping from prison to save Mukundan from being hanged. Govardhan is mercilessly beaten up by Mirza Khan and Barry. Mukundan, who becomes remorseful promises his friend that he will never escape.

Cannibalism is also depicted in the film along with Govardhan and Mukundan's interaction with Andamanese tribals during their escape.

Parvathi keeps waiting for Govardhan to come back and he too deeply misses her. He narrates his story to Dr. Len and learns that the latter can speak Malayalam as his father was the personal physician to the Maharaja of Travancore. After getting to know Govardhan closely, Len decides to help him prove his innocence and achieve his release.

Due to Len's efforts, the government decides to investigate the matter of the torture meted out to the prisoners. However, the enquiry commission delivers its verdict in favour of David Barry and Len feels disappointed and humiliated. On one instance, Govardhan's back is seared with an iron box by Barry for speaking against him to the enquiry commission. Other prisoners who spoke the truth are also punished. Yet, Dr. Len is adamant in his pursuit to keep up the spirit of the prisoners, winning them justice, and winning punishment for Barry and Mirza Khan.

Len's efforts pay off and Govardhan's imprisonment is cut short and his release order is sanctioned by the Viceroy in 1919. But Dr. Len is unsuccessful in having sixteen people released whose sentences have been arbitrarily extended by Mirza Khan and Barry. One of them is Mukundan.

Len visits Govardhan's village in December 1919 and meets Parvathi. He tells her that Govardhan is going to return very soon and she becomes emotional. Parvathi treats Len as her elder brother.

Meanwhile, back in the island, Mirza Khan and Barry hatch a plan to incite a prison riot to kill the sixteen prisoners. As the duo feared that Dr. Len might be victorious in bringing the release orders for those men- thereby exposing the duo and putting them in mockery. The duo carry this out by ordering Moosa to kill Musaliar (Sankaradi), an influential muslim prisoner- who acts as a cementing force between Hindu and Muslim prisoners. The murder of the leader is planned in a way to make it appear as if Musaliar was murdered by Hindu prisoners. And then to quell the riot that ensues, they shoot down the 15 prisoners. Seeing this bloodshed, Moosa, who had been promised to be released by Mirza Khan if he kills Musaliar, repents but becomes insane when Khan points a gun on his head.

It is later learnt by the two wicked jailors after the riot is quelled and the enlisted prisoners have been killed, that Mukundan has not been shot, since he secretly escaped with Govardhan upstairs to the cell upon the advice of guard Ahmed Kutty (Cochin Haneefa), when all the prisoners were taken to the courtyard on the pretext of an inspection to find Musaliar's murderers (and then the riot and shootings take place). Mukundan is taken on the pretext of meeting Mirza Khan and Barry and is shot dead.

Seeing his friend's dead body, Govardhan is angered to the greatest extent. He throws down David from one of the towers (David Barry becomes paralyzed after the fall and is transported to Calcutta, where he met with his death 8 months later) and kills Mirza Khan by strangling him- the very next day when Dr. Len returns with Govardhan's release order. Len Hutton is shattered to see Govardhan killing Mirza Khan and becomes emotional to know that his dear friend (Govardhan) will now face the gallows. As English law is very clear about a capital offence, Govardhan is hanged to death for murdering Mirza Khan and for the attempted-murder of jailor David Barry. Before being hanged, he prays that his motherland achieves independence and that his sweetheart Parvathi ('Parvathi-kutty') is always blessed and protected by the Almighty.

All this is shown in interminnent flashbacks when Sethu reads his uncle's diary entries which were written by the latter during his stay in prison. Sethu, after knowing Govardhan has already been hanged to death 45 years ago, decides to not tell the truth to the innocent Parvathi, who grows old without knowing what happened to her guiltless husband, as her wait of 50 years would have been in vain. She still keeps waiting for him to return. The film shows a photogenic Indian woman being cruelly denied her innocent husband and the opportunity to enjoy a married life with him and bear him children. The film ends with Sethu lying to his aunt 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.[5][6][7]


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.[8]


For giving a realistic touch to the film, Mohanlal licked Amrish Puri's boots despite the latter and director Priyadarshan insisting Mohanlal to just act as if he is licking the boots. Amrish Puri and most of the crew members became emotional after seeing Mohanlal's acting skills and dedication to the film. After the licking scene was shot, Puri hugged Mohanlal and broke down.

Despite the grandeur of Hollywood and French classics, director Priyadarshan efficiently managed to complete the film at an unbelievably small budget of 2.5 crore (equivalent to 10 crore or US$1.5 million in 2018). 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 record in Dolby soundtrack.[9]

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


Soundtrack album by
Released5 March 1996 (1996-03-05)
GenreFeature film soundtrack
Ilaiyaraaja chronology
Thedi Vandha Raasa
Nammoora Mandara Hoove

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

Track list

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

Malayalam (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
1."Aattirambile Kombile"M. G. Sreekumar, K. S. Chithra5:01
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, Ilaiyaraaja5:07
5."Vande Mataram" (Lyrics by Javed Akhtar)Mano, Chorus6:06

All lyrics 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."Maaman Kurai"K. S. Chithra, Gangai Amaran5:07
5."Ithu Thai Pirandha"Mano, Chorus6:06

All lyrics 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, Chorus5:43
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" (Lyrics by Javed Akhtar)Mano, Chorus6:06
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" (Lyrics by Javed Akhtar)Mano, Chorus6:06
5."Yakshakanne"S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, K. S. Chithra, Chorus5:43



  1. ^ a b c M. G. Radhakrishnan (15 June 1995). "An epic gamble". Indiascope. India Today. Retrieved 30 May 2015.
  2. ^ Roktim Rajpal (14 August 2015). "Mohanlal's 'Kaalapani' to Mammootty's 'Pazhassi Raja': Southern films that reminisce about the battle for free India". New Delhi. IBN Live. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  6. ^ Gönderen Yılmazzz. "Cellular Jail Port Blair — Andaman and Nicobar Islands". Ritemail.
  7. ^ Cathy Scott-Clark, Adrian Levy (23 June 2001). "Survivors of our hell". The Guardian.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Ranjith Nair (1–14 September 2011). "ഈ സിനിമയെ ഞങ്ങൾ സ്നേഹിക്കുന്നു" (in Malayalam). Vanitha.

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