Panchagni (lit. 'Five fires') is a 1986 Indian Malayalam-language drama thriller film directed by Hariharan and written by M. T. Vasudevan Nair. The story is loosely inspired from the life of naxalite K. Ajitha who was part of the naxalite movement in Kerala in the 1960s. The film tells the story of Indira, a naxalite who comes out from prison on parole, she is serving a life sentence for killing a landlord.[1] It stars Mohanlal, Geetha, Nadia Moidu, and Thilakan. The film features songs composed by Bombay Ravi and a score by Pukazhenthi. Cinematography was done by Shaji N. Karun.

Panjagni 300.jpg
Directed byHariharan
Produced byG. P. Vijayakumar
M. G. Gopinath
Written byM. T. Vasudevan Nair
Nadia Moidu
Music byBombay Ravi
CinematographyShaji N. Karun
Edited byM. S. Mani
Seven Arts Films
Distributed bySeven Arts Release
Release date
  • 1 February 1986 (1986-02-01)
Running time
140 minutes

Upon release, Panchagni received widespread critical acclaim and became one of the highest-grossing Malayalam films of the year. The film ran for more than 200 days in theatres. Panchagni is now regarded as a classic in Malayalam cinema. It is considered as one of the best screenplays by Vasudevan Nair. Indira is regarded by critics as one of the most powerful female characters in Indian cinema. The film won two Kerala State Film AwardsBest Screenplay and Second Best Actor (Thilakan). Hariharan won the Filmfare Award for Best Director – Malayalam. The film was remade in Tamil as Nyaya Tharasu (1989).


The movie revolves round the incidents in a two-week period, when Indira (Geetha), a Naxal activist is out in parole. She is serving life sentence in the central jail, Cannanore after being charged for the murder of Avarachan, a landlord, who she had witnessed kill a young tribal woman after she was raped and impregnated (by him).

Indira's mother, a former freedom fighter who is on her deathbed, is relieved to see her, and is under the impression that she is free now. Her younger sister Savithri (Nadiya Moidu), her husband Prabhakaran (Devan) and her nephew are happy to have her back home. But her younger brother, Ravi (Meghanathan), an unemployed youth, addicted to drugs is angered by her mere presence, blaming her for his inability to secure a good job. Indira's older brother who is home from Delhi to perform the death rites of her mother refuses to even talk to her, and leaves after a big quarrel, leaving his nephew to do the rites. Most of her acquaintances are intimidated by her, except her old classmate Sharadha (Chitra). Sharadha had married her college sweetheart, Rajan (Murali) and lives close to Indira's home.

Rasheed (Mohanlal), a freelance journalist, tries to get an interview with Indira, she declines initially and is annoyed by his persistence.

As the days pass on, Indira feels unwanted, and ends up having no place to live. Savithri suspects an affair between her husband and Indira, making it hard for Indira to stay with them. Sharadha's husband had changed a lot in years, had degraded into a womanizer, and Indira can't stay with them either. Ultimately Indira, asks Rasheed for help her out and ends up staying at his place.

With time, Indira and Rasheed get closer, and a lovely relationship blossoms between the two. As Indira is nearing the completion of her parole, Rasheed, with great difficulty, succeeds in getting the government remission order in time, so that Indira no longer has to go back to jail. By this time Savithri and Ravi reconcile with Indira, and are overjoyed to hear about her release. Indira rushes to Sharadha's place to share the good news, but there she is shocked to see Sharadha's servant being gang-raped by her husband Rajan and friends. True to her righteous self, Indira ends up shooting Rajan with his hunting rifle and ultimately surrenders herself at the police station.



Panchagni is loosely inspired from the life of naxalite activist K. Ajitha who was an active part of the naxalite movement that took place in Kerala in the 1960s.[2] It was one of the few films in Malayalam that discussed about naxals.[3]

"In the late sixties and early seventies, there was an extremist revolutionary movement in Kerala in which a number of highly motivated young people were involved. The movement was mostly directed against big landowners who were known to be tyrannical towards their tenants. While it lasted, the movement resulted in the 'execution' of a few such tyrants, which, in turn, invited repression measures from the law enforcement agencies. Later, most of the people involved were disillusioned and the movement itself lost momentum. My film is set in this period".

— Hariharan in an interview.

After M. T. Vasudevan Nair completed the screenplay of Panchagni, Hariharan decided to produce the film himself under his company Gayathri Cinema. During the pre-production of the film, G. P. Vijayakumar telephoned Hariharan and informed his wish to produce a Hariharan-M.T. Vasudevan Nair film under his newly formed production company, Seven Arts. Hariharan agreed and hand over the production to Vijayakumar. Initially, Naseeruddin Shah was cast in the role of news reporter Rasheed, per the suggestion of Nair. Shah signed the film and was given advance payment. Later, Mohanlal met Hariharan informing his wish to act in their film, but the casting process was already over by then, so he had to return him. But after that meeting, Hariharan had a change of mind with the thought of casting him in the role of Rasheed, he talked the matter with Nair and Mohanlal was fixed.[4] In a later interview in 2000, Hariharan recalled: "when we asked Mohanlal whether he would do the film, he said he would do 'any role'. The first thing I wanted was to give him a different appearance. Till then, he hadn't appeared without a moustache. So I asked him to shave it off. He immediately agreed. Panchagni went on to become a turning point in his career".[5] Initially, Ambika was chosen for the role of Indira, but she could not sign the film due to scheduling conflicts with a Kannada film, which she later regrets. Geetha was finalised for the role. Ambika said in a later interview in 2017 that Panchagni and Chithram are the two films in her career that she feels sad about that she could not join.[6]


All lyrics are written by O. N. V. Kurup; all music is composed by Bombay Ravi.

1."Aa Rathri"K. S. Chithra4:25
2."Saagarangale"K. J. Yesudas4:18


The film was released on 1 February 1986.

Upon release, Panchagni received widespread critical acclaim and also performed well at the box office, becoming one of the highest-grossing Malayalam films of the year. The film ran for more than 200 days in theatres. Indira is regarded by critics as one of the most powerful female characters in Indian cinema.[7][8] Panchagni is now considered as a classic in Malayalam cinema.[9][10][11] Its screenplay is considered as one of the best works of Vasudevan Nair.[12] The film was remade in Tamil as Nyaya Tharasu (1989).


Kerala State Film Awards[13]
Filmfare Awards South


  1. ^ Abhijith. "When Female-centric Movies Get Accepted : The Past and the Present". Filmelon. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  2. ^ Menon, Neelima (13 March 2019). "Exploited or foolish: How Adivasis are represented in Malayalam cinema". The News Minute. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  3. ^ Venkiteswaran, C. S. (14 April 2017). "Red Shadows of Hope And Despair". Outlook. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  4. ^ "അങ്ങനെ നസ്‌റുദ്ദിൻഷായ്ക്കു പകരക്കാരനായി മോഹൻലാൽ എത്തി-ഹരിഹരൻ". Nana Film Weekly. Archived from the original on 10 May 2017. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  5. ^ Warrier, Shobha (29 August 2000). "His gift is that he underplays emotions". Retrieved 17 February 2015.
  6. ^ "അംബികയുടെ മനസ്സിലെ വലിയ നൊമ്പരമാണ് പഞ്ചാഗ്നിയും ചിത്രവും". Mathrubhumi (in Malayalam). 21 June 2017. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  7. ^ "Screenplays for ever". The Hindu. 26 September 2014.
  8. ^ P. K., Meera (22 March 2017). "Trapped in boxes drawn by misogyny, when will women of Malayalam cinema break free on screen?". The News Minute. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  9. ^ Kumar, P. K. Ajith (3 October 2013). "Evergreen Acts". The Hindu. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  10. ^ "'Pazhassi Raja' reigns supreme". The Hindu. 8 April 2010.
  11. ^ "'Mayookham'- A ray of hope!". Sify. 23 April 2005.
  12. ^ Padmanabhan, Anantha (10 May 2018). "The Oracle of Transitions". Outlook. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  13. ^ Kerala State Chalachitra Academy (1986). "State Film Awards - 2000". Department of Information and Public Relations. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 21 January 2017.

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