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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 (in association with)
Distributed byPranamam Pictures
Shogun Films
Amitabh Bachchan Corporation (Hindi)
Release date
  • 6 April 1996 (1996-04-06)
Running time
178 minutes
Budget2.5 crore[1]

Kaalapani (transl. Black water) is a 1996 Indian Malayalam-language epic historical drama film co-written and directed by Priyadarshan. Set in 1915, the film focuses on the lives of Indian freedom fighters incarcerated in the Cellular Jail (or Kālā Pānī) in Andaman and Nicobar Islands during the British Raj. The ensemble cast includes Mohanlal, Prabhu Ganesan, 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 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. The film is now regarded as one of the classics in Malayalam cinema.[2] Originally made in Malayalam, the film was dubbed and released in Hindi as Saza-E-Kala Pani, Tamil as Siraichalai, and in Telugu as Kaala Pani.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.[3] 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.


(Before the film commences, the then Lieutenant Governor of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, His Excellency Vakkom Purushothaman in 1995, pays his official tributes to the martyrs and freedom fighters who were incarcerated in the Cellular Jail and sacrificed their happiness and lives for achieving independence for our motherland India.)

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 the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, is helped by the jovial and funny Nair (Maniyanpilla Raju), an official in the administration to enquire about his uncle. He visits the once dreaded prison, which has now become a national monument and memorial, and pays his tributes at the memorial stone dedicated to the heroes and martyrs who were incarcerated here during the struggle for achieving Indian independence. In an old room of the government office 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 Hindu landlords, is a doctor and an Indian nationalist. He was expelled from his job at Poona for holding non-violent protests against the British Government. He believes in 'Ahimsa' (non-violence) and is against the forceful recruitment of Indians in the military by the British government to participate in the ongoing first World War; he encourages the people in his village to join the Swadeshi Movement and boycott British goods and clothes. He is also against his feudal cheiftain-uncle's (Nedumudi Venu) loyalty to the British government and falls in love with Parvathi against his family's wishes. Their's was a love marriage. 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 their wedding day, he was arrested, leaving behind a shattered and an emotional Parvathi, 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 male and female prisoners to the island penal colony, the British captain brutally shoots down certain male convicts infected with smallpox, as he believed the disease will spread throughout the ship. The dead bodies are then thrown in the Indian Ocean-Bay of Bengal route. In the Cellular Jail, hundreds of Indian prisoners from different parts of the country are incarcerated, including leading participants of the freedom movement. The extremely inhumane conditions faced by the prisoners in the jail are accurately depicted.

David Barry (Alex Draper) is a young sadistic and arrogant jailor who is of Irish descent and considers himself as 'the God of Earth' (as he decided the fate of the prisoners), 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 Hindu Brahmin, is cruelly flogged, beaten, and stripped of his sacred thread by the prison guards on the orders of the ugly, cruel, and villainous jail Warden - Mirza Khan (Amrish Puri) (a physically powerful Pathan who was straight out from the Afghan Army and was adept of brutally beating the prisoners to the core and murdering them) when Ram Lakhan had refused to eat his food which had a dead lizard in it. Then, Govardhan is forced to lick and clean Mirza Khan's boots when the former tries to help a fellow prisoner who was ill. Mirza Khan and Barry regularly incite communal hatred and violence between Hindu and Muslim prisoners, thereby implementing the British policy of 'divide and rule'. Mirza Khan asks Govardhan to convert to Islam, change his name, and become his servant but the latter refuses to do so. Veer Savarkar asks Govardhan and the other prisoners to stand in solidarity with Ram Lakhan.

Govardhan befriends Mukundan Iyengar (Prabhu Ganesan)- a voracious, plump foodie and a Tamilian revolutionary, who was jailed here for committing terrorist activities in Calcutta against the British Rule. Mukundan constantly escapes from prison, but each of his escape-attempts end in failures. Each time he is caught and is mercilessly beaten up by Mirza Khan and the jail police. On his twelfth failed escape-attempt, the Jail Court warns him with a death sentence if he tries to run from 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 morning, his death is covered up as a case of simple suicide - that he hung himself in the cell on the previous night. But, Veer Savarkar and other political prisoners sense foul play regarding his mysterious death. Under the aegis of Savarkar, all the prisoners, despite many of them being forcibly fed and brutally beaten up by the jailors, and consequently dying (many of them died due to sickness after being forced by Mirza Khan to consume filthy water), sit on indefinite hunger strikes as a result of this, until they are assured by the Chief Commissioner of the Province of Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Tom Alter) that Ram Lakhan's death would be investigated, prisoners will be allowed to follow their religious rituals, and their human rights will be upheld.

In May 1916, a midnight escape-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. The prisoners were taking the help of German spies (one of them, a Tamilian, was working as an assistant port officer in the jail administration) and the secret contacts of Rash Behari Bose and other freedom fighters in the mainland and in Europe to escape and fight the British Rule once the plan succeeded. However, Pandiyan and his two lieutenants: Sethuraman and Dhanpal Singh, are sentenced to death by the jail court. And their 37 other followers- who were let off by being awarded small punishments by the court for escaping, are instead betrayed and ruthlessly gunned down by the police upon the orders of Khan and Barry.

The news of this massacre is leaked out secretly by the benevolent Dr. Len and it spreads like wildfire throughout mainland India. It becomes a sensational issue to the effect that the Indian Press and Nationalist leaders like Subhash Chandra Bose and Chittaranjan Das, compel the British government to set up an Enquiry Commission to investigate the massacre, cases of torture meted out to prisoners, and cases pertaining to the arbitrary extension of prisoners' sentences. To see whether the prisoners speak the truth or not, Barry and Mirza Khan set up a fake enquiry commission with a British army officer disguising as its head. An outspoken prisoner - Parmanand (Govind Menon (actor)), had to pay the price for speaking the truth in front of the fake commission, as Mirza Khan brutally punctures his tongue with a metal plyer.

Govardhan stands out tall amongst the inmates and he always helps his fellow prisoners. To save Dr. Len's honour, he speaks the truth before the real commission under the leadership of Sir Reginald Craddock, when no prisoner was able to gather the strength for speaking after the warning that was issued through the torture inflicted on Parmanand. Due to Len's efforts and Govardhan's statement, the government-constituted commission decides to investigate the matter of torture meted out to the prisoners. Soon, each of the prisoners give their statements of being tortured and of the inhumane conditions existing in the Cellular jail to the representatives of the commission. A series of meetings are held between the Enquiry Commission officers, the Chief Commissioner, and the jail administration.

Cannibalism is also depicted in the film, when Parmanand is forced to kill and eat a fellow prisoner due to hunger: when he and a bunch of 15 prisoners escape from prison under the aegis of Mukundan, by bursting dynamite bombs to create commotion and confusion among the guards. Govardhan is also forced to escape with Mukundan to stop him. Most of the escaping prisoners died out in the escape due to sea-storms and by drowning in the sea. Parmanand is killed by tribals. Only the two protagonists- Govardhan and Mukundan, survive : to have a risky interaction with the cannibalistic Andamanese tribals, to have a physical fight for either surrendering or not before the police- instead of dying in the forests, and to have themselves eventually captured back by the jail authorities. Govardhan owes up the blame for escaping before the jail court to save Mukundan from being hanged, and is mercilessly beaten up by Mirza Khan and Barry. Mukundan, who repents and becomes remorseful, apologises to and promises his friend that he will never escape and will always address himself as a proud Indian.

Parvathi keeps waiting for Govardhan to come back and he too deeply misses her. Since the time he was imprisoned in 'Kaalapani', Govardhan was working in the jail Hospital. Mukundan falls in love with Bina Das, a female prisoner who was jailed here for attempting the murder of the Governor during the graduation ceremony of the University of Calcutta. Govardhan narrates his story to Dr. Len and learns that the latter loves India: its diverse people and cultures, and can speak Malayalam as he was born and raised in Travancore, where his father was the personal physician to the Maharaja. After getting to know Govardhan closely, Len decides to help him prove his innocence and achieve his release.

However, the enquiry commission delivers its report 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 commission. Other prisoners who spoke the truth are also punished cruelly. 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, when he goes to Calcutta in December 1919 to meet the Viceroy and when the British government in mainland India orders the Andaman administration to transfer all the female prisoners to Alipore jail in Calcutta and also to transfer Veer Savarkar back to the mainland. And, when Viceroy Lord Chelmsford was not ready to sanction Govardhan's release order, Dr. Len persuaded the Viceroy that he would resign from his job in the prison hospital and would go to England to fight Govardhan's case and win him justice. As a result of this, the Viceroy shortens Govardhan's imprisonment and sanctions his release order 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 on 22nd December 1919 and meets Parvathi. He tells her that Govardhan is going to return home next week and she becomes emotional. Parvathi treats Len as her elder brother and excitedly waits for her husband to return. Before leaving, Len excitedly tells her to be on time at the railway station to receive Govardhan.

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 will be victorious in bringing the release orders for those men- thereby exposing the duo and putting them in mockery. They felt that their prestige was in danger and they could become a 'laughing stock' before everyone. 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 such a way to make it appear as if Musaliar was murdered by Hindu prisoners. And then to quell the riot that ensues, Mirza Khan mercilessly shoots down the sixteen prisoners, along with many other innocent men. Seeing this bloodbath, Moosa, who had been promised to be released from the island by Mirza Khan if he kills Musaliar, repents, but becomes insane when Khan betrays him by pointing a gun on his head.

It is later learned 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 by Khan.

Seeing his friend's dead body, Govardhan is angered to the greatest extent. He throws down David Barry from one of the towers (David Barry became paralyzed after the fall and was transported to Calcutta, where he met with his death 8 months later: as stated in the end of the film) and kills Mirza Khan by beating and strangling him- the very next day, when Dr. Len returns with Govardhan's release order. Len is shattered to see Govardhan killing Khan and becomes emotional to know that his dear friend (Govardhan) will now face the gallows. As English law is very clear about the sentence regarding a capital offence, Govardhan is sentenced 'to be hanged by the neck until death' by the jail court for murdering Mirza Khan and for the attempted-murder of jailor David Barry. Before being hanged, he prays that his motherland India achieves her 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. An emotional Sethu returns to Kerala, after knowing Govardhan has already been hanged to death 45 years ago, and decides not to tell the truth to the innocent Parvathi, who grows into an elderly lady without knowing what happened to her guiltless husband. He prays to all the Gods to give him the strength to tell lies to his aunt that he met Govardhan, as her wait of 50 years would have been in vain and she would be shattered. She still keeps waiting for Govardhan 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, compelling her to shed tears of happiness and hope: indicating she will never come to know about Govardhan's death and will keep waiting for him to return, for the rest of her life.

Through this film, a powerful message is conveyed to the entire nation, that millions of Indians, be it renowned or unsung freedom fighters and their families, such as Govardhan, had sacrificed their youth, their happiness, and their lives to win India her independence. The present and future generations should always use this hard-earned freedom for good purposes and respect the sacrifices of lives made to achieve it .


  • Mohanlal as Dr. Govardhan Menon / Unni
  • Prabhu as Mukundan Iyengar
  • Amrish Puri as Jailor Mirza Khan
  • Tabu as Parvathi / Parvathikutty, Govardhan's lover and later wife
  • Vineeth as G. Sethu, Govardhan's nephew who is in the Indian Army
  • Alex Draper as Jailor David Barry
  • John Kolvenbach as Dr. Len Hutton
  • Annu Kapoor as Veer Savarkar
  • Sankaradi as Kunju Muhammad Musaliar, an influential Muslim prisoner who always tries to unite all Hindu and Muslim prisoners
  • Nedumudi Venu as Sreekandan Nair: Govardhan's maternal uncle, who was a local chieftain and a loyalist to the British Rule
  • Delhi Ganesh as Pandiyan, a prisoner
  • Sreenivasan as Moosa a.k.a. Kanaaran, a prisoner and a spy of Mirza Khan
  • Cochin Haneefa as Ahmed Kutty, a kind hearted guard in the jail
  • Maniyanpilla Raju as Nair, an official in the Andaman & Nicobar administration of independent India
  • Tinnu Anand as Ram lakhan, a prisoner
  • Govind Menon (actor) as Parmanand, a prisoner
  • S.R. Veeraraghavan (Tamil actor) as Achyuthan, a prisoner
  • Sreenath as Satyasheelan, a Prisoner
  • Ajayan Adoor as a Prisoner
  • Suma Jayaram as Sreekandan Nair's daughter, who was jealous of Parvathi falling in love with Govardhan
  • Tom Alter as British Chief Commissioner of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Province
  • Kozhikode Narayanan Nair as Naanu Nair, Parvathi's father and Sreekandan Nair's assistant
  • Poojappura Ravi as Nampoothiri, who wanted to marry Parvathi



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.[4][5][6]


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.[7]


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 completef the film at a small budget of 2.5 crore (equivalent to 10 crore or US$1.4 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.[8]

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)
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 are 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"Javed AkhtarMano, Choir6:06

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."Maaman Kurai"K. S. Chithra, Gangai Amaran5:07
5."Ithu Thai 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


National Film Awards 1995
Kerala State Film Awards


  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. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Fm3Lvoz7pU
  5. ^ Gönderen Yılmazzz. "Cellular Jail Port Blair — Andaman and Nicobar Islands". Ritemail.
  6. ^ Cathy Scott-Clark, Adrian Levy (23 June 2001). "Survivors of our hell". The Guardian.
  7. ^ http://www.rediff.com/chat/0310chat.htm
  8. ^ Ranjith Nair (1–14 September 2011). "ഈ സിനിമയെ ഞങ്ങൾ സ്നേഹിക്കുന്നു" (in Malayalam). Vanitha. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)

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