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DVD cover
Directed by Priyadarshan
Produced by Mohanlal
R. Mohan (co-producer)
Screenplay by T. Damodaran
Story by Priyadarshan
Starring Mohanlal
Prabhu Ganesan
Amrish Puri
John Kolvenbach
Nedumudi Venu
Music by Ilaiyaraaja
Cinematography Santosh Sivan
Edited by N. Gopalakrishnan
Pranavam Arts
Shogun Films Ltd. (in association with)
Distributed by Shogun Films Ltd
Amitabh Bachchan Corporation(Hindi dubbed version)
Release dates
  • 12 April 1996 (1996-04-12)
Running time
178 minutes
Country India
Language Malayalam
Budget 5 crore (equivalent to 19 crore or US$2.8 million in 2016)[1]

Kaalapani (English: Black Water) is a 1996 Indian epic film set in 1915 focusing the lives of Indian freedom fighters kept in prison during the British Raj. The film is co-wriiten and directed by Priyadarshan, starring Mohanlal, Prabhu Ganesan, Tabu, Amrish Puri, Nedumudi Venu, Sreenivasan, Tinnu Anand, Annu Kapoor, Alex Draper and Vineeth. Kaalapani is regarded as one of the evergreen classics of Malayalam cinema.[2] Although it is originally a Malayalam film, it was dubbed into Hindi (Saza-E-Kala Pani), Tamil (Siraichalai) and Telugu (Kaala Pani). Amitabh Bachchan had bought the Hindi dubbing rights,[3] besides narrating the prologue for the Hindi dubbed version.

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 5 crore, making it the costliest Malayalam film made 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. It was released in 450 theaters worldwide, which was the largest release for any Indian film until then.[5]


In 1965, GS Sethu Naickker (Vineeth) of Indian army goes to Ross Island, Kaalapani to find the whereabouts of his aunt Parvathi's (Tabu) husband, Govardhan Menon (Mohanlal) who has been sent to jail in the year 1915 during the British Raj. 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 as well as an Indian nationalist, is wrongly accused of bombing a train carrying 55 people including British officials. On his marriage day with Parvathi, he is deported to a cellular jail at Port Blair, Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Kaalapani shows the sufferings of hundreds of Indian prisoners in the cellular jail, including leading participants of the freedom movement. The extremely inhumane conditions faced by the prisoners in the jail are accurately depicted.

Alex Draper plays the sadistic jailor David Berry, who is of Irish descent, while John Kolvenbach plays the kind-hearted English doctor, Len Hutton.

Annu Kapoor plays the role of Veer Savarkar who is incarcerated and tries his best to keep the spirit of the prisoners going despite unbelievable torture. Tabu plays Mohanlal's lover who keeps waiting for him to come back. Due to the efforts of a British doctor, Len Hutton, 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 (Prabhu Ganesan). David Berry and the jail warden, Mirza Khan (Amrish Puri), hatch a plan and shoot down 13 prisoners while they are escaping. Mukundan refuses to escape. He is forcibly taken on the pretext of meeting the Chief Commissioner and is shot and killed. Seeing the dead body of his friend, Govardhan is angered to the greatest extent and throws down jailor Berry from one of the towers and then kills Mirza Khan by strangling him. Govardhan is hanged to death.



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


The actors include Mohanlal, Prabhu, Tabu, John Kolvenbach, Vineeth, Amrish Puri, Sreenivasan, Annu Kapoor, Alex Draper and Nedumudi Venu. The film is directed by Priyadarsan, with music by Ilayaraaja and cinematography by Santosh Sivan. The songs have been rendered by Malayalam playback singersK.S. Chitra and M. G. Sreekumar. It marked the Malayalam debut of Prabhu Ganesan, Amrish Puri and Tabu.


Director Priyadarshan co-wrote the screenplay with screenwriter T. Damodaran.

Story basis[edit]

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.[6][7][8]


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."[9] 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.[10]


Despite having the grandeur of Hollywood and French classics, director Priyadarshan efficiently managed to complete the film at an unbelievably small budget of 5 crore (equivalent to 19 crore or US$2.8 million in 2016) crores. The shooting was completed in 72 days at Andaman and Nicobar Islands, several parts of Kerala and Madras. 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.[11]


Soundtrack album by Ilaiyaraaja
Released 5 March 1996 (1996-03-05) (Malayalam)
Recorded 1996
Genre Feature film soundtrack
Length 27:08
Label Sagara
Producer Ilaiyaraaja
Ilaiyaraaja chronology
Thedi Vandha Raasa
Nammoora Mandara Hoove

The music was composed and conducted by Ilaiyaraaja. A. R. Rahman was initially signed in as the composer of the movie. He was simultaneously working on another Priyadarshan film, Kabhi Na Kabhi in Hindi. Reportedly on the request of lyricist Javed Akhtar who had scripted 'Kabhi Na Kabhi', Rahman opted out of Kalapani to give full attention to Kabhi Na Kabhi.[12]


Malayalam (Original version)

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

No. Title Artist(s) Length
1. "Aattirambile Kombile"   M. G. Sreekumar, K. S. Chithra 5:01
2. "Chempoove Poove"   M. G. Sreekumar, K. S. Chithra 4:59
3. "Kottum Kuzhal Vizhi"   M. G. Sreekumar, K. S. Chithra, Chorus 5:43
4. "Marikkoodinullil"   K. S. Chithra, Ilaiyaraaja 5:07
5. "Vande Mataram" (Lyrics by Javed Akhtar) Chorus 6:06

Tamil (Dubbed version)

All lyrics written by Arivumathi. 

No. Title Artist(s) Length
1. "Alolam Kili Thopilae"   S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, K. S. Chithra 5:01
2. "Suttum Sudar Vizhi"   M. G. Sreekumar, K. S. Chithra, Chorus 5:43
3. "Sempoove Poove"   S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, K. S. Chithra 4:59
4. "Maaman Kurai"   K. S. Chithra, Gangai Amaran 5:07
5. "Ithu Thai Pirandha"   Mano, Chorus 6:06

Hindi (Dubbed version)

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

No. Title Artist(s) Length
1. "Zindagi Mein Tum Mile"   Hariharan, K. S. Chithra 5:01
2. "Bachpan Ke Saathi Mere"   Hariharan, K. S. Chithra, Chorus 5:43
3. "Sandhya Ki Laali"   M. G. Sreekumar, K. S. Chithra 4:59
4. "Baaghon Ki Bahaarein"   K. S. Chithra, M. G. Sreekumar 5:07
5. "Vande Mataram" (Lyrics by Javed Akhtar) Chorus 6:06

Telugu (Dubbed version)

No. Title Artist(s) Length
1. "Chaamanthi Poove"   S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, K. S. Chithra 4:59
2. "Kannekommana"   S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, K. S. Chithra 5:01
3. "Mojullona"   K. S. Chithra 5:07
4. "Vande Mataram" (Lyrics by Javed Akhtar) Chorus 6:06
5. "Yakshakanne"   S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, K. S. Chithra, Chorus 5:43


National Film Awards
Kerala State Film Awards


  1. ^ "Bitter competition". IndiaToday. 15 March 1996. 
  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
  4. ^ "Bitter competition". IndiaToday. 15 March 1996. 
  5. ^ http://www.filmaxreader.in/post/42.xhtml
  7. ^ Gönderen Yılmazzz. "Cellular Jail Port Blair — Andaman and Nicobar Islands". Ritemail. 
  8. ^ Cathy Scott-Clark, Adrian Levy (23 June 2001). "Survivors of our hell". The Guardian. 
  9. ^ M. G. Radhakrishnan (15 June 1995). "An epic gamble". Indiascope. India Today. Retrieved 30 May 2015. 
  10. ^ http://www.rediff.com/chat/0310chat.htm
  11. ^ Ranjith Nair (1–14 September 2011). "ഈ സിനിമയെ ഞങ്ങൾ സ്നേഹിക്കുന്നു" (in Malayalam). Vanitha. 
  12. ^ "The Complete Biography of A.R.Rahman". 

External links[edit]