Director: K. G. George
Writers: K. G. George, Yesuadasan
Cast: Gopi, Nedumudi Venu, Srividya, Jagathy, Sukumari, Thilakan
A henpecked politician wants his name attached to a new bridge, even if that means destroying another, perfectly serviceable bridge. He is egged on by his coterie and even the opposition is also in on the plans as long as they get a cut from the government contract and associated activities. As everything proceeds religious politics also enter into picture which is resolved by a mutually agreed formula that is quite the norm in Kerala politics. Film works as a political satire and looks even more relevant when put in context with what is happening these days in Kerala politics with numerous scams that everyone are aware of.
Film is based on a short story with the same name by Veloor Krishnankutty. The characters in it are given names from Hindu, Christian and Muslim mythologies and are portrayed in a caricatured manner. The deliberate lack of subtlety was a bit disconcerting for me initially but you will adjust to it. It does become cleverer as it progresses and the overall exaggeration sits pretty well now because the politicians are also very unsubtle when it comes to looting people these days. I don't think there were many films prior to this which had entrenched corruption as their central theme. You get a microcosm of what Kerala politics is these days with this film which was made three decades ago. I don't think the condition was this bad in those days and in that sense the film can be considered prophetic. It features almost every other features of Kerala political system including how things are carved out based on religious lines and the only thing that I could think of that it doesn't tackle is the dynastic politics which is chronic in the Congress party. We are having a crucial bi-election this month in Aruvikkara and you can see everything that is bad about Kerala politics happening in that campaign. The only qualification for the Congress candidate is being the son of dead MLA and you can see all parties approaching religious power centers for votes. The ruling party (Congress) is smeared with all sorts of scams and it will be a travesty if they manage to win this one due to sympathy votes.
Overall the film is a great watch and is one that has stood the test of times. At around 130 minutes length, it is around twenty minutes longer than it should be. Everything in it is very exaggerated including the background music and some might find that a bit problematic. It boasts of a great ensemble cast. The new bridge collapses quite predictably during the last scene and it is done quite well in terms of effects. Other obvious film for comparison would be 'Sandhesham' which had so many quotable lines and is a favorite of mine. The humor in Panchavadi Palam is quite different in nature as everything is distributed evenly across its script without relying on set-piece dialog barrage between characters. The only other film I have seen from K. G. George, that too not in its entirety, is 'Yavanika' which is considered as his masterpiece.