It was the mid-nineties. Director Fazil basked in the glory of Manichithrathazhu. Mohanlal was busy reaching new heights in his career. That’s when they heard it – Harshan Dulari, a love story like never before.
Written by Madhu Muttam, screenwriter of Manichithrathazhu, Harshan Dulari was supposed to portray the romantic life of a ghazal singer. Fazil and Mohanlal jumped in, as did Sridevi and AR Rahman. “I am not insisting that you do this with me, but do it somehow, Pachikka (Fazil)…,” Mohanlal had said.
AR Rahman held Fazil’s hands after the narration and told him that he liked the subject. Fazil himself felt drawn towards it as never before.
But the film never took off despite its inherent promise and potential. Why did Fazil walk away from what he called his “dearest dream”? What drew him back with the same force that captured his mind? The director explained this in an earlier interview to ieMalayalam.
“It was my favorite subject. Something that also captured Mohanlal. Harshan Dulari is a challenge I took up, tried, lost and backed,” said Fazil, one of the most successful directors in Malayalam cinema. “It was a good idea. It was something that made me want to make that film. But I felt that I won’t be able to convey the climax of the film convincingly.”
Fazil had just made Manichithrathazhu, a film widely accepted by film fans and critics alike. Hailed as one of the milestones of Malayalam cinema, the film broke all box office records and gained an iconic status over the years.
Manichithrathazhu was a psychological thriller with elements of mystery, myths and ‘manthravadam’ (sorcery/sorcery). It was not an easy script to visualize and it had a make or break climax. It could have gone awry if it hadn’t been done with extreme caution. But Fazil and the crew made it. However, the experience and insight did not give confidence during the planning of Harshan Dulari.
“Everybody understands psychological problems, horror. We have seen that on many levels. Manichithrathazhu talked about a well-known mental health condition. Harshan Dulari, specifically climax, was about achieving ‘Athma Sakshathkaram’ (self-realization).
Only those who have achieved it know what they experience. How do I show a state I’m not familiar with to my audience? I cannot understand what Satya Sai Baba, Ramana Maharshi, Rajaneesh or Mata Amritanandamayi went through. It cannot be passed on to anyone, nor can it be told. After realizing the challenges, I had to drop that film. And I did it with deep sadness. At times I had thought of reworking it focusing on music but wasn’t confident enough,” he recalled.
Decades later, writer Madhu Muttam says he is trying to revive Harshan Dulari. Muttam told ieMalayalam in an interview that he, along with his co-writer Latha Lekshmi, is reworking the treatment of the story to make it more contemporary.
Latha Lekshmi’s notable work is Thirumugal Begum, a novel loosely based on the life of musician Annapurna Devi. “The project has been given a new lease of life. With a co-author on board, I feel energized and excited to work on it again. We have updated the story.
Some directors have approached me after hearing about this. Actor Vikram once called to talk about this. I get at least three to four calls every month to talk about Harshan Dulari. It amazes me that the story has maintained the interest factor all these years,” said Muttam.
He also lamented the death of actors – Sridevi, Sankarady, Nedumudi Venu, KPAC Lalitha – who were part of the original plan.
Whatever the future holds for Harshan Dulari, it will be to continue to hold a special place in Malayalam cinema. Like an ever-enchanting dream, a mirage that lured stars and filmmakers alike.