Harshan Dulari: Mirage that allured stars like Mohanlal, Sridevi, AR Rahman

It was the mid nineties. Director Fazil was basking in the glory of Manichithrathazhu. Mohanlal was busy scaling new heights in his career. That was when they heard it — Harshan Dulari, a love story like never before.

Penned by Madhu Muttam, the screen writer of Manichithrathazhu, Harshan Dulari was to portray the romantic life of a ghazal singer. Fazil and Mohanlal jumped in, as did Sridevi and AR Rahman. “I am not insisting 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 he liked the subject much. Fazil himself felt drawn towards it like never before.

But the film, despite its inherent promise and potential, never took off. Why did Fazil walk away from what he called his “dearest dream”? What pulled him back with the same vigour with which it captured his mind? The director explained this in an earlier interview to ieMalayalam,

“It was my favorite subject. Something that captivated Mohanlal also. Harshan Dulari is a challenge I took up, tried, lost and backed out,” said Fazil, one of the most successful directors in Malayalam cinema. “It was a great idea. It had something that made me want to make that film. But I felt that I will not be able to convey the climax of the movie in a convincing manner.”

Fazil had just made Manichithrathazhu, a film widely accepted by both cinefans and critics. 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, myth and ‘manthravadam’ (conjuration/sorcery). It was not an easy script to visualize and it had a make or break climax. It could have gone awry if not done with extreme caution. But Fazil and crew pulled it off. However, the experience and insight did not infuse confidence while planning Harshan Dulari.

“Everyone understands psychological issues, horror. We have seen this at many levels. Manichithrathazhu spoke about a mental health condition that was familiar. Harshan Dulari, the climax in specific, was about one attaining ‘Athma Sakshathkaram’ (self realisation).

Only those who have attained that know what they are experiencing. How do I show a state, which I am unfamiliar with, to my audience? I cannot comprehend what Satya Sai Baba, Ramana Maharshi, Rajneesh or Mata Amritanandamayi went through. It cannot be imparted to someone, nor can it be told. Having realized the challenges, I had to drop that film. And I did it with profound sadness. At times, I had thought of reworking on it with focus on music, but was not 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 story’s treatment 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 got a new lease of life. With a co-writer on board, I feel energized and excited to work on it again. We have updated the story.

Some directors have approached me after having heard 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 sustained 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 initial plan.

Regardless of the plans future hold for Harshan Dulari, it will be to continue to have a special place in Malayalam cinema. As an ever-enchanting dream, a mirage that allured both stars and filmmakers.

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