Happened to watch this movie sometime last week. Have been trying to watch this one over a long time, and a DVD on netflix was too irresistible. I expected to be dependent on subtitles, but was surprised by my knowledge of Malayalam, and which turned out to be necessary considering the really hopeless subtitles.
The movie stars Mohanlal in arguably one of his best roles to date. He plays Kunhikuttan, a lower-caste Kathakali player who struggles through poverty despite being notably talented. The movie is more than just about the ancient dance form of Kathakali. It is an episodic take on the life of Kunhikuttan right from his birth to his death. Born illegitimately to a higher caste father who rejects him and his mother, he grows up bitter and an alcoholic. He marries a woman who has no love for him and showers him with hatred. The movie also stars Suhasini, who plays a Namboodiri woman, who falls in love with the character Arjuna he plays and has a son through him which she claims is born of Arjuna and not the person Kunhikuttan. He ends up bitter and starts performing mainly demonic roles before dying on stage after an amazing performance as Arjuna with a script by Suhasini.
All said and done, it never claims to be a movie for plain entertainment. The movie is bitter, tragic, and mostly melancholic with barely a few moments of lightness thrown in. But it stands out for the performances, the taut story and the kathakali performances by Mohanlal. Am not sure how much of it he did himself.
The movie swept the 1999 national awards, winning Mohanlal his second National award and the best film award. Would recommend it only if you are looking to watch a good film and not just want to be entertained. Knowledge of Malayalam would be better, unless you have reliable subtitles.