Cover Article in IFFK 2015 Festival Book
about Malayalam Cinema Today
Mainstream versus Art-House, that is the ongoing milieu amongst movies all over, especially in India. And similar is the scenario in Malayalam too, but with a difference, where, the Art -House movies try their level best to update technically conforming to the present day advancements, while the Mainstream imbibes the structural and thematic nuances of the counterpart. While the Post- Celluloid era offers much freedom to film makers from constraints of duration as well as retakes, the Digital productions try to touch big scores. Unfortunately, only a few hit the target and that is the paradox in contemporary Malayalam Cinema.
Productions were in the increase considerably over the past few years, as it managed to get revenue from Satellite as well as the overseas rights. Anyway the hype thus created by the so called ‘table- profit projects’ has come to a natural end after the TV Channels' refusal to fund movies that did not prove successful in movie halls. This year too had a hangover of such productions without mettle, and that accounts to the total number of movies made last year. As usual, hardly a handful of them did manage to bring back the investment and a very few hit a bang in the box office. By December it may hit a figure of 130 films released this year, out of which around 15 might have grossed the investment.
Film makers with commitment and dedication still continued their pursuit with good films, which upheld the past legacy in quality, that Malayalam Cinema always boasted about. Such movies won much attention and critical acclaim internationally. The USP of such sincere movie productions is its uniqueness in subject. They do dare to attempt explosive and socially relevant subjects, from ecology to relationships, social hypocracy to alchoholism. While adhering to the modern idioms of cinematic narration and adapting intrinsic, multi-layered and multi-dimensional narrative techniques, movies belonging to the Parallel stream never compromise a bit in its content. That is why, an audience tend to applaud Jayaraj's Ottaal (The Trap), Sidharth Siva's Iyn (The Eye) as well as Dr. Biju's Valiya Chirakulla Pakshikal (Birds with Large Wings) whole-heartedy. These movies addresses chronic social dilemmas including child labour, Endosulphan and terrorism. Many of the new breed film makers doesn’t bother to go to the grass root in pin pointing and exposing the political conspiracies behind the evils. To them movie is a genuine medium of expression.
The postive shift in Malayalam Cinema is that, the so-called Mainstream commercial movies too have started to react seriously and positively to social issues in depth, while adhering to its formulae framework, and this needs to be duly acknowledged. And that makes movies like Nirnayakam directed by V K Prakash, Ennu Ninte Moideen by R S Vimal or Kattum Mazhayum (by Harikumar significantly relevant. The movies never leave the politics in its theme unaddressed and this bridges it with its thematic difference from the Socially committed films in its content aspect. And the paradigm shift is of course the defiance of Stardom. No film did good because of its star cast or the support of Mega/ Super stars. Viewers were so ardent in handpicking only the best out of the lot, and they didn’t care who were cast in it. And hence, it provided bigger and expanded space for new breed of heroes and heroines.
Youngsters inspired from their exposures to Film festivals and film schools as well as the internet are coming more into the industry, which gives it conceptual freshness in the thematic level and also in creative leap in its aesthetic appeal. Definitely debutant director-duo Santhosh Babu Senan-Sathish Babu Senan are among them. As against the political viewpoints of contemporaries like Sanal Kumar Sasidharan (An Off Day game), Salim Ahmmed( Pathemari) or Dr.Biju, the Senans are inclined more to the personal film making. And that makes their debut Chayam Pooshiya Veedu (The Painted House) romantically clever. But the disheartening fact to be noted here is that, the very same movie triggers another round of deliberations over the prevailing censorship of movies in India.
One aspect that demands critical introspection is the increase in duration of movies in general. Most of the movies made these days except a very few seem to be really bothered about its duration at all. This makes the Editor lazy and results in unwarranted lag that mars the emotional viewing experience of the audience. This indeed results in glitches in the communication cycle which at times alienate the audience from the sentimental understanding of the movie. While in the past, the Mainstream cinema tended to spoon- feed its mass audience, thus demanding so little from them as its partner in communication process; modern day commercial movies too repeat the same to some extent, but this time through its obsessive detailing. One shouldn’t go unaware of the fact that such finite detailing in scenes revealing the plot is due to the absence of celluloid silver raw stock in the digital technology, where film makers are that much free to shoot and re-shoot to any extent as it matters to the cost of an extra hard disk or storage space! Triggering from the ‘New Generation’ genre, mainstream has almost made it its characteristic of loose editing. This of course grades it down to the level of an extended TV production. Such extensive detailing definitely questions the sensibility of the audience, as it leaves no room for them to think or imagine.
Needless to note that still the most adored subject of the Malayalam Mainstream film is love and lust. There has been a loyal market for love stories in the state over the years. The paradox is that, as against the past, this year saw two extra ordinary hits featuring Love juxtaposed with Desire. While Alphonse Puthran's Premam (Love) strongly reciprocated the typical new- generation sensibility of care-free relationships and a rather lustful love, Vimal's Ennu Ninte Moideen, inspired from a real life incident, upheld the platonic dimension of the emotion. Both periodic movies, made by the young brigade, had some indirect references to the socio economic and political Diaspora of the state over the past several years. What makes Moideen daring is its sincere portrayal of prevailing religious and cultural differences that is still valid. On the other hand Premam is more daring in that, it attempts to de mythify platonic love. It rises up to the level of a social spoof, by re-defining male-female relationships freeing itself from all social taboos. The surprising fact, that needs to be seriously recorded is that both the movies did extremely well in the theatres and also incited a niche of socio-cultural studies based on these movie phenomenon. Premam also put some remains in the history of Malayalam Cinema, as an unfortunate victim to cyber theft where the entire film was widely shared by the cyber media through chatwares like whatsapp, while the movie was successfully running.
The most noteworthy positive change in Malayalam Cinema last year, is the hike in acceptance of the Parallel Art-House films. Films struggling to get exhibitors or theatres, succeeded in finding slots in the goverment sponsored/ government owned theatre networks. In fact, the way by which they were received by the mass turned to be eye openers to the mainstream exhibitors as well as boosted up the confidence level of independent film makers to reach their movies to the public. This phenomenal acceptance is sure to harvest more good and worthy movies in the years to come.
The slight disappointment is the creative silence by Master film makers. Internationally acclaimed maestros Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Shaji N Karun were not creatively active during the period. At the same time it is so cherishing to watch established film makers like Lal Jose, refreshing themselves creatively by updating their approaches confining to the form and content of the modern day film making style.
It is of no doubt that the bunch of movies showcased in this edition of IFFK definitely represents and reflects the diverse cross section of contemporary Malayalam Cinema. And it of course tends to be positive. Much is to be expected from these film makers in future and this gives us a promising glance of the aesthetic heights that films from this region has been continuously upholding.