Prelude of Malayalam Cinema 2016-2017 published by the
Kerala State Chalachitra Academy, compiled by Dixon George
Though the year 2016 ended up banging the Box-office, creating new bench marks for any commercial mainstream Malayalam movie could attain, the new height in collection figures crossing the 100 crores mark, it didnt helped by any means for the nurturing of meaningful independant cinema. It was Priyadarshan's mohanlal starrer Oppam, which marked the first entry from the vernacular cinema to the 50 crore club, whereas later another big hit Pulimurugan which rleased in october 2016, by the versatile hero Mohanlal himself, created milestone in collection records by becoming the first ever malayalam cinema from Kerala to make its mark into the 100 crore club. Many meaningful cinematic initiatives like Budhanum Chaplinum Chirikkunnu by R Sarath which deserved much appreciation went uncelebrated or rather unnotticed.
At the same time some genuine attempts from within the mainstream fevour like V M Vinu's Marupadi, Jude Anthony's Oru Muthassi Gadha, Sidhardh Siva's Kochappa Paulo Ayyappa Koilo and Ganesh Raj's debut film Anandam etc.should definitely be acknowledged for its sincere usage of the medium. All of them including another super hit of the year end Kattappanayile Hrithick Roshan directed by Nadir Shah did dare to move their way away from super stardom by casting new comers or promoting third line actors to the lead roles. All these movies were disciplined in such a way that they all relied upon the script, the content as their super stars! While National Award winning director Sidhardh Siva once again proved that there is still room for meaningful narratives through Kochappa Paulo, which marked the comeback of the legendary banner Udaya Studio, which was revived by its third generation successor Kunchako Boban, Anandam, a cute low budget movie with all newcomers proved to be meaningful as well, by attracting the new generation audience.
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. 2017 January dawned with the release of Kaadu Pookkunna Neram by award winning director Dr.Biju, which got wide critical acclamation in Film Festivals circuits. It was of no doubt to be a committed screen representation of a sensitive social issue, but had in it celebrated stars like Indrajith and Rima Kallingal. Mainstream releases like the Mohanlal starrer Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol and Sathyan Anthikkad's Joemonte Suvisheshangal featuring Dilquer Salman did pretty good business and it should be noted that, is at this juncture that a handful of off-beat cinematic attempts like R Sarath's Swayam, Vijayakrishnan's Kaviyude Osyath, Saji Palamel's Aaradi etc., were released in an extremely limited circuits. Though it should be recorded that, Kerala still provides space for arthouse initiatives, one fact remains intact, that meaningful cinema has to fight to a great extend even to get theatres for its release. One has to note that the plight of a brilliantly crafted movie like Aaradi would not happen to any such movie in a state that boasts much for its visual media tradition. Certain sincere attempts like P T Kunjumuhammad's Vishwasapoorvam Mansoor went quite unnoticed too. It was quite disappointing to watch the internationally renowned film maker Jayaraj coming up with a movie essentially crafted for the mass- Veeram- based on Shakespeare. Though well executed, his fifth in the Navarasa Series didnt make any impulse among the mass as well as the critics.
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 Sakhavu directed by Sidharth Siva, Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu by Ranjan Pramod CIA - Comrade in America by Amal Neerad, Oru Mexican Aparatha by Tom Emmatty or Ayal Sasi by Sajin Babu significantly relevant. These 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. But for CIA, none of them did good business because of its star cast. Viewers were so ardent in handpicking only the best out of the lot, and they didn’t care who were cast in it. Thus it provided bigger and expanded space for new breed of heroes and heroines. They treated life as such with a critical perpective, garnished with subtle blackhumour.
Feel good movies like Aby by Srikant Murali, Godha by Basil Joseph and Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela by Althaf Salim etc., too had its impact in the theatres. Feminity found its significance duely expressed in movies like Ramante Edenthottam by Ranjith Sankar and C/O Saira Banu by Antony Sony Sebastian. Though the former stood odd against stardom, the latter presented two female superstars of the south as its pivots. Udaharanam Sujatha, a remake of the hindi film Nil Battey Sannata too stood alone portraying women life in contemporary Kerala Society. At the same time the thematic similarity of Sujatha with one independant production Minnaminungu directed by Anil Thomas, which brought the fourth National Award for the best Actress to the Malayalam Film Industry through Surabhi Lakshmi, gave an unusual opportunity to compare the makings of the two different genres. Though Bio-pic as a genre has not yet established itself idependently in Malayalam cinema, Clint by Harikumar on the prodigical life of the child artist may be considered as last year's contribution.
Eventhough Rajeev Ravi's much talked about Kammattippadam was widely accepted as a as genuine on screen representation of the dalit conscience and life of Fort Kochi natives, it was at the same time criticised for its utmost depiction of violence. The film dared to make some significant visual remarks on the life of the oppressed maturely and indpendently. One will definitely agree to the observation that Saubin Shahir's Parava released during the mid of this year, depicts the other side of the same issue. While Kammattippadam invites our attention towards the darker side of the Kochi criminal world, Parava reveals the same from a romantic point of view. It depicts how the youth of Kochi are being dragged into crime and how they are victimsied by the underworld's criminal activities. Its quite interesting to note that both the films had Dilquer Salman in the lead.
Even while criticising Malayalam Cinema, for being with the wind, complying and compromising to its pre-concieved commercial notions, it will be quite unwise to go blind upon the realistic endeavours in the new generation Malayalam Cinema. Two movies crafted in absolute rustic urban/rural reality reflecting a hitherto different sensibility became instant hit and became talk of the year. One was Angamaly Diaries by Lijo Jose Pellissery and the other was Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum by Dileesh Pothen. Angamali Dairies, a movie which introduced and featured more than 34 new faces to the industry, became a trend setter as a dialectically realistic one. It represented semi urban life of a local town of central Kerala with rustically with all its fervour and flavour. It is to a certain extent is hyper realistic in its form and treatment. Whereas Dileesh Pothen's true-to-life socio-drama Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum received a more warm and wide reception than his debutant feature film, Maheshinte Prathikaram, from all over. Its narrative technique was so subtle and hearty that it instantly created ripples among the critics as well as general audience. Having a plot with its lineage towards the Italian neo-realistic classic The Bycycle Thieves, Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum could only be compared to movies like Kodiyettam, Kallan Pavithran or Oridathoru Phayalwan. Nurtured within a satirical treatment, the movie addresses issues affecting contemporary social life, economy, bureaucracy as well as burning issues like extremism in its own artistic way. The film is noted for its extreme simplicity in its narration. Thondimuthalum putforth relevant questions regarding social victmisation and show how the system makes common man's life intolerable. With eye catching performances by Fahad Fazil, Suraj Venjaramoodu and Allencier,Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum outshines Maheshinte Prathikaram with its brillaint script and direction.
Take-Off was another visual splendour of the year which was crafted brilliantly as pan-asian movie. Produced as a tribute to the late director Rajesh Pillai attributed to be the forrunner of the new generation sensibility in Malayalam Cinema, Take-Off directed by film editor Mahesh Narayanan was based upon the real life incident of the airlifting evacuation of malayalee nurses who were trapped in Iraq during the ISIS terror attack in the year 2014. The film depicted nurse's life in real colour without any artificiality. At the same time it did interwove all the commercial elements including a staunchy star cast that included Fahad Fazil, Kunchako Boban and Parvathy Theruvoth. The film won several awards including the prestigious Silver Peacock for the special mention at the IFFI 2017 and Parvathy got the International award for the best actress in the Film Festival for her sincere portrayal of Sameera the divorced nurse the female protagonist with immense talent and perfection. Upon these three movies Malayala cinema still can boast upon its down-to-earth portrayal of human life, while the mainstream hysterically moves and shakes according to the pandemic “jimicky kammal” tune!
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.