Malayalam cinema is going through its worst ever crisis. The sexual assault of an actress in February and the arrest of a popular actor in connection with the case in July had put the underbelly of the industry in the spotlight. The conspiracy and controversies have brought to the surface everything the filmdom wanted to keep under wraps, with matinee idols suddenly facing a crisis of credibility.
Ironically, this year has also been one of the best in recent years for Malayalam cinema. A clutch of gems have held the standard high amid the negative publicity attracted by the high-profile crime and the investigation into it.
Dileesh Pothan scored a second straight win with Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, while Mahesh Narayanan’s Take Off was praised for the brave documentation of the survival of Malayali nurses in war-torn Iraq. Lijo Jose Pellissery’s daring act of casting more than 80 fresh faces paid off when Angamaly Diaries became a darling of the masses. Apart from Take Off, movies such as Godha, C/o Saira Banu and Ramante Edanthottam were notable for their woman-centric themes.
We give you a list of 12 memorable movies from among the releases in the first half of the year, and we did not limit our selection criteria to commercial success. The making, character development, political sensibilities and the totality of the work were also in our mind while we picked these movies.
Dileesh Pothan had a reputation to keep. His deceptively simple directorial debut, Maheshinte Prathikaaram catapulted him into instant stardom. The movie was loved by the masses and the critics alike and went on to win a couple of national awards. His latest venture was eagerly awaited. Expectations were high when Rajeev Ravi joined the project as cinematographer. The Maheshinte Prathikaaram team including Shyam Pushkaran, Bijibal and Fahadh Faasil were pretty much intact otherwise. And boy, how they proved themselves! The movie was striking with its realistic story line and its take on contemporary political and social issues. Pothan talks about identities, civil marriage and the politics of hunger. Suraj Venjarammood, Fahadh Faasil and Alencier were matched by newcomers Nimisha Sanjayan, Vettukili Prakash and Sibi Thomas. Sajeev Pazhoor, Ravi, Pushkaran and Bijibal played their roles well behind the screen.
2. Take Off
Mahesh Narayanan chose a chain of real-life events as fodder for his first movie as a director. The movie depicted the struggle of Malayali nurses in terrorists’ captivity in Iraq. At a micro level, the movie was a personal tale of Sameera the protagonist. The movie assumes significant at a time when thousands of nurses in Kerala went on a warpath for a wage hike and better working conditions. Parvathy brought to life Sameera, while Kunchacko Boban and Fahadh Faasil excelled in their parts. Narayanan, originally a movie editor, received ample support from Santosh Raman, who recreated Iraq in his brilliant sets in Kochi, Hyderabad and the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah. Take Off collected at the business office and earned stars in review columns. The movie has collected Rs 25 crore at the box office.
The local epic of pork vendors and edgy gangsters cemented Lijo Jose Pellissery’s position as Kerala’s world-class movie-maker. Pellissery is not a man of compromise. He is not contended by giving audience what they expect of him, but what they did not expect. The experiments continue in Angamaly Diaries. The approach proceeds from magical realism to realistic magic, relishing the flavors of the pork-crazed town all the while. The director and script writer Chemban Vinod take particular credit in lining up more than 80 newcomers to portray the rustic characters. Vincent Pepe, Appani Ravi, Lichi and 10 ml are sure to remain with audience for a while. Girish Gangadharan’s deft camera work and Prashant Pillai’s background score lifted the project.
Biju Menon’s switch to comic roles has paid off. His comic timing and ease of acting proved enviable qualities in his second innings dotted with such favorites as Ordinary, Romans, Vellimoonga, Anarkali, and Swarna Kaduva. Biju Menon’s solo brilliance was a major factor in lifting Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu into the league of hits this year. The Ranjan Pramod movie was much more than a nostalgic diary of a commoner. The movie throws light on the spaces lost to the development juggernaut and the warmth of camaraderie, collecting Rs 10 crore in the process.
Basil Joseph swept the audience off their feet with his debut. The movie revolved around a Punjabi girl named Aditi Singh. The setting of the story was a village or wrestling aficionados but the movie touched upon sensitive issues such as women’s liberation and education for girls. The movie’s success may be a boost for more woman-centric works. Punjabi actress Wamiqa Gabbi played the central character of the movie, while Tovino Thomas backed up his newfound position in the industry with an impressive performance. The movie collected Rs 14 crore.
The Prithviraj-starrer was an unlikely horror movie. Debutante director JK excelled in technological craft but might have lost control through the second half of the movie. The movie was the second Prithviraj movie after Ennu Ninte Moideen to find a place in the Rs 50 crore grossers’ club. Sushin Shyam’s background score and Sujit Vasudevan’s cinematography were plus points.
Tom Emmatty’s movie about the turbulent campuses of the 1970s created a stir in movie halls. The movie was a launch vehicle for Tovino Thomas. Roopesh Peethambaran too did a remarkable performance as the anti-hero. The move grossed Rs 15 crore.
The movie was another positive work from Ranjith Shankar. The movie was an attempt to essay the identity of woman by fusing her with nature. Though the garden of Edan belonged to Raman, the movie centered on Malini the dancer, played by Anu Sithara. Kunchacko Boban lived up to his reputation as a safe bet. Bijibal’s music and background score set the right mood for the movie. So did Madhu Neelakandan’s camera work.
Antony Soni’s movie was the perfect vehicle for Manju Warrier to reclaim her title as the leading lady of Malayalam cinema. The movie also brought back Amala Akkineni, the bubbly girl of yesteryear. The movie told the tale of mothers’ struggles and raised issues about the rule of law. The movie, written by RJ Shan, was an homage to Victor George, who was brought to life with Mohanlal’s voice.
Dr Biju is yet to find the recognition he deserves in his homeland, despite bagging honors in almost all international forums. The director’s movies are more tuned to film festival audience. Kadu Pookkunna Neram is no different. The movie deals with hot topics such as state terror and fake encounters on the backdrop of the UAPA. Indrajit, Rima Kallingal, Indrans and Prakash Bare shine in their roles. M J Radhakrishnan brings a disturbing tale to life through his lens. The movie also explores the possibilities of live sound recording.
Amid all the movies that sought to evoke a certain leftist nostalgia, Amal Neerad’s CIA stands out. Of course, Dulquer Salmaan dons a heroic garb as an SFI activist in CMS College but the movie goes on to accompany him through his life and love, where his ideals are constantly challenged. The movie discusses a broad range of topics from local politics to international affairs. The movie highlights the relevance of left politics in contemporary world. The movie grossed Rs 20 crore at the box office.
12. Adventures of Omanakuttan
The movie drew heavily from the ‘new wave’ Tamil movies. Debutante director Rohit V S proved himself as an experimenter by fusing fiction and fantasy. The movie was made for multiplexes, standing apart in every aspect of making from color tone to character development. The movie was a rare challenge to Asif Ali.