How Malayalam films like Kilukkam and Sandesham fuelled meme culture

How Malayalam films like Kilukkam and Sandesham fuelled meme culture
Within hours of posting a simple meme on the ICU Facebook page, the creator got thousands of likes and it must have been forwarded by a few more thousands on WhatsApp.
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Remember the swinging palm trees that double up as catapults for the warriors to break into the fort in Bahubali-2?

The image of the warriors climbing on to the palm trees became the backdrop of a meme as soon as the news of the government working overtime to build a huge wall in Gujarat to hide the slums on the occasion of US President Trump’s visit to India hit the Internet.

“The sight of workers returning home in Gujarat,” reads the succinct caption.

Within hours of posting this simple meme on the ICU (International Chalu Union, a collective of troll and meme generators) Facebook page, the creator got thousands of likes and it must have been forwarded by a few more thousands on WhatsApp.

The reach of trolls has touched such a high that every Keralite has at least one meme, or at least a one-liner, for every occasion to forward.

Most of these memes pick comedy scenes from popular Malayalam films that everyone connects with. Priyadarshan’s Kilukkam and Sathyan Anthikad’s Sandesham and Nadodikkattu are some of the films that meme creators love the most.

Why movies? Well, nothing else connects so well with the audience.

The acceptance level is so high when you crack a good joke that goes well with the context of the scene from which the images are taken.

The new generation seems to have replaced political cartoons – they ruled the roost once - with a rather easy-to-produce memes.

The satire is not limited to politics alone, some laugh at the negative facets of our culture, that of prejudices, bigotry and doublespeak.

How Malayalam films like Kilukkam and Sandesham fuelled meme culture
Credits: Jojin Alex ©ICU, Rajesh K R Raj ©ICU

A wicked smile of Jagathy Sreekumar or a confused expression of Salim Kumar fires up several comic lines that the audience would experience in the actual voice of these comedians in their mind.

You will find it nearly impossible to translate these with the same emotional effect to someone who does not know the language or the context of the original scene.

Tool to express humour

Memes are a global phenomenon for sure, but you may not find another community like the Malayalees that pretty much speaks the language of memes when they have to express something using humour.

When you send a message on WhatsApp group, it is highly likely that a fellow Malayalee finds a parallel in his huge collection of memes and responds with one of them.

How Malayalam films like Kilukkam and Sandesham fuelled meme culture
Credit: Arjun V S ©ICU

It’s not that other languages lag behind in this new ‘artform’. Just like Malayalam, so many trolls use scenes from Tamil films to create political and social satire in Tamil, English and other languages.

Funny expressions of comedians Vadivelu, Vivek, Manobala and stars Ajith and Vikram are quite popular in hitting the right target.

When this meme wave started, an elementary level of knowledge in graphic editing tools was necessary to create memes. As the idea caught the imagination of a large number of people, platforms that offer instant palettes on which you can add your own lines, were launched.

The wonderful thing about these tools is that you can select a wide range of images, add your text on top of them and share your meme through one of the Facebook pages that has millions of followers. What more does a person with a good sense of humour and an interest to offer a reaction through social media need?

Origin of 'meme'

Renowned biologist Richard Dawkins was the first to coin the term “meme” in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. He came up with the term to describe a culturally transmitted unit.

A scene or a shot that is mutable or capable of inspiring a range of interpretations and spin-offs, can become a meme.

How Malayalam films like Kilukkam and Sandesham fuelled meme culture
Credits: Pradeep Balakrishnan ©ICU

It’s amazing how some of the most popular movie scenes mutated into several, varying interpretations to suit a wide range of situations.

Power of 'memes'

Here is an inspiring tale of how a Hollywood studio recently overturned the fate of one of its potential box office disasters into a hit, using memes.

When Paramount Studios decided to launch the latest film in their Sonic franchise with a drastic redesign of its characters, memes that mock the new design went viral.

Several social media trolls and Sonic fans took to the Internet criticising the damage done to a work that has been received rather well over the last several years.

Paramount, to their credit, paid close attention to the phenomenon and went back to the drawing board to fix the design flaws that the users have been mocking through memes.

How Malayalam films like Kilukkam and Sandesham fuelled meme culture
Sonic The Hedgehog opened to a weekend collection of $68 million

Thanks to the free, organic marketing campaign led by the trolls, the memes about the design fixes too reached millions. The result: an average film Sonic The Hedgehog opened to a weekend collection of $68 million, the best ever opening for a video-game-based movie, which surpassed the numbers of its much popular rival Detective Pikachu, whose Pokemon designs had an instant connection with the audience.

We have a huge, vibrant community out there, which works round the clock on sharp satire, closely watching the political developments and every move of celebrities.

The anonymous meme creator is no longer a stranger to any age group on social media.

She is recognised as an important part of society, courtesy their empowerment of millions to raise their voice through social media.

In one of the shorts in Halitha Shameem’s recent anthology film Sillu Karupatti, writer K Manikandan plays a meme creator suffering from cancer who eventually falls in love with his regular cab mate who he discovers to be one of his followers.

Mugilan, the meme creator works in a software company but creates memes as a break from his boring daily routine. When a politician offers Mugilan money to power his social media clout through memes, he flatly turns it down saying that he is not for sale.

Ironically, one of the meme groups marked itself on Facebook as “Safe” from the ‘Indian mega sale’ or disinvestment of companies that the central government seems to be indulged in.

In another, business tycoon Ambani was shown as approaching the government for life insurance. The government’s reply: “If you wait for two weeks, you can take the entire Life Insurance Corporation of India!

(Dress Circle is a weekly column on films. The author is a communication professional and film enthusiast. Read his past works here.)

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