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The best of Malayalam cinema in 2013

Deepa Gauri / 26 December 2013

2013 saw the triumph of good cinema, Deepa Gauri writes

IN THE NUMBERS game, the march of Malayalam cinema in 2013 was unparalleled. With over 158 original Malayalam films, and some 12 dubbed from other languages, the industry stole a march over Bollywood, as well as the traditional industry fore-runners, Tamil and Telugu in sheer numbers.

While it is practically impossible for the Malayalam film industry, with just about 74 first-release centres in the state, to ever dream of the 100-crore clubs that Bollywood flaunts, in its own little way, Malayalam cinema has been kind to producers who were careful with their budgeting, yielding them good profits to keep the industry going.

Joy Mathew’s Shutter was a critical and commercial success

But most remarkably, Malayalam cinema in 2013 would be noted for two key factors: One, the refusal of the Malayalam TV channels to lap up any movie that came their way in the name of ‘satellite rights;’ and two, the realisation by the so-called new generation filmmakers who largely survived by peddling expletives and shock value that such ware has few takers.

Further on the brighter side, the industry expanded its horizons considerably. Gone is the fixation on superstars, and new talents were offered the opportunity to effortlessly march in, and if they were good, make their mark. The case in point being the success of Philips and the Monkey Pen, directed by two newcomers Rojin Philip and Shanil Muhammed.

Of the 158 films, nearly 86 were made by newcomers, led by the comparatively lower cost of production thanks to digital filmmaking and increased access to ‘satellite rights’ which prevailed through the first nine months of the year before the TV industry sat up and took notice that all was not rosy.

Annayum Rasoolum starring Fahadh Faasil was a memorable film

To rightly put the perspective of Malayalam cinema in 2013, one only has to look at the first film released - Annayum Rasoolum (Fahadh Faasil,  Andrea) by Rajeev Ravi, who made his debut as director – and one of the last – Drishyam (Mohanlal, Meena) directed by Jeethu Joseph, who also delivered another stunning hit, Memories (Prithviraj).

Today, Drishyam is the talk of the town as the ‘return of good mainstream cinema’ and the ‘return of Mohanlal’ while Annayum Rasoolum was a perfect example of good cinema finding its rightful place in the commercial circuit. And until Drishyam came along, this year belonged to Fahadh Faasil, who with over 10 films to his credit, won over audiences.

But just as critics of the superstars need to be reminded, Fahadh’s own choice of bad films found hardly any takers at the box office, underscoring the fact that be it new-gen or old-gen, there is no surefire ticket to success other than making good cinema.

One of the most discussed films of the year was made by a former resident of Dubai, journalist turned filmmaker and actor Joy Mathew. His film Shutter was a critical and box-office success, and Mathew says, the film came at a time when film audiences in Kerala had discovered a new sensibility – one that is willing to accept a good narrative for its own right, than being embellished with superstars and songs.

Jeethu Joseph directed Prithviraj in the stunning Memories

Another film that shook up the state was writer-actor Murali Gopy’s Left Right Left, directed by Arun Kumar. No other film would perhaps have witnessed such sidelining than this one, which went on to set record DVD sales, after the film exhibitor lobby chickened out and refused screening in some parts of the state for fear of recrimination from the leftist party.

Murali and Arun had reiterated that the characters in the film were not fashioned after any political heavyweight, but then, when it comes to ruffling feathers, even the mighty Malayalam film industry’s moneybags can become weak-kneed.

Among the films that earned remarkable box-office success is a mixed bag that includes utterly commercial movies such as Romans (Biju Menon, Kunchacko Boban), Sound Thoma (Dileep), Mumbai Police (Prithviraj); a biopic that went on to win awards – Celluloid (Prithviraj), directed by Kamal; a clean entertainer Punyalan Agarbathis (Jayasoorya); and some films that indeed tried to push the boundary with some innovative thinking and narrative such as Amen (Fahadh Faasil), Honeybee (Asif Ali), Neram (Nivin Pauly), and ABCD (Dulquer Salman), among others.

Films that were noted for their powerful content included Shyamaprasad’s Artist (Fahadh); Siddharth Shiva’s 101 Chodyangal; Anil Radhakrishna Menon’s North 24 Kaatham (Fahadh); Sameer Thahir’s Neelakasham Chuvanna Kadal Paccha Bhoomi (Dulquer); Salim Ahmed’s Kunjananthante Kada (Mammootty) and Shambhu Purushothaman’s Vedi Vazhipadu.

Among the much panned films included AV Sasidharan’s Olipporu (Fahadh) that went over the audience’s heads; Blessey’s Kalimannu (Shwetha Menon); Priyadarshan’s Geethanjali (Mohanlal); and Ranjith’s Kadal Kadannoru Mathukutty (Mammootty).

The varied bag where superstars and newcomers feature in the list of box-office triumphs and failures just goes on to show that in Malayalam cinema, now, content commands the premium – not star power or aggressive social media peddling.

Thrill ride

DIRECTOR VK PRAKASH’S Silence, starring Mammootty, is flagged as an investigative thriller. The film had raised huge expectations more so because Mammootty’s films were receiving patchy box office success, and also because VKP is usually associated with splendid visuals and bold narration.

While the film has gained mixed reviews in Kerala, it definitely has given a breath of relief to Mammootty, with Silence gaining good box office collections.

Mammootty acts as a young judge Aravind, who lives in Bangalore. Just as he is taking charge, during a visit to Kerala, he realises that someone working in the shadows is posing a threat to him and his family.

What follows is an intelligent investigative thriller, a mode that Mammootty, as an actor, is perfectly at ease in. The film has been much hyped for its reverse car chases, and a notably dignified performance by the actor.

Silence, also called The Power of Silence, is now playing in theatres in the UAE.

 

 
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