After an extendedseason of several colossal flops, trade unionisation of the industry, video piracy and mass theatre closures, Malayalam cinema is once again finding its bearings.
For the first time in close to two decades, the industry has crossed the magical figure of over 100 films hitting the theatre circuit, in addition to over 10 dubbed films, so far this year. Last year, the industry generated 89 films capped by another eight dubbed films.
Lal Jose’s Ayaalum Njanum Thammil and Anoop Kannan’s Jawan of Vellimalla can contend for the honour of being the 100th film this year, having both released on October 19.
Since then seven more films have been added to the list of Malayalam films including the latest releases of 916 and 101 Weddings. The total number of films in 2012 could break the record set in 1985, when over 121 films were released.
The current wave of activity in Malayalam cinema is reminiscent of the 1980s, regarded as the golden age of cinema, when mainstream films bridged the gap between arthouse and commercial movies, led by a team of talented writers and directors. Several of them are now the chieftains of the industry although many others have lost their touch and live in past glory.
In the 1980s too stars mattered but not as much as in the 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium, when Malayalam cinema was practically dictated by the whims of ‘superstars’ and their cohorts.
Today, once again, stars are finding it hard to get a box office grip on their own might.
Mammootty, who has dominated the industry for close to three decades, has found practically all his films this year flounder, while Mohanlal, after a rather dismal 2011, has found success thanks to the power of the written word – the script, that is.
While no one writes off the mega-stars who have sustained their presence purely on the might of their talent, the positive news is that Malayalam cinema-goers now do not need star charisma to flock to the theatres.
It perhaps warms Mammootty’s heart that his son Dulquer Salman’s films such as Ustad Hotel have been huge money-spinners – clearly riding on the power of a well-written, elegantly crafted movie.
Traditionally, Malayalam cine-goers have been averse to star-sons, unless they define their own niche. That Dulquer gets to create his space without the clout of his dad, perhaps, is the most compelling testament to the change in the industry.
Today, there is as much hype for a Fahad Fazil movie as for any of the reigning superstars, and yet Fahad might not call himself a star. Also earning newfound appeal among audiences are actors like Prathap Pothen and Tini Tom – all earning their place through author-backed characters.
Malayalam cinema also now has the ‘new generation’ filmmakers, who are willing to push the boundaries – be it in terms of content, as seen in director Aashiq Abu’s films, or in dialogues, as shown by actor-writer Anoop Menon.
While the boldness of movies like 22 Female Kottayam and Trivandrum Lodge might shock the elder generation, for the new breed of movie-goers the expletives mouthed by heroes and heroines on-screen simply stand for ‘reality.’
Another trend in Malayalam cinema is the growth in the number of dubbed films. While Hollywood, Bollywood and Tamil films enjoy as much popularity as Malayalam films in Kerala, it is the surge of outright commercial Telugu films, especially by Allu Arjun, dubbed into Malayalam that has come as a novelty.
This August, the month that Mammootty’s Thaappana and Dileep’s Mr Marumakan hit theatres, Allu Arjun’s Gajapokkiri, a remake of the Telugu hit Julai, had as many, if not more, release centres than the superstars.
The laudable aspect of Malayalam cinema, today, is that there is space for everyone. From arthouse to commercial to new generation and dubbed, whatever the genre and type of the movie, there is room to try.
Not many years ago, film production was fraught with acute financial risk, very few people ventured into the industry – unless they had the backing of the stars. Today, digitisation has made it easier to make films, and more importantly, deliver them to audiences, despite the hegemony of the distributors and producers’ associations.
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