Romance returns to Malayalam cinema
2015 has seen romance as a genre bringing huge returns for Malayalam cinema, writes Deepa Gauri.
'EVERY INDIAN FILM is a love story' is not a sweeping generalisation that applies to Malayalam cinema. Love is a powerful plot point that has been interpreted variously by filmmakers, and romance is often regarded as the easiest genre, especially by Bollywood.
But romantic movies have arguably been the most difficult to pull off in Malayalam cinema. It appeared that there was something in the Malayali psyche that was against so-called syrupy romantic tales for a long time.
Even when Bollywood and Tamil industry celebrated teenybopper love stories, Malayalam cinema attempted to take a rather realistic stand. Romance was rather mature in movies and there was an overarching disdain for unrealistic love stories.
That is not to undermine the overpowering emotion of love that ran through classics such as Chemeen but 'romance' as a stand-alone genre was always challenging. Prem Nazir must have been the evergreen romantic hero of Malayalam films but films of the era were markedly 'social' than 'romantic' in their genre-clause. While Vincent, Ravi Kumar, Sudheer and Jose, came along, to endear Malayalis, their sticking power was low. Audiences preferred the rather brute realism of Sukumaran-Soman movies.
With mainstream cinema becoming less commercial-oriented and more content heavy, there was a profusion of campus and youth movies in the late 1970s-early 1980s. But all these searing love stories, especially those by Lenin Rajendran, Mohan, Padmarajan, Bharathan and Balachandramenon, among others, had a streak of intensity and subtlety.
Perhaps the first of the all-out romantic tale to get Malayalis to accept puppy-love romance was Fazil's Manjil Virinja Pookal. The film came with zilch expectations with a bunch of newcomers and the rest, as they say, is history.
The film's hero Shankar gained acceptance as a romantic hero, while its villain Mohanlal went on to become everything an actor could dream of, effortless in romance, thrills, arthouse and noir.
Kakka, starring Rohini and Raghuvaran, too was a smash-hit of the time, as was Kuyiline Thedi, again with Mohanlal as the villain. For a while, it seemed, only tragic romances worked. This was further underlined by Balachandramenon's Premageethangal.
The flashy disco-dancing hero who will sweep the heroine off her feet still had to wait till Rahman came along. There were Shankar and Rahman clones ruling the silver screen almost at the same time, most of them falling at the box office.
While Jayaram and Dileep delivered their share of romantic hits, these again came packaged with loveable village backdrops or as pathos-inducing sad tales. Directors Sathyan Anthikadu, Kamal, Sibi Malayalil and very soon Lal Jose all had their share of hits making love stories but they all knew where romance ended and seriousness started.
After all, the sensibilities then were shaped by films such as Thoovanathumbikal and Namukku Paarkaan Munthirithoppukal by Padmarajan, both of which are considered among the most endearing romantic classics from Malayalam cinema.
Hariharan-MT Vasudevan Nair's Naghakshathangal, Bharathan's Thakara, Balachandramenon's Isabella, Bhadran's Idanazhiyil Oru Kalocha, Mohan's Pakshe, Balu Mahendra's Mammootty-starrer Yathra, Prathap Pothen's Daisy, Jaycee's Neeyethra Dhanya, were also memorable love stories in Malayalam but all of them also tried to cut a different path.
Fazil, the brand ambassador of romance, if you may, brought in Kunchacko Boban and Shalini with Aniyathipravu, and its success spawned a series of Kunchacko Boban love stories, some such as Niram, clicking big, and several others failing. Priyadarshan brought in dollops of comedy to further sugar-coat romance, and had in him Mohanlal as his killer-asset. No wonder, Kilukkam made history with Joji's unconditional love giving audiences goose bumps.
Yet, if you look at the genre itself, romantic films had to have a certain gravitas to be accepted, for example, Ranjith's Nandanam, and Shyamaprasad's Rithu.
The profusion of new generation heroes, however, have now changed the equation. Romantic tales with relatively less serious overtones and even flippant tales of boy-meets-girl-and-they-lived-happily-ever-after have been hits celebrated by the young generation.
Nivin Pauly became the poster boy for teenybopper romance standing tall now with the smash-hit Premam. Perhaps it is coincidental then that 2015 has seen a number of romantic films that stay utterly rooted in its sweet syrupiness.
This year, apart from Premam, Malayalam cinema saw the arrival of 100 Days of Love, a quintessential romantic tale abounding in clichés, directed by Jenuse Mohammed and starring Dulquer Salman and Nithya Menen.
Then came Alphonse Putharen's Premam; it has now secured its position in the top chart as one of Malayalam film's all-time grossers and also elevated Nivin Pauly to the superstar league. Dileep's Love 24x7, directed by Sreebala Menon, tried to navigate the love circuit with more mature romance.
Malayalam cinema now is celebrating the success of Ennu Ninte Moideen, now playing at theatres in the UAE to packed houses, right into its third week. A real life romantic tale, the film starring Prithviraj and Parvathy, is being feted as a captivating romance, which takes energy from its soulful cinematography, music and brilliant acting by the protagonists.
The period flavour of the film and the very fact that stares at you in every reel that you are watching an undiluted version of a powerful real life romance tugs at your heartstrings. Moideen might not necessarily spawn more romantic tales - because such real-life romances are hard to come by.
But the fact remains that Malayalam cinema now gives more room to romance as a genre and audiences are more than happy than ever before to accept them. Perhaps it is sign of the times: Every film industry mirrors its audience and for now, it is the young generation that calls the shots.