December 30, 2021 8:22:02 am
In 2021, Malayalam cinema emerged as a true force to reckon with in India. The audience size of this film industry was relatively smaller compared to its Telugu, Tamil and Hindi counterparts. The films mainly catered to the native audience, Malayali diaspora and an elite section of cinephiles. But, the Covid-induced lockdown, slick subtitling, fast and affordable internet and the advent of OTT platforms in the past year has significantly expanded the industry’s fan base.
The country suddenly woke up to the ingenuity of the Malayalam filmmakers. The filmmakers themselves turned the pandemic into opportunity as they created rooted, atmospheric cinema at a budget that was a fraction of what most filmmakers use for promotion.
The majority of the pop-cultural discourse nationally was dominated by many discovering the range of human stories that the industry was churning out at a breath-taking speed. Some films had a nuanced take on patriarchy, others hit us between the eyes with the way they spoke of caste and religious divide, some explored the weight of unrequited love and unpunished crime, while all of them entertained us and stayed with us. There were a few misfires too. But the ratio of good to bad movies was significantly high this year.
The Great Indian Kitchen
Director Jeo Baby’s movie had a quiet OTT release. But, soon after the release, the film exploded nationally. The filmmaker uses the form of repetition to show how generations of women were entrapped and exploited within the walls of the kitchen. The film was so subtle and direct at once in its messaging and themes that it would have made believers of patriarchy uncomfortable and squirm in the comfort of their homes.
Drishyam was a massive hit worldwide. By director Jeetu Joseph’s own admission, he never expected the film to make such a splash globally. He dreaded the idea of a sequel as he was worried he can’t make the follow-up film any bigger than Drishyam. So he stuck to the basics and turned in an intimate drama of a family which is struggling to make peace with traumatizing events that happened about seven years ago. And audience embraced it and made it their own.
Director Rohith V. S and his writer Yadhu Pushpakaran unapologetically use several tricks to set up our expectations and then invariably subvert them. Until the last act, we don’t even know who’s the hero and who’s the actual villain. And how do you define a hero? This film is a manifestation of the quote “it’s not the size of the dog but the size of the fight in the dog that matters.” It is a 130-minute non-stop flow of escalating violence as two men try to kill each other.
Writer Syam Pushkaran’s sleek adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic play Macbeth, Joji is beautifully complemented by director Dileesh Pothan’s contemporary visual sense. No evil laughs or gestures or lengthy soliloquies highlight the sinister plot that’s afoot. But, the malice pervades the very air, as faces betray no emotion.
Director Martin Prakkat shines a light on the post-truth era we are living in right now. The film examines how the honest truth becomes the first casualty of political vanity. The entire Kerala police department turns against three of their own after a road accident kills a small-time member of a political party. However, it is the election season, so the men in power use the death to mobilize support for “justice” and turn it into a media circus, thus keeping the public distracted from the issues that actually matter. Sounds familiar?
Jude Anthany Joseph’s feel-good drama has its set of flaws. Nevertheless, it has an important film for it starts an important dialogue on a touchy subject. The film tackles abortion and women’s rights. A woman could choose to quit her job and start a family or she can delay the pregnancy to focus on her career. If she chooses the latter, she doesn’t become a bad person. And she can do that without feeling a hint of guilt. This film gets the credit for taking ‘her body, her choice’ debate to every living room.
Filmmaker Mahesh Narayanan’s craft is at its zenith in this reimagination of director Mani Ratnam’s classic gangster drama Nayakan. The film follows a predictable trajectory of a good-hearted man, who begins a life of crime to help people of his community who have been neglected by the men in power. But, Mahesh’s experiment with a variety of shots, and editing techniques, clear screenplay and notable performances, including from Fahadh Faasil and Nimisha Sajayan, gives it an epic status.
Created by a couple of newcomers, Kuruthi is a brave attempt to explore the rising tide of hate, which turns friendly neighbors into sworn enemies. The film captures the radicalization of young minds, which breeds violence, tragedy and destroys the peaceful coexistence of people of different faiths. It reminds us where we came from and where we are headed. Director Manu Warrier and writer Anish Pallyal leave it for us to decide the end of this story.
Director Rojin Thomas’ film explores how technology, which has brought the world closer, is driving a wedge between personal relations. The film reflects the truths of our time, where the lust for fame turns people into self-obsessed and indifferent to the feelings of others. Indrans, as a man from a different generation who is struggling to connect with his phone addicted son, is a pleasure to watch. He makes us laugh and cry in equal measure.
Director Manu Ashokan has helmed the film from a script written by Bobby and Sanjay. The slow-burn thriller is about a grieving father trying to get to the bottom of who killed his daughter. Is it a road accident? Or the mute passers-by, who are unwilling to help the injured? Or something more sinister? And what is the cost of living with gigantic guilt? Suraj Venjaramoodu is in top form and Aishwarya Lekshmi and Tovino Thomas also deliver solid performances.
Written and directed by Senna Hegde, the story plays out in a day. Set in Kanhangad, the film revolves around the patriarch of a family, who hurriedly arranges the marriage of his younger daughter without taking her likes and dislikes into account. His authoritarian ways are defeated by free will. The highlight of this comedy is its authentic portrayal of the lifestyle, culture and family relations of people living in Kerala’s countryside.
Lijo Jose Pellissery’s film is a mix of mythology and the psychology of human nature. The film argues that by nature men are wicked and when provided with the right time and place, the same people who claim allegiance to civilisation and rule of law, will drop the pretence and embrace chaos. Some may have difficulty in understanding what Lijo and his writer S. Hareesh are getting it, particularly because of the mind-melting climax. Just don’t overthink, enjoy it.
It may sound cliched but it is true. The Malayalam film industry is ending the year with a bang with the release of director Basil Joseph’s homegrown superhero movie, Minnal Murali. Powerful lightning creates two individuals with superhero powers in a sleepy Kerala village. While one gets a heroic legacy to live up to, the other one is not so lucky. Written by Arun Anirudhan and Justin Mathew, Minnal Murali has strong emotional beats and solid performances from Tovino Thomas and Guru Somasundaram.
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