The attack on a female actor in 2017 and the knee-jerk, shallow and even indifferent reactions of powerful and influential members of the Malayalam film fraternity has clearly caused new-age filmmakers to reckon with toxic masculinity and its far-reaching implications on social reality. As a result, this year we saw a steady flow of movies that portrayed the complexities of men as opposed to being swayed by the hagiography serving the patriarchal agenda. The first half of 2019 will be remembered for flipping the bird at harmful notions of masculinity like Vasudha from Ishq.
After a dispiriting January, thanks to films like Mikhael and Irupathiyonnaam Noottaandu, Kumbalangi Nights opened the month of February on a very fulfilling note. It was first of the bunch of progressive films that released in the last six months.
Kumbalangi Nights, the directorial debut of Madhu C. Narayanan, like Hirokazu Kore-eda‘s widely acclaimed film Shoplifters, questions the very concept of family as established by society. It also closely examines the depleted den of four men, whose lives are a wreck since their mother bailed out on them.
Uyare is an uplifting work by debutant Manu Ashokan, who was an assistant director under late filmmaker Rajesh Pillai. Starring Parvathy in the lead, the film tells the tale of a horrific crime committed by spurned lover. The film revolves around a toxic relationship in which the leading lady is constantly worrying about scaling new heights as that might offended her egoistic boyfriend, who can’t stand a successful woman. Parvathy’s realistic performances as an acid-attack survivor is the highlight.
Anuraj Manohar directorial Ishq is another impressive work of a newcomer director. There has never been such a daring film that so closely studied the minds of men, who are willing to go great lengths to live up to a very narrow definition of what constitutes an “ideal man”. Writer Ratheesh Ravi and Anuraj Manohar’s in your face approach exposes the inherited itch in men to establish dominance at any cost and to draw power from the suffering of the weak. And it also explores two types of masculinity: One is youthful and gentle and the other is terrifying and violent. Nevertheless, both variety feed off on the toxic idea of man.
Virus will easily take the top spot in the list of best films of the year so far. The crackling medical thriller, which directed by Aashiq Abu, is based on real-life incidents that happened during Nipah outbreak in Kerala. The film also boasts of an ensemble cast comprising A-listers of Mollywood, who have played second fiddle to a thrilling script written by Muhsin Parari, Sharfu and Suhas.
Unda is another well-written film. Co-written and directed by Khalid Rahman, the cop drama redefines what we have come to expect from films where Mammootty dons the Khaki uniform. Here, he plays a frail-hearted man, who has never in his long years of service confronted a real threat. What’s worse, he also comes without pre-programmed abilities that turns him into a Rambo when needed. In short, he plays a very human character.
Then there were movies like Luca, And The Oscar Goes To.., Thottappan and Thamasha, which were not the best but still managed to provide entertainment of some value.
It was also a significant first half for the Malayalam film industry in overcoming its box office limitations. Mohanlal outran his previous box office feat with Lucifer, which marked the debut of Prithviraj Sukumaran as a director. The big-budget commercial film grossed a whopping Rs 200 crore from its worldwide ticket sales and became the first film in the history of Malayalam cinema to do so.
Mammootty followed it with Madhura Raja, which raked in Rs 100 crore in its theatrical collections. It is also a first for Mammootty’s career.
To sum up, the Malayalam film industry continues to lead the way in churning out films of high-quality entertainment, cutting-edge storytelling and very relevant social themes. On the other hand, it is also pushing boundaries in terms of expanding its business horizons. And that’s phenomenal.