While the Malayalam film industry makes forgettable and repulsive films more often than we like, it still wins hands-down when it comes to producing meaningful movies down south. And almost all good Malayalam movies are ambitious: not only in its scale but in its vision. The filmmakers keep surprising us with their sheer respect for the craft of filmmaking and determination to offer the audience something more than just a ‘time pass movie’.
Before we get down to discuss how the onscreen heroes performed in Malayalam cinema, let’s take a moment to remember some real heroes. The members of the Women in Cinema Collective, which was formed last year in wake of an attack on a popular woman actor, have been striving to protect the interest of women in the Malayalam film industry. The WCC was already fighting for gender justice when India was waking up to the #MeToo movement. In the light of the unprecedented discussion in the country about the safety of women at workplace, the WCC stepped up its efforts to further its mission.
The members of the women-only organization announced an open revolt against the all-powerful Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA). It even moved the Kerala High Court against the state government and various film bodies in Malayalam cinema for not implementing the regulations under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
As a result, the AMMA finally formed an Internal Complaints Committee (anti-sexual harassment committee) in October.
The struggles of top stars
The Malayalam audience largely rejected star vehicles – a trend which was highly unfavorable for films starring Mammootty and Mohanlal. We will talk about the woes of the top stars soon. Now, let’s reflect on how the twin pillars of Malayalam cinema conducted themselves off-screen in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
Mammootty steered clear of controversies this year. He did not star in regressive films like Kasaba or did not openly endorse misogyny in any of his films. However, he distanced himself from several controversies that shook the industry. He made decent films like Street Lights, Parole, Uncle, Oru Kuttanadan Blog but these failed to impress the audience and critics. His crime thriller about a psychopath serial killer, Abrahaminte Santhathikal, received mixed reviews but made profits at the box office. The year could have been memorable for the actor if Peranbu had released. Directed by Ram, the film seems to have fully explored the depths of Mammootty’s acting skills.
If he had a chance, Mohanlal would hit the reset button on 2018. It was a stressful year for the actor as, in his own words, he was made the face of a serious controversy concerning women’s rights and safety in the Malayalam film industry. He was elected the president of AMMA earlier this year. In the very first general body meeting, in his capacity as the president of the AMMA, he reinstated Dileep’s membership. Mohanlal drew flak from different quarters of the society and was slammed for allegedly siding with the accused without considering the plight of the victim. The incident triggered a few resignations and the WCC’s rebellion against AMMA. He even irked many when he called #MeToo movement as a mere “fad” with a “short life span.”
Mohanlal also struggled to make an impact on screen. He began the year with Neerali, which fell flat at the box office. His cameo in Kayamkulam Kochunni was appreciated and his comedy outing Drama was also received well. But, the actor’s most-awaited film Odiyan was a massive let down. Marketed on the distinctions of being the most expensive Malayalam film and Kerala’s first superhero film, it was widely criticized for its lazy writing and poor execution.
2018 saw two star kids making their debuts solely based on their strengths. Kalidas Jayaram and Pranav Mohanlal may have landed their first films, thanks to their powerful last names. However, they won over the audience and critics with their talent and earnestness that was untouched by the stardom of their fathers.
Pranav debuted with director Jeethu Joseph’s Aadhi, which gave him the platform to showcase his athletic abilities. Kalidas made his screen debut with Poomaram, which was driven more by his performance rather than his ability to jump from one building to another. The film was already a rage, thanks to its viral title track. The campus drama shined the light on an acting talent to look out for in the days to come.
It kind of hurts when a good movie fails to get its due credit. And director B Ajithkumar’s Eeda is one of the films that went underrecognized this year. The reimagined tale of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Eeda reflects on ramifications of political violence in present-day Kannur.
Kayamkulam Kochunni minted money at the box office, but it was a major disappointment. In my review, I had noted, “Kayamkulam Kochunni, more or less, plays out like a graphic book novel with moving pictures. The filmmakers have taken a very linear approach to narrating the tale of a flawed folk hero.” And my opinion of the movie did not change a bit even after a second viewing.
The best of 2018 (mentioned in order of release)
Carbon: Directed by Venu, the movie follows the struggles of a greedy, jobless man who pushes himself to the verge of craziness, in search of a buried treasure in a jungle.
Sudani from Nigeria: A beautifully written film that celebrates the virtues of humanity that transcends the barriers of politics, race, religion, class, and nationality. It follows the life of a cash-strapped football team manager Majeed (wonderful Soubin Shahir), who struggles to take care of the medical needs of his injured Nigerian player (played by an effective Samuel Abiola Robinson). A special shout to Savithri Sreedharan, who plays Majeed’s mother Jameela.
Swathandriam Ardharathriyil: It is a cracker of a crime thriller that sort of pays homage to Shawshank Redemption. Directed by Lijo Jose Pellissery’s former assistant Tinu Pappachan, it tells the tale of a daring jailbreak attempt.
Ee.Ma.Yau: Lijo Jose Pellissery again hit the ball out of the park with this tragic comedy. The story of a son’s effort to give a grand funeral to his departed father is easily one of the best movies of 2018 in Malayalam.
Koode: The official remake of Marathi film Happy Journey marked Anjali Menon’s comeback as a director after a long gap. It was a moving story about two wronged individuals and how they find a new lease of life in each other’s company.
Varathan: An adaptation of Straw Dogs (1971), the story unfolds in a village in Kerala that is rife with moral policing. Directed by Amal Neerad and written by Suhas-Sharfu, the film offers a solid bang for the buck.