Lights, Camera, Conversation… “Kerala days”

Is the Malayalam film industry making the best mainstream cinema today?

Once upon a time, I used to watch cinema from all over India – every Sunday afternoon, on Doordarshan. I remember, especially, the Malayalam films like Koodevide and Alicinte Anveshanam, which were neither all-out arty nor fully commercial – it was the middle-of-the-road-style that I saw in Tamil filmmakers like Balu Mahendra and Mahendran. But then Doordarshan stopped showing these films, and without subtitles it was impossible to follow anything. I remember watching Amaram at Safire theatre with a friend whose patience was frayed thin by my need to know what every line of dialogue meant. That’s not really how you want to see films. Malayalam films returned to my life in 2013, when I was on a jury panel – I saw something like 60 films over three weeks. And I was astounded by the variety. There were downright arty films. There were middle-of-the-road films. There were indifferently made commercial films, the kind we see in Tamil. And there were the “new generation” films – Thattathin Marayathu, Ustad Hotel, Annayum Rasoolum – that I simply could not believe were being made.

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Let me explain that last statement, which is purely about economics. You expect Bollywood to make these multiplexy films because Hindi movies are seen all over the country and recover their costs from high-priced multiplexes. Whenever you ask Tamil filmmakers why they continue to make movies for the “family audience of all ages,” they say that the recovery of your investment becomes difficult if you target niche audiences. (There are niche films being made in Tamil – like Soodhu Kavvum – but not enough to constitute a movement.) How, then, were these Malayalam films being made, and in such numbers? One of the films I saw was Da Thadiya, which was the love story of an obese young man. Another one ended with a villain’s penis being lopped off. Many of these films had young actors playing parts without a care about “image” or the other things young Tamil heroes are typically concerned about. Are the Tamil/Telugu and Malayalam markets (and audiences) completely different? Has this “movement” in Malayalam cinema become possible simply due to the low costs of filmmaking or is there something else? Or is this just a passing phase? When Paruthi Veeran and Subramaniyapuram and Kaadhal came out, they seemed to herald a movement in Tamil cinema, but it didn’t quite catch on.

That’s a different article, but the idea for this piece came by after seeing two Malayalam films this year, two films that couldn’t be more different: Drishyam and Bangalore Days. The only commonality between these films is that they’re both blockbusters. Drishyam became the highest-grossing Malayalam movie ever, and then, within a few months, Bangalore Days coolly grabbed that crown. In all other respects, the films are totally different – and that’s one of the signs of a healthy cinema culture, when it’s possible to draw large audiences to a film as “Indian” and plot-driven and headlined by a top star (Mohanlal) as Drishyam , and one as “Western” and vignette-driven and filled with young actors as Bangalore Days.

Unlike Bangalore Days, which is a director’s film, Drishyam is a writer’s film – you can imagine it making a good play, because the script is so strong. The film begins with cunningly casual scenes woven around a middle-class family – and just as we begin to tire of the apparent inconsequentiality of the goings-on, the film turns into a stomach-churning thriller. My favourite scene is one of those inconsequential ones. Mohanlal is a frugal man, and his wife Meena likes to buy things. When they visit her parents’ house, she gives her mother an idiyappam maker she’s just bought, and the mother says she rarely makes idiyappam. Mohanlal says that Meena too doesn’t really make idiyappam. Meena denies this. She said she made it once, last year. He asks her why she needs to keep buying idiyappam makers for what is an annual ritual. Meena’s father then says that the trait runs in the family. Meena’s mother too is a compulsive buyer of kitchen utensils – she has one vessel to boil milk for two people, a different vessel to boil milk for three people, one with a whistle, one without a whistle…

We laugh because we know these women from the older generations in our homes – our mothers, our grandmothers. The women in Bangalore Days, on the other hand, are much younger. One’s a radio jockey. One’s a new bride who rebels when her husband doesn’t seem invested in their marriage. One’s a Meena type of housewife who decides to go mod with a vengeance. The director, Anjali Menon, is a born filmmaker. She takes her cues from the West – she was responsible for the Hollywoody script of Ustad Hotel as well – but she’s brilliant at rooting them in an urban-Indian milieu. Bangalore Days isn’t as wonderful as Menon’s first film, Manjadikkuru, which was an exquisite realisation of a particular age – both in the sense of the child protagonists and the period the film was set in. Bangalore Days doesn’t have the delicacy of that earlier film, plus it abounds with clichés. The tragic flashback, the last-minute effort to prevent a loved one from going away to another country, the impetuous youth tamed by an unlikely love, the broken marriage that slowly begins to heal itself – it’s all there. And yet, the film feels fresh, and it’s thoroughly enjoyable. It’s so well-cast, well-written and well-staged (Menon is incapable of framing a bad shot) that we don’t notice how familiar it is. And how long it is: 172 minutes.

Will a movie like Bangalore Days work in Tamil or Telugu? I don’t know, but the fact that it’s become a blockbuster is a heartening sign for mainstream Malayalam cinema. Like I keep telling people, I am not a fan of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, but I think it’s fantastic that it became a big hit – because this shows filmmakers that there is an audience out there that’s open to different plots and styles and moods. Another heartening thing is that Bangalore Days came to Chennai with subtitles. As did Manam, the Telugu blockbuster. (It was okay, but nothing great. It was a good idea, but the filmmaking was flat.) It’d be great if we get to see more mainstream cinema from other languages as well, especially Marathi cinema, which I keep hearing so much about. From what I hear, the mainstream films there are even better than those in Malayalam. Now that I’ll have to see to believe.

Lights, Camera, Conversation… is a weekly dose of cud-chewing over what Satyajit Ray called Our Films Their Films. An edited version of this piece can be found here. Copyright ©2014 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

54 thoughts on “Lights, Camera, Conversation… “Kerala days”

  1. Inspite of being an ardent fan of Malayalam cinema, I have skipped watching (or saved myselves), without guilt or any pain, most of our movies in the recent years. The ones you mention like ‘Koodevide’ came in the golden years of Malayalam, in the 80’s, and may be I am an old timer and expecting our cinema to further improve it from 80’s, and hence the disappointment.

    Out of the 3 new generation movies you mention, the last two came out of two ardent cinema personalities, who will never call themselves new generation, Rajiv Ravi and Anjali Menon. The latter, has only gone back from her best – Manjaadikkuru – to make movies which are more in style with a Hollywood rom comedy. My friend is in her team, who translates her scripts to Malayalam, and he thinks (a guy who conducts film appreciation classes, quite knowledgeable) Ustaad Hotel was a poor movie when you read her script. Anyways, I am still glad she makes movies in Malayalam. It was after some months, I watched a Malayalam movie – Bangalore Days – in a theatre. I am hoping she will make more movies, which are close to her heart, like Manjaadikkuru, without worrying about the box office.

    In between, I could not even complete watching ‘De Thadiya’. Enna sir, Inda padama?

    If I can give my opinion here, I think you might be too harsh with Tamil (this is not about the vijay, surya, ajith stuff, ok), an industry which still make many movies based on their own roots, and coming out with beautiful ones in between. Malayalam and Bollywood are making movies like Hollywood, with characters looking like, as if they are walking inside a Hollywood movie, or to say the least to become shining Indians. May be only some of these off beat Tamil movies are successful in the box office. But almost all Malayalam off beat ones are big flops. I saw Manjaadikkuru with less than 10 people. Nearly the same numbers also for other ones like 101 chodyangal, Ozhimuri, Thalappavu etc (Even Annayum Rasoolum was a hit only in Kochi and few other places)… If you havent, may I reccommend you watch Thalappavu, please.

    Bangalore days and Drishyam are box office hits in Kerala because they are pure commercial stuff for Malayaalee. (Drishyam was the only watchable movie of Mohanlal, in a very long time and that seems to be the main reason why it was such a big hit; And everybody I know , only commented about BDays as a good entertaining watch, nothing special).

    The off beat ones are the ones I just mentioned above and leave theatres without any trace. May be this is because the generation of mine like the ones on 40, and the ones before us got so much pampered by our quality movies of 80’s, we cant stand our present day pot boilers. (It seems, may be, you think movies like Bangalore Days seem to be off beat or different, but it is quite entertainment stuff for a Malayaalee). And even the younger generation of Malayaalee, who can and do watch those 80s stuff on tv, that, they too go for these cinema only for entertainment.

    A lot of these new generation guys I know, have not seen Manjaadikkuru or the above mentioned movies. Some have seen Adaaminte makan abu, just because of the awards.

    May be what entertainment is for Malayaalee is different from what it is for a Hindi or Tamil viewer.

    Have to leave now for the football match. Sorry about the long comment.


    I am of the opinion that Tamil makes better off beat movies, with Marathi, than Bollywood or Malayalam. May be yourself, sir, look at your own movies with a much more critical mind that you do not want to appreciate them for what they are. I dont see any other reason how you tried to nit pick on a movie like Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum, when even cliche and stereotype filled Queen is overtly praised. But I understand, it your opinion.

    My wife is arranging, in July, a private movie show for a group of her friends – all professionals from French theatre, but some from French cinema too and one of them is a Celine Sallette, and Tamil movies are the most prominent in the list she has picked, with the ones like P.Padminiyum, Onaayum, Vazhakku 18, Paradesi, Soodhu Kaavum, Yudham Sei..Only Annayum, Rasoolum and Manjaadikkuru are there from Malayalam. There are couple of Marathi too like Natrang.


  2. “When Paruthi Veeran and Subramaniyapuram and Kaadhal came out, they seemed to herald a movement in Tamil cinema, but it didn’t quite catch on.”

    This is a trend in Tamil cinema. A strong debut from a director and/or actor followed by mediocre mass movies. I don’t know why this is. Did they really want to do the mass movies from the beginning, but couldn’t afford to for their debut or did they suddenly get scared of making more personal, daring films? Maybe with larger budgets come more pressure to go with the tried-and-true. Whatever the reason, it’s disappointing that they usually abandon the fascinating POV that launched them in the first place. I really hope Karthik Subburaj and Nalan Kumarasamy don’t succumb to this ailment.

    I will have to check out some of the films you mentioned. It’s been a LONG time since I’ve seen a Malayalam film.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Brangan ,thanx a lot for this.Finally a full piece on malayalam films.It was really refreshing to hear your views on the current malayalam cinema.I am not sure whether kerala makes the best mainstream films today as some downright amateurishly bad films have also come out recently, but you are spot on about the variety in the genre of films coming out.And that was always the hallmark of malayalam films of the golden age.Not just drishyam and BD, But there have been other good ones like Om shanti oshana, how old are you, and 1983, all of then which i liked a lot that came out this year. OSO is a film told completely from the perspective of teenage girl coming of age and her single minded pursuit of her first love. Nazriya nazim who was great in BD is superb in the lead role.1983 is a tribute to sachin tendulkar and indian cricket. while HOAU was the much heralded comeback of manju warrier. And all these films wee super hits at the BO., especially heartening since both OSO and HOAU are female centric films. hope you get to watch these films as well.Also i agree with you about Anjali menon. You are right about some of the cliches present in BD.I wish she had the courage to take BD into much more uncharted cinematic territory like her first film , but still what she has accomplished here is applause worthy.The great work of photographer samir thahir( who is a good director himself ) must have helped her immensely in framing and staging., also extracting such great work from the actors-Nivin,fahadh and nazriya are terrific.

    Speaking of the reasons for the current surge in production, its not just the low cost (with the digital process making it really cheap),Its also the internet revolution making the promotion of films much more easier and inexpensive. Facebook is the chief promotional tool of malayalam films today and all the major actors\directors are active through this.

    Secondly a new breed of actors like Fahadh fazil,Nivin pauly, Dulqaer,Indrajith etc have emerged over the last 3 or 4 years who are willing to do roles irrespective of the image and length. This has been a great help to the writers and directors (who had been constrained by the image restrictions of the superstars mammootty and mohanlal) to really cut loose and try out different subjects.I hope this is no passing phase – and now that the superstar system has almost been broken in malayalam films – hope this trend continues.


  4. Off-topic: Not sure if you’ve made any technical changes to this blog, but today it looks very elegant and neat on my mobile.

    Also, would be great if you can post articles on a daily basis.

    If you can take this as a compliment, yours is my all-time favorite toilet seat read :-)

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Agree that the most interesting Indian films are being made in malayalam. Even going by the sheer variety of films being made, malayalam clearly is miles ahead. Then again, that has always been the case, no? Although a large number of films from this current wave are ultimately disappointing (worse, many of them are awfully pretentious – I’ll never forgive myself for watching the recent 1by2 or most of Anoop Menon’s crap) and the real terrible ones, we never get to watch.

    And Bangalore Days was quite a disappointment, I should say. While there was so much to root for, I was frankly bored post interval and couldn’t help counting seconds. As you say it is packed with cliches.

    BTW, why do you think there are so many investigative thrillers made in malayalam, while this genre has hardly found a market in other languages? One can find all kinds of classic detective themes (and weirder ones) explored. I often wonder if it is their masala equivalent (especially the Suresh Gopi starrers and the CBI series).


  6. Sir – i expected you to give a line or two about Ustad Hotel. (It is being made in tamil btw). The mystique personally that Thilakan’s character brought out is a lost art in our films.


  7. Rangan, good to see a write-up on movies from my homestate. :) Unfortunately, unless the producers release sub-titled versions outside the state, they are doomed to languish within its boundaries. (I’m in awe, however, of your having watched 60 Malayalam films within so short a period. I’m sure I would have given up. :) )

    Re: Marathi films. As someone who watches them as regularly as she can source them, there are some very good ones out there. ‘Better than Malayalam films?’ No. I’m not being biased here. Some of them are definitely *as good*; a few are definitely great. ‘Better than’ can only be used if the same subject is being tackled by two filmmakers from the respective industries.

    From what I have watched, I would say that Malayalam films have been consistently good, and the trend in recent years is wonderful. That does not mean there aren’t the mindless duds as well! But we have managed to extricate ourselves from the abyss into which star-vehicles had driven us, and content has become king once again. Most times.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. As someone who watches malayalam and Tamil films, I really feel that while your article is partially right, it draws from not so great examples. Drishyam, while being very very good with its taut script and excellent acting, has taken a lot of inspiration from Devotion of Suspect X and Bangalore days, while fantastic and is as feel good as a cuddly teddy bear, is nor great filmmaking. I still can’t figure out the malayalam equivalent for Tamil gems like vazahkku en 18\9, nkpk, soothu kavvum, mouna guru, vidiyum munn and countless others more.

    The one unique aspect of recent Tamil cult films(I am taking the liberty of calling them that!) is that every such single movie is different from the other! And I am sure it will continue to be so.

    One fact that I do agree with wholeheartedly is the malayalam movies of padmarajan era!


  9. Malayalam cinema is going through interesting times, and it is difficult to categorize or talk about Malayalam cinema today as a single entity even when analyzing it in a mainstream space. I would try to put down some of my observations in a Bullet point report ala your ‘ZNMD’ review.

    1. There is a definite change in the way/the kind of films is being made in Malayalam cinema in the past 3-4 years. While this may not be a patch on the revolution that happened in the 70s-80s.These new film makers (Again not a single entity as they are of various age brackets and in various stages in their film making career) probably are the ones that grew up watching those films on VHS/CD/DVD and also world cinema.

    2. Young generation who completely left Malayalam cinema thanks to its terrible run in the late 90s and early 2000s and was ashamed of it is back and is supporting this so called ‘new generation’ of films with vengeance. The down side of this is that anything and everything is getting made in the name of new-gen and there is this running joke about The recipe for new generation cinema is ‘Fahad Faasil, his boxer shorts, I Phone and an illegitimate relationship on screen and an English title’ .

    3. Hindi cinema’s ‘Zimbly southification’ and Tamil cinemas fascination for rural themes also contributed to the viewers yearning for urban cinema in Malayalam language itself.

    4. While low brow comedies of Dileep and co are still the biggest hits, Tamil/Telugu/Hindi style mass pot boilers are completely disappeared or at least seem to exist only as a watered down action comedy films only the superstars of yore interested in. Younger stars/actors arefine with having no action sequences or introduction songs or scope for heroism in the traditional sense.

    5. Even older film makers are trying to do something new with varying degree of success. There is this huge fascination for playing around with the form and that’s where both the appreciation and the criticism for these films lie. While older generation is busy lamenting the lack of stories and dismissing form as just camera gimmicks, newer generation is lapping it up and lack of good writing is swept under the carpet.

    6. Film makers like Rajeev Ravi,Anjali Menon are few and far between. There is a whole generation of glory hunters and the films are funded by gulf returned NRIs without knowledge of film making and are in it only for the easy money and fame. Hence you have this whole cluster of films with ridiculously sounding English names, mostly with themes of adultery, explicit language etc wying for that Friday slot and dying glorious deaths. There is this whole generation of youtbe short film makers suddenly finding producers and not knowing what to do with a feature length film and ending up with a half baked film mostly poor on writing.

    7. Even with all the other varying factors lots of new faces are coming up and some of them have started well with their debut films or showed some promises. Exciting times are ahead for Malayalam cinema and hopefully they can find better writers and head in the right direction.

    8. I was one of those guys who stopped watching Malayalam cinema in the early 2000s only to come back in the 2010s. Incidentally Fahad Faasil also started his second innings around this time. He probably is the best of the younger actors and his early films on his comeback are considered as a starting point of new generation cinema although he is not making any such claims. There have been some unwanted trends, but that’s part and parcel of any film industry. Malayalam cinema is continuing to grow and hopefully in 5 years time will be a major force to reckon with even in the mainstream space in India.

    Some of the interesting films I have seen are (Post 2010, not in any particular order)

    1) Akam by Shalini Usha Nair
    2) Chappa Kurishu by Sameer Tahir
    3) North 24 Kaatham by Anil Radhakrishnan Menon
    4) Annayum Rasoolum by Rajeev Ravi
    5) Manjaadikuru by Anjali Menon
    6) Amen by Lijo Jose Pellissery
    7) 5 Sundarikal (Anthology film)
    8) Ustad Hotel by Anwar Rasheed
    9) Neelakasham Pacha Kadal Chuvanna Bhumi by Sameer Tahir
    10) Neram by Alphonse Puthren
    11) Om Shanti Oshana by Jude Antony
    12) 1983 by Abrid Shine
    (All these films have their own flaws and but heartening facts is that these are all made in a mainstream space except for Akam and Manjaadikuru)


  10. Rajesh: In between, I could not even complete watching ‘De Thadiya’. Enna sir, Inda padama?

    I said, “One of the films I saw was Da Thadiya, which was the love story of an obese young man.” All I’m saying, therefore, is that such a film exists, that the space for such a film being made exists. Regardless of the “quality” of the film (which is subjective anyway), I think it’s bloody great.

    And even the younger generation of Malayaalee, who can and do watch those 80s stuff on tv, that, they too go for these cinema only for entertainment.

    And what’s wrong with that? This article is about mainstream cinema, and entertainment *is* a big part of that ethos.

    when even cliche and stereotype filled Queen is overtly praised.

    Really? You got that from my review? :-)

    MANK: I am not sure whether kerala makes the best mainstream films today

    Neither am I. Hence the question that begins this article.

    TheKomentor: I take that as the highest compliment. I’m honoured to be your distraction as you drop the kids off at the pool :-)

    Kiruba: Well, I was never bored, exactly, by Bangalore Days. I was a tad baffled by the cliches — but she really found interesting things to do with them. (Spoiler alert) For instance, you know the Rekha character is going to say “don’t give my daughter dreams, etc.” to Dulquer. But I loved the monent that followed, when Parvathy wheels herself out, knowing fully well what her mother must have told him, and not yelling at her mother or reassuring him that all will be okay. It’s the kind of lovely touch that really makes a character — she gets where her mother is coming from, and her “rebellion” comes in a smaller way, by not getting all worked up about it.

    Anu Warrier: Mindless duds are a given when you’re talking mainstream cinema. It’s what else is out there that matters.

    aravind86: Tamil gems like vazahkku en 18\9


    Cinemakkaran: Thank you for that comment, which is very enlightening for us “outsiders.”

    All these films have their own flaws and but heartening facts is that these are all made in a mainstream space…

    That’s really the whole effing point of this piece.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Ravi K I have a theory to answer your question. Several youngsters are passionate about making a movie, they focus and focus over an idea and at about 25 years of age, they get to make it. It becomes a hit, and is also good. That leaves us with a 25 year old filmmaker with no ideas.

    Sargunam was the one who lead me to this conclusion. The fall from Vaagai Sooda Vaa to Naiyandi was astounding, to say the least.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Ha ; allow me to feel superior for a minute here. Me and i think one more commenter (MANK? if i am not wrong) have been saying the exact same thing for a while now.

    Something very interesting is happening in Malayalam cinema, yes yes its not of the Padmarajan era, its Hollywoodised, its not “native” .. but its different and the quality and consistency is astounding and BR you made an important point – These are still hits.

    There is a larger conversation to be had on why the economics don’t translate into Tamil or Telugu. I don;t know. Some of the factors could be :

    Education and a large very clued in international audience.

    Savvy new-age directors and producers exploiting the new media.

    Excellent quality subbed DVDs within 60 days of a film’s release (except for massive blockbusters like Drishyam).

    New subject matter.

    I remember in the review of Pizza (or was it one another movie) there is a casual reference to a live-in relationship and BR made it a point to mention how refreshing it is that a live-in was not made a big deal of. Look at malayalam movies like 22 Kottayam or a few others – these relationships are not even commented upon ; which i suspect is what happens in real life. (Full disclosure: I havent been to India in 13 years).

    Whatever it is that is happening in Malayalam cinema may it long continue. Amen.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Loved your article.. It is indeed true that malayalam movies are quite the best in the country. One thing I want to note is that even though Bangalore Days is a blockbuster, It hasn’t yet grabbed any crown like you mentioned in terms of collection. Even after its long run, it is only going to come below Drishyam by a huge margin. Thats the impact drishyam had created.


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  15. Baddy, curious to know which jury panel were you in and maybe which were the 3-4 movies that impressed you during this movie marathon..


  16. cinemakkaran: There is a whole generation of glory hunters and the films are funded by gulf returned NRIs without knowledge of film making and are in it only for the easy money and fame.

    But that’s always been the case with malayalam cinema right?. The regular film banners like seven arts,KRG,KTC have stopped making films for a long time . Its always been the gulf money that has been the mainstay of mal. films.Also i agree with your list , but i will also add ozhimuri and Artist to that list.

    @Hari: It hasn’t yet grabbed any crown like you mentioned in terms of collection.

    Actually it has in terms of initial collections . The first 3 weeks collections are far better than dishyam and for a film that does not boast of superstars , thats commendable indeed.


  17. @Venkatesh , you are spot on about the usage of the new media in the making and promotion of films in malayalam right now.Also as somebody mentioned here, a large chunk of the audience who has turned their back on the films in the previous decade(me included) are coming back to support the new endevours.There will always be critics like our Rajesh bhai who keeps comparing this with the 80’s and how tamil films are far superior and all that – You cannot believe the kind of heat that the kerala media and critics had turned on mal . filmmakers when subramaniyapuram was released. Every interview used to start with why we are not making a subramnyapuram , blah blah…. – but i think those kind of comparisons are ridiculous.Times change and sensibilities change and cinema should reflect that change .the malayalee of today is far different than that of the 80’s . As you pointed out ‘ its Hollywoodised, its not “native” ‘. but thats the sensibility of many current malayalees. The internet and cable tv revolution has opened up a completely new world for them and even though they may live and work here their dreams and fantasies are fed by the west(or atleast a version of it that is available through these medias).so i think the filmmakers are doing a pretty good job today of reflecting those sensibilities .Atleast mal. films have come out of those horrible (cheap imitation of tamil and hindi films) superstar vehicles that has become the hallmark of the previous decade. I am grateful for that

    btw , just curious about why you havent returned for 13 years. Hope the Rajni\Vijay fans’ havent put a fatwa on your head ala Rushdie. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  18. @MANK

    There are some new banners like Magic Frames,Friday films etc and film makers themselves launching productions houses is also a good sign.

    Both Artist and Ozhimuri were well written/performed films , but film making at times especially that of Ozhimuri was kinda amateurish. That was the case even with the much celebrated “Shutter” – good Hitchcockian thriller spoiled by amateurish film making.

    Regarding My Bullet Reports I may have missed out on the biggest factor that’s dictating malayalam cinema.That’s the Satellite Rights. There are films that are solely made on the purpose of getting that satellite money and films with stars get made irrespective of its content without the fear of losing money.Channels picking up films for a huge satellite rate may have affected lesser films in a way. And at the same time younger stars like Fahad, Dulquer and Nivin Pauly having some sort of value at the satellite market has ensured the kind of films they are acting in breaking even before the release of the film. That also is helping film makers to make any kind of films they want provided they get someone with a satellite value. As Prthviraj famously said “Satellite Rights and channels dictate malayalam cinema, may be for the worse or for the better”.


  19. I have seen few comments by some old-time romantics who disregard “New Generation” movies as bad,not so good and average.

    I believe one reason for such attitude is that new generation movies depicts lot of marginalised communites particularly muslim,christian,and other marginalised communities which is quite missing from 80’s middle-wave movies.

    80s films always revolve around Hindu nair houses.(Films are class too)

    During hindutva period of 90s and 2000s, You can rarely see a Muslim or christian characters in Malayalam movies. If represented,they will depicted in ugly way.

    New generation films started to show this marginalized communities in better light.

    Maybe due to under-representation in 90s and 2000s leads to creation of lot of young muslim/christian writers and directors in malayalam field world.


  20. @Cinemakkaran, yeah true about Satellite Rights. Actually drishyam was to star srinivasan at first, but lack of money from satellite rights forced the director to go for mohanlal.i dont know whether the film would have benefited by the casting of srini. Even a flop like mr fraud has broken even thanks to the satellite rights which has already been sold.But now that the audience have started to return to theaters , i think the filmmakers can take a chance with this.


  21. @MANK: “btw , just curious about why you havent returned for 13 years. Hope the Rajni\Vijay fans’ havent put a fatwa on your head ala Rushdie. ”

    – absolutely. There are posters outside Chennai Airport :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  22. It is but unfortunate that you wrote what you did :-) Suseenthiran films are all you need.. Whether it be the most aptly named “Aadhalaal….” Or the novel “Azhagharsaamiyin…” Or his debut “Vennilaaa…”. The integrity is quite visible and similar if not bit higher than the ’80s wave in Tamil / Malayalam / Hindi language moving images. Add to it the visual treat Mysshkin provides or the realistic (utmost) screenplay that “Vazhakku Enn 18/9” depicts or the innovative narration that we see in “Madhayaanaikkoottam”, we don’t need other languages.


  23. Pranesh: I think what happened with “Naiyandi” was the usual thing that happens with star movies. When a filmmaker makes a movie with a star, it’s almost always a given that it’s not going to be as “honest” a film as the ones he makes with non-stars.

    Of course, non-star movies don’t always work, but that’s another topic.

    Hari: It’s been reported everywhere that “Bangalore Days” has outgrossed “Drishyam.”

    MANK: Also, it’s time we face the fact that Westernised Indians are Indians too — and just because we have movies with “dudes” doesn’t mean these movies aren’t about Indian society. The important thing is whether these movies are done… WELL.


  24. BR: “Also, it’s time we face the fact that Westernised Indians are Indians too — and just because we have movies with “dudes” doesn’t mean these movies aren’t about Indian society. The important thing is whether these movies are done… WELL.”

    Spot on, hear hear.

    For a newer generation ; they are not “westernised” Indians , they are just Indians.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. I should hope that we have progressed beyond the Ratha Kanneer days when portraying Western influence on Indian characters!


  26. When a filmmaker makes a movie with a star, it’s almost always a given that it’s not going to be as “honest” a film as the ones he makes with non-stars

    Brangan, Cant completely agree with that. what about Mani’s Nayagan . It was a film with a superstar like Kamal , but i found that to be a more honest film than the ones without stars like Anjali or thiruda thiruda.Even thalapathi , i felt was a much genuine effort.well perhaps in the case of Iruvar,- dont know what would have happened if kamal had played the lead role instead of mohanlal. Case could be made about shankar as well. Mudalvan and Indian seems to be much more closer to what he is as a filmmaker than horrible crap like Boys or jeans.


  27. “Also, it’s time we face the fact that Westernised Indians are Indians too…”

    Thank you! In the 80s/90s, films portraying the lives of Gulf malayalees were commonplace; I don’t know why the stories of their (more westernized) offspring are considered less acceptable or authentic.


  28. Venkatesh: For a newer generation ; they are not “westernised” Indians , they are just Indians

    Bravo!. One really needs to get rid of the hypocrisy while dealing with this issue .


  29. Dear Brangan Sir,

    I really liked your article the movies that you have hand picked in this article, each one of them are excellent by their own ways.

    But I must say that you missed many, I am not sure why we Malayalees try to ignore a fellow Malayalee Who has managed to make waves not only in the South, but also in the North – perhaps in a larger magnitude than what the great Ms I’d Malayalam film industry could manage.

    Yes I am talking about Prithviraj Sukumaran. The movies that he has done over the past year or 2 have also been very intriguing and gripping.

    Mumbai Police
    Ayaalum Njaanum Thammil

    To name a few.

    Anoop Menon & Jayasurya also had given some good ones. Cocktail, Beautiful, Punniyalan Agarbathis.

    Not to forget Spirit of Lalettan & Pranjiyettan of Mammukka.

    As some one commented here unless our producers release Our Movies outside Kerala with English Subtitles, Malayalam Cinema will not get a global audience.

    I live in the USA from 2011 and the movies that are realesing in my city (handpicked) most of them doesn’t come with subtitles and so I am not able to force my Telugu/Hindi/Tamil friends to come and watch the movie.

    😃 Long Live Malayalam Cinema Industry!




  30. a nice article by baradwaj rangan..i still remember his film reviews when he used to write for indian xpress..after reading those, u will get confused and wonder whether the movie is ”nallatha or kettatha”..glad he stopped such style of he writes in simple understandable language..and yes malayalam films are really thriving forward..but hope this is not just a passing cloud and all these young stars stay for long time


  31. Nice article and the discussion below. Other than above, even some of the not so admired “new gen movies” like “Neelakasham, pachakadal ….”, “trivandrum lodge”, “ABCD” and even “Vedivazhipadu” (crass in some ways) are worth a watch. But these movies tend to repeat in a pattern someway or other (the parallel narration of different happenings in a day – traffic, friday, shutter etc; Simpleton in a village / town falling in love – amen, annayum rasoolum, Pullipulikalum Aatinkuttiyum etc.).The dejavu feeling might be because that it is the same set of actors doing similar roles in most of these movies or few sets of popular writers penning most of these stories across directors. But refreshing / path breaking movies are rare.

    The number of such new gen movies are lesser in tamil [thanks to the masala (forever), kadhal (90s to early 00s) or comedy (now) commitments the industry has had to mandatorily serve out] but the ones that make it cannot be clubbed together (onayum, Soodhu kavvum, Pizza, Aaranya Kandam, Moodar koodam, pasanga etc) in similar brackets maybe because the directors pen their stories and normally their thoughts behind their first movie are refreshingly different. We can see that the patterns start appearing in their 2nd, 3rd movies or so but there are more new directors cropping up adding more to the variety here. Overall I would think both the languages are doing well (deuce) at this point but Tamil has been showing the “advantage” of turning up a new background director coming into limelight more often than Malayalam. This makes “those” different tamil movies more impactful to my plain view.

    But yes, I am happy as long as these industries serve out more such movies as there is more to choose from.


  32. Very nice article, thank you for this. I am also new to Malayalam films(except for Vanaprastham), a Tamil friend in London suggested Ordinary and Ee Adutha Kaalathu, enjoyed both very much. Ee Adutha Kaalathu was my first Indrajith film but certainly not my last, he is wonderful. Also, Amen directed by Lijo Jose Pellissery, have seen all of his films now and think Amen is his best, very quirky, different film with great characters. the opening sequence is a bit bizarre, though. Also, Ayal directed by Suresh Unnithan. That one really took us someplace, we were so drawn into the story and the MUSIC. Our first Mohan Sithara but certainly not our last. (I am the “gora,” I have no idea how he rates, please be patient). Unfortunately the two pulluvan pattu songs are not on the CD but there are many on youtube. Looking forward to Bangalore Days since we enjoyed Ustad Hotel so much (I went to culinary school and I am a huge fan of food movies).

    Liked by 1 person

  33. @Donna, Mohan sithara is a wonderful composer , but he has not been very active these days . He was one of the most prolific music composers of malayalam cinema during the 90’s and early 00’s.He is a regular collaborator of director Blessy who made Kazcha, Thanmathra and Brahmaram.who continues to use his music.Eventhough he has been composing for long, his work did not really get the critical recognition it deserved and It was only as late as 2009 when he won his first and only Kerala state award for the foll. song . May be you will like it.

    And couple of more of his popular songs are listed below .


  34. Mank, Thank you very much, all were wonderful! Chithra is my favorite. Was the third one from the “original” version of the Vikram movie Kasi? Boy, that was a tragic movie!

    I wish I could hop in the car and drive over to Harmony video right now. Thank you again, I’ll look for more Mohan Sithara.



  35. A relevant link:

    And a few thoughts about “Mumbai Police,” which I saw (with subs) through the link below:


    The film worked till a point for me. The direction/writing was very good — there was no spoon-feeding, in the sense that the flashbacks and the present weren’t demarcated by the use of sepia or something. It just was — and sometimes it took me a second to realise “oh this is a flashback.” This is the mark of a confident filmmaker. They kept building up towards something, and I was constantly intrigued.

    But the Big Reveal spoilt the film for me.

    As a concept, it was fantastic (and as I said in the case of Prasanna and “Kalyana Samayal Saadham”, a small shrine needs to be built for Prithviraj for agreeing to play this role). As a concept, it really explains his overdoing his macho bullshit earlier on, and now we see that it’s overcompensation for his gayness.

    But I didn’t like how the lover character was detailed. I hated the scene where Jayasuriya finds out. Given the restraint in the rest of the film, this sudden switch to melodrama felt really odd. And most of all, I didn’t buy the shooting aspect. I can understand if, in the heat of the moment, he killed Jayasuriya — and that was the murder he was trying to “investigate.” But now, it’s a planned affair in a public place, and it’s too far-fetched.

    Also, one red herring did not make sense for me. At the beginning. before he loses his memory, he phones Rahman and tells him that he’s found out who the culprit is. But doesn’t he already know at that point that he killed Jayasuriya? Even if he was reluctantly pulled into the investigation, what made him decide — AT THAT POINT — that he’s going to confess everything to Rahman?

    This was one of the films whose ending kinda spoilt things for me, — but till that Big Reveal, it was aces.



    Brangan,I felt Mumbai police had a brilliant script by Bobby Sanjay credited for Traffic,Ayalum Nyannum Thammil and How Old are You recently and executed well by Rosshan Andrews..The craft was visible in how the scenes were staged and intrigue was something that the viewer had to unravel like a jigsaw puzzle was good.To your point on the shooting aspect, i felt it justified since he expected Jayasurya would reveal his dirty secrets to the world at large(including his sis and b-in-law).This would have prompted him to finish him since he has already lost his face/trust/friendship etc. and masterminded the act to keep him away from culpability.

    On the red-herring part, he discloses it to Rahman only after the discussion with jayasurya’s fiancee and learning that Jayasurya did not have any ill feeling but only good words about Prithviraj. This made him feel guilty and remorseful and in accepting the crime..

    On the recent malayalam films, I liked Neelakasham Pachakadal (directed by Sameer Thahir himself an ace DOP – Bangalore days,Nidra)which is about about identity and destiny over a road trip from Kerala to Nagaland..

    As for Bangalore days, I felt its a mainstream film with top production values targetted to ring in cash registers keeping in mind the viewers sensibilities..The gen Y filmmakers such as Anwar Rasheed,Anjali menon, Lijo jose pellissery(Amen),Sameer thahir,Anil Radhakrishnan Menon(North 24),Jeethu joseph,Vineeth srinivasan, Alphonse Puthran etc are keen to push the envelope and thats very encouraging






    Baddy, glad you caught this film finally. As I said, it has flaws but conceptually, it’s brilliant. A superior officer has a subordinate who has lost him memory to investigate his own crime! In terms of the red herring, as Srihari explained above, Prithvi goes to meet Jayasuriya’s fiancee and then learns that he had no intention of revealing anything about him. This makes him remorseful and willing to accept his crime. The second time when he goes to meet her, after losing his memory, he starts probing because he has no clue what she had shown him previously. Of course, as you say, the pre-planned hit is somewhat strange but the director does try to stage it as though the partner complains so much about it that Prithvi loses his common sense. .Also, the partner being away for a while is explained nicely while hinting at their closeness, when Prithvi meets him in the road while buying cigarettes. As I said, sure there are flaws, but the film was overall fantastic.

    I feel that this is a renaissance period for malayalam cinema after an ordinary decade lately. I’m happy if such cinema flourishes.



    Also, during the first time investigating, Prithvi tried his best to actually derail the investigation by alluding to an imaginary culprit via a sketch, arresting a local gangster and harassing his family etc. It’s only when he meets Jayasuriya’s fiancee that he changes.



    Srihari/Shankar: Oh, I get that. I get that seeing the video finally made him change his mind. But that was part of the “melodrama” I was talking about, all that “nanben da” stuff. The film was superbly controlled till the flashback — the Big Reveal. And then, I felt, the remainder didn’t live up to the earlier 80% of the film, which was brilliant.

    Two things mainly.

    As I said said earlier, the super-elaborate public assassination didn’t work for me AT ALL. I’d have been happier if it had been a spur-of-the-moment thing, a “crime of passion” kind of thing — and this would have still allowed the film to unfold as is. No changes would have been needed, screenplay-wise. That whole remote-controlled weapon, etc., kinda spoilt the “realism” from earlier. And two, I didn’t buy the whole Rahman-keeping-quiet aspect, fully knowing what had happened.

    I also wished the lover character had been detailed less cartoonishly. (Compare this character to the beautiful way Jayasuriya’s fiancee is written/acted, or even Prithviraj’s sister.) In an ordinary film, we would have sighed and not lingered on it. But in a film that’s otherwise so well written, this major part wasn’t up to the mark.


  41. Mank, we were very fortunate to see and hear ARR live in Toronto way back in 2000. When Chithra walked out on stage the audience went wild, absolutely wild. An audience of 75,000. I started to cry but she frequently has that effect on me. We saw just one other non-Indian couple there. The family next to us kept looking at us and finally asked, “Excuse me, what are you doing here?” It was one of the greatest musical experiences we’ve ever had. right up there with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan live in Toronto. Sorry, a bit off subject. Silly gora.

    Liked by 1 person

  42. Donna, Hey that was a wonderful anecdote. what’s so silly about it.thanx for sharing. Yeah chitra has that effect on people. You must have noticed that chitra is forever smiling , no matter what. She’s truly a positive person and puts it across to the listeners through her sweet sweet voice. You cant help but be moved.


  43. I have seen Indians learning German, French,Spanish etc but goras learning Hindi to the effect of appreciating Chitra. & Nusrat, that’s a new for me.



    Regarding Mumbai Police – my read of the whole reason why Rahman makes Prithviraj re-investigate the whole case was in order for him to realize / remember the depth of the friendship and truly repent of his crime etc. etc. I also thought that was why Rahman is completely grim-faced in the current day portions (he already knows what Prithviraj has done), whereas in the flashback he was much more jovial.

    Completely agree about the scenes with Prithviraj’s partner. His acting was terrible, almost comical…it could have almost derailed the rest of the move.

    BR: Wondering if you saw “Ayaalum Njaanum Thammil” again with Prithviraj. Was one where I was quite impressed with his performance…especially I felt he managed to shed the usual “cockiness” associated to many of his performances.


  45. After a string of hollywood movies and some korean outings for the past six months i got my first malayalam movie viewing xperience last night.It came along vth “Annaiyum Rasoolum” and “Drishyam”(Back to Back)

                To start vth Annaiyum rasoolum(not jzt i watched it first even i want to)I wonder when is the last time i offered to see a love story with so much rawness and livelyness.There were not even a single calculated candyfloss moment.No momentary hugs and kisses,No long drives,No duets,No restaraunt conversations…It all starts with glimpses they share,long and tireless sessions of following,Gud night gud noon texts,a straight forward proposal(ufff thanks the violins doesnt take off there)..And when she responds with a blank msg i smiled saying to myself”vizhunta machan”.Ya I felt so observed into it in the way he recreated the lives of anna and rasool onscreen.After kahaani i found tis film so “Atmospheric”,The director(Rajeev ravi) transports us to kochi and presents us with the lives of random residents there.I felt as if i was no more watching a film,i was somewhere there in the boat where rasool follows anna,i was somewhere there pausing and watching on the pedestal where rasool and his friends hits anna’s brother.”NEORELISTIC??”         But the real problem starts in the later half of the film where the so realistically constructed dream gets filled vth a cinematic scene(even farther less cinematic we actually see in other movies)the viewer couldnt stand,a disbielief grows and then the film seems to drag.I too felt the director might have got in with a better script.But the way he made its first one and half hours was just outstanding.

                  Then “Drishyam”…U guys posted a lot about this nothing more..taught script,great performances,good direction..but wait i felt the spoiled rich brat character is too steriotypical and presented vth undisputed cinematic villany esp vth the dialogue “k i dont need ur daughter u satisify my wish”..jeethu might hv presented him with a better character arc..anyway still drishyam was interesting..But what would be more interesting is to see this Rajeev Ravi(cinematographer turned director,associated vth anurag kashyam frm Dev-D to Gangs of Wasseypur)make a Drishyam..i.e a well executed script in thriller/drama..then i feel v hv a bright chance to make some awards at the international circuit.


  46. Sir, I totally agree with the list you provided. However my favourite movie from the last 4 years is Ayalum Njanum Thammil by Lal Jose starring Prithviraj. I highly recommend this movie and I hope to hear from you soon about this one.



  47. Sir, I would like you to watch “Ee Adutha Kaalathu” and “Left Right Left” and voice your opinion on them. These are two films not many speak of when they talk about the Malayalam New Wave (donna here being an exception ), but these were easily, two of the most path-breaking films to have come out of the industry in sometime.


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