Ten Malayalam movies that you shouldn’t miss, but not just for the entertainment.
*Qualification: Belonging to this century.
I. Pranchiyettan and the Saint (2010)
Genre: Satirical Comedy
Director: Ranjith Balakrishnan
Cast: Mammootty, Priyamani and Jesse Fox Allen
The magnum opus of Ranjith Balakrishnan, and may be one of the best criticisms of the modern society, told in the best satirical manner. The movie focuses on, and tells the story of a Trichur, Central Kerala based rice merchant Chirammal Enashu Francis known to the world as Aripranchi or Pranchiyettan (Mammootty) who happens to start a fictional conversation with Saint Francis of Assisi (Jesse Fox Allen), the saint after whom he is named. It is about his desire to be famous, get the honourable award of Padmashree and bring a change to his image, as he regularly comes against his own inferiority complex of not being educated, losing the girl he loved to the more educated former classmate of his. Even as he is immensely rich and has expanded his father’s rice business into jewellery, real estate, finance and many other ventures, he is not happy and wishes to be well known and honoured. It is then that he comes across the saint, and the conversation changes his life as he comes to know what life is all about. Being a great story of life and its goodness, an extraordinary performance by Mammootty made sure that this was to be watched at least once before one dies.
II. Thalappavu (2008)
Genre: Historical Drama
Cast: Lal, Prithviraj Sukumaran and Dhanya Mary Varghese
Literally meaning headgear, the movie is based on the real incident concerning Naxal Varghese’s fake encounter and a Police Constable P. Ramachandran. It is based on the confession of this police constable about gunning down the naxalite in a fake encounter, as Prithviraj plays the naxal and Lal plays the police constable in a flick which has immense power to strike into the conscience of humanity. The movie has fantastic performances from Prithviraj Sukumaran and Lal and well supported by Dhanya Mary Varghese in her first leading role in Malayalam movies. It deservingly earned a large number of awards, including Kerala State Film Award for Best Actor (Lal) and also for the Best Debutant Director (Madhupal). It has to be noted that it was Madhupal’s first movie as a director after making his acting debut through Kashmeeram in 1994. But there is nothing of inexperience in the movie, as everything seems to be so well arranged. It is a story of how truth and lies can change the world of a simple man who is caught between the feudal power and the knowledge about how the poor are oppressed and a group of people are fighting for them risking their lives.
III. Melvilasom (2011)
Genre: Courtroom Drama
Director: Madhav Ramadasan
Cast: Suresh Gopi, Parthiban and Thalaivasal Vijay
This might be the least known movie of the list, even as it received impressive critical acclaim, and yet remained in the theatres for such a short time, and as our area is concerned, not even a week at the theatre – it was even dubbed and released in Tamil as Ulvilaasam; not that common a thing for these kind of movies. It was released just before the multplexes were becoming a trend, and if it could have released now, there might have been considerable difference in the approach of the people, not considering those people who didn’t like movies like Amen and Celluloid, for they might be a little hopeless in this case. Striking close to the Aristotelian unities of time, action and place, and being the only movie to do so for a long time in the Malayalam movie industry, this flick tells the shocking casteism or rather racism which exists within India and even the military force is not free from it. The attempt is to keep away from the conventional style, and to bring a shocking revelation to light with an incident which looks simple from the top, yet has powerful undercurrents, and the director has completely succeeded in doing the same, and Suresh Gopi’s brilliance in the role has made this a masterpiece.
IV. Celluloid (2013)
Genre: Biopic Drama
Cast: Prithviraj Sukumaran, Mamta Mohandas and Chandni
I would rather direct you here, to the review I had posted earlier in the year, rather than talking more about it: https://moviesofthesoul.wordpress.com/2013/02/16/celluloid/ but there are still a few things I would share right here. The first thing is that it is deeply saddening story of the father of Malayalam cinema, J C Daniel, who made the first Malayalam cinema: Vigathakumaran, and the story of this movie’s heroine P. K. Rosie who had to go and fade into the shades of history due to casteism and related discrimination and violence. It is quite a shocking revelation of how the story of a man who changed the world of movie history in favour of an influential Malayalam movie industry was ignored and had to be forgotten slowly, and the movie itself be neglected and be lost in the process. Prithviraj Sukumaran, Mamta Mohandas, Sreenivasan and Chandni, especially the first and the last people have done such a powerful job that this movie received a National Award as well as seven Kerala State Film Awards including the Best Film and the Best Actor, for such a well-made tribute.
V. Raama Raavanan (2010)
Genre: Romantic Drama
Director: Biju Vattappara
Cast: Suresh Gopi, Mithra Kurian and Lena Abhilash
This movie based on the novel Manomi by Madhavikutty, is a classic even as most of the critics might not think so, and most of the viewers didn’t go to watch it. The story has a powerful ideological and intellectual side, which is also moralistic and slightly preachy in a good way. The movie’s attempt to concentrate on more than one target audience might have damaged its chances to a good extent. Suresh Gopi has once again done his job to perfection. It is a story set in the backdrop of the Sri Lankan Civil War, when Thiruchelvam (Suresh Gopi) and Manomi (Mithra Kurian), from the two opposite sides – one a member of the Tamil struggle and the other a member of a Sinhalese community comes across each other in a world which belongs to neither one of them. Both are aliens in their own world which dislikes them often completely or otherwise in parts, more and more as they try to blend in. There is a certain amount of a Buddhist non-violent path which is underlined by the movie, something which is uncommon, but quite relevant during this age.
VI. Amen (2013)
Genre: Romantic Satire
Director: Lijo Jose Pellissery
Cast: Indrajith Sukumaran, Fahadh Faasil and Swati Reddy
This is another movie from this year, and already reviewed, to be read from this link: https://moviesofthesoul.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/amen/ and as long as this short review is concerned, this is a movie of brilliance, a movie of the brilliance of its director Lijo Jose Pellissery, and great performances by its cast, in which Indrajith Sukumaran who was supposed to be the supporting actor competes with the leading actor Fahadh Faasil in each and every moment of acting awesomeness. With a story based in an ancient Syrian Church in a village in Kuttanad, and the whole situation that surrounds a church, its priest and people as well as a competition, there is a lot of simplicity around, but with the use of complex style and magic realism, this world is turned into an environment which is not less fantastic and close to a fairy tale with a lot of beautiful visuals which are arranged in a way as to make one feel that there is the presence of divinity and magic in the air, and therefore the subtitle of the movie, “a divine comedy”, even as one has to wonder what Dante Alighieri might think about it.
VII. Akale (2004)
Genre: Family Drama
Cast: Prithviraj, Sheela and Geetu Mohandas
It is inspired by The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, the classic American play which most of us English literature students had to work through a lot. The treatment of the story and the blending of the same into an Indian context, of the Anglo-Indian Kochite background and the age by Shyamaprasad is worth a lot of applause, as most of the Malayalam movie fans might already know. For something which premiered in Chicago in 1944, to change to its contemporary world and suiting the audience who are looking for the certain type of elements in a movie should have been a great challenge which he has overcome with great skill. You can’t forget how well Prithviraj Sukumaran has performed as the youthful Neil D’Costa, Sheela as the painful mother Margaret D’Costa and Geetu Mohandas as the fragile, yet loving lady youth, Rose D’Costa. It deservingly won two National Film Awards and six Kerala State Film Awards including Best Film, Best Actress, Best Director and Second Best Actress.
VIII. Veettilekkulla Vazhi (2010)
Genre: Adventure Drama
Director: Dr. Biju
Cast: Prithviraj Sukumaran, Indrajith Sukumaran and Dhanya Mary Varghese
Literally translated as The Way Home, Veettilekkulla Vazhi is a story of one man who tries to repay violence and pain with love and compassion, as he tries to bring the lost of son of a terrorist who killed his wife and child by undertaking a journey which can bring him only death and destruction, either death from the guns of the terrorists or imprisonment by the law which will shall brand him a terrorist for aiding one of them. But it is that path of humanity and suffering which he chooses to take, and it is the role which Prithviraj Sukumaran has done to perfection. It won numerous awards, including the National Film Award for the Best Feature Film in Malayalam as well as two of them in the Kerala State Film Awards, and was screened at a large number of international film festivals. It is a movie which restores some faith in humanity, and it is a flick which gives the world hope of a new world of peace and non-violence in the future, and is increasingly relevant in a world which continues to stay on the edges of war and terrorism providing a thick fog of uncertainty and hell to be unleashed on Earth.
IX. Passenger (2009)
Genre: Social Thriller
Director: Ranjith Sankar
Cast: Sreenivasan, Dileep and Mamta Mohandas
This movie has a good entertainment side, and a bigger inclination towards that direction for sure. But the movie has gained independence from the usual thriller pattern, as it embodies both humanity and social criticism at the best level. It is the story of a common man with his own little problems and small fun: Sathyanathan (Sreenivasan), who travels in the train regularly, and is a simple man who lives life as any other man, full of order and belonging to an uncomplicated life-style which all changes one day, and he is left with a choice, to be just what he is and walk way from a man and his wife in trouble, or save them even as he is no superman and has no skills or the confidence to solve the complicated political things these two people are dealing with. As joined and driven by fate, he decides to go to their aid, and in the process save a huge number of human lives and also the whole state from the octopus hands of a corrupt politician. Its advantage is that it is a common man’s story and deals with a normal protagonist who can be anybody else in this world who can do as much as he can to make a difference.
X. Arabikkatha (2007)
Genre: Satirical Comedy
Director: Lal Jose
Cast: Sreenivasan, Indrajith Sukumaran and Samvrutha Sunil
Literally, The Arabian Tale is the story of Cuba Mukundan (Sreenivasan) who got the name due to his love for Cuba and China. He is a strong leftist who lives for the socialist movement and the party and strikes with venom against any corruption or evil that he comes across. But from being a strong member of a political party, he finds himself as a helpless labour in a nation which he always hated as the exploiter country. In the Middles East, he becomes just one of the common men and realizes the harsh realities of life, and also that even his own people are not less corrupt, and he has been put in a dire situation so that someone else could be in power instead of him. He still holds onto his ideology despite of the problems that he faces, and finally comes upon the wisdom that would make him an even better fighter for the poor and the down-trodden, enabling him to be a better voice of the subaltern, in all those environments where there is no shortage of the exploiters and the exploted. While Sreenivasan is once again doing what he does the best, Indrajith Sukumaran is there to provide the right support, as the director Lal Jose came up with magic.