Kumbalangi Nights, Unda, Virus, Ishq: Best Malayalam films of 2019 so far have celebrated big and small stars
While Prithviraj Sakumaran's directorial debut Lucifer already garnered Rs 200 crore, smaller films like Kumbalangi Nights also made a mark.
We're halfway through 2019, so what better time to take stock of what this year brought to us in terms of entertainment and pop culture? Firstpost is rounding up the best films, web series, songs and albums so far, and also looking at what else is in store for the rest of the year.
Halfway through 2019 and Malayalam cinema has already found its first Rs 200 crore film — Lucifer, the directorial debut of actor Prithviraj, written by Murali Gopy, starring Mohanlal and an ensemble of actors. However, films made on much lesser budgets have also found an equal space here. This reiterates the truth about Malayali audience: they have grown quite a bit in terms of film appreciation, become more willing to explore unbeaten paths in terms of content and technique. Here, we bring you the top six so far.
Hands down, the movie of the year so far. Written by Syam Pushkaran, this directorial debut of Madhu C Narayanan is the tale of a dysfunctional family of four brothers who share a volatile relationship with each other that eventually reaches a point of harmony and cleansing with the arrival of women into their fold. Set in a quaint little village called Kumbalangi, fenced by backwaters, the characters are exceptionally well-written with the antagonist played by Fahadh Faasil, who is this caricature of an alpha male hero who is also portrayed as a psycho. With spectacular performances (Soubin Shahir acing it as the elder brother), sublime cinematography (Shyju Khalid), superb execution and writing, the film, which is now playing on Amazon Prime Videp India,is good enough for several revisits.
Khalid Rahman, who made an impressive debut with the rom-com Anuraga Karikkin Vellam, picked a diametrically different milieu to tell his next story. Unda, written by debutant Harshad, is about a group of policemen from Kerala who are assigned election duty in the Maoist hit regions of Chhattisgarh. Spearheaded by SI Mani (Mammootty), the group of 11 cops are not really the picture of grit and courage. On the contrary, they find themselves vulnerable and anxious, exposed to a situation they are not familiar with, that too without sufficient ammunition. The film boasts of stellar performances, where each of the 11 policemen has a superbly written role, and also has megastar Mammootty playing a cop who is a subversion of every celluloid policeman he has done so far. There are various subtexts to the narrative that touches on casteism, Adivasi exploitation, and other politics.
Malayalam cinema’s first medical thriller, it’s based on the real-life stories involving last year’s Nipah outbreak in the state. With quite an ensemble, featuring some of the finest talents in Malayalam cinema, the film directed by Aashiq Abu is written by Mushin Parari, Sharfu and Suhas. Brilliantly conceptualised and shot (Rajeev Ravi and Shyju Khalid), its screenplay is knottily woven and thoroughly researched. It’s the kind of film where they methodically place each character, bring them all together into the narrative with great flair and some of the busiest actors in Malayalam cinema (Indrajith, Kunchako Boban, Tovino Thomas, Asif Ali, Parvathy, Rima Kallingal) perform without worrying about their screen time. It’s the kind of film where everything falls in place—the making, performances, writing and the larger cause.
The film, written by Bobby-Sanjay and directed by debutant Manu Ashokan, is about Pallavi Raveendran (Parvathy), an acid attack survivor, is a profile put together by the collective stories of similar acid attack survivors. It is about her dream to fly planes (she is a trainee pilot) and how the attack almost clips her ambitions but eventually, with some help from unexpected acquaintances, she rebuilds her life. The film addresses toxic masculinity and its ill-effects. It is also a film with memorable performances — be it Siddique as Pallavi’s father, Asif Ali as her manipulative boyfriend, or Tovino Thomas as the wayward scion of an airline company.
A love story that soon snowballs into a disturbing moral policing issue, has Shane Nigam and Ann Sheetal headlining the narrative. Directed by newcomer Anuraj Manohar, Ishq has an extremely potent and disturbing first half, where they find themselves being harassed by a stranger who threatens to call the police and takes advantage of their helplessness. But post that, it is problematic in the way the young man plots to extract revenge from the man, by harassing his family, the more so as it is accompanied by a celebratory BGM. Eventually, they salvage the narrative by ending on a positive note, where the heroine rejects the hero who seems happy to have her back after he is reassured by the creep that he has not touched her. Ishq is more about the performances, especially Shine Tom Chacko, who is terrific as the creepy stranger.
Written and directed by Ashraff Hamza, Thamaasha (an inspired remake of Kannada film Ondu Mottaya Kathe) is about a 31-year-old college professor. Sreenivasan, (Vinay Forrt) with a receding hairline and his various battles to find a bride for himself. Blended delectably with food and humour, it is a film with intriguingly realistic sub-characters. While there are three prominent female characters, it is Chinnu (brilliantly done by Chinnu Chandni Nair), a plus-size woman who meets Sreenivasan as part of an arranged match-making feat, who wins you over. The film tries to address body shaming, something rarely handled in Malayalam cinema.
Films to look forward to in 2019
Director Lijo Jose Pellisery’s most awaited film this year, Jallikattu, based on S Hareesh’s short story, Maoist, scripted by Hareesh and R Harikumar, stars Vinayakan,
Antony Varghese and Chemban Vinod.
Trance, which has Fahad Faasil playing 5 stages of life, along with quite an ensemble of actors, directed by Anwar Rasheed.
Mamamgam, a historical period drama based on the Mamangam festival of the 17th century, directed by M Padmakumar, written by Sajeev Pillai, starring Mammootty along with an ensemble of actors.
Thuramugham, written and helmed by Rajeev Ravi, starring Nivin Pauly, Biju Menon, Indrajith Sukumaran and Nimisha Sajayan, based on a play of the same title written by Gopan Chidambaram.
Marakkar Arabhikadalinte Simham, a historical period drama directed by Priyadarshan and co-written by Ani Sasi and Priyadarshan, set in the 16th century Portuguese India, based on the battles of Kunjali Markkars, the naval chieftains of the Zamorins of Calicut. Made on a budget of 100 crores, the film stars Mohanlal, Sunil Shetty, Manju Warrier, Siddique, Mukesh etc.
Other important films include Joshiy, directed Porinji Mariyam Jose written by Abhilash N Chandran, starring Chemban Vinod Jose, Joju George and Nyla Usha, Ambili directed by John Paul George which has Soubin Shahir in a titular role and Kurup, directed by Sreenath Rajendran, based on Sukumara Kurup’s biopic. Dulquer Salmaan plays the lead.
The emotional beats are inconsistent and overly melodramatic, bordering on preachy in a few instances.
Krish, Rakul Preet Singh, Vaishnav Tej on telling the shepherd community's story through Konda Polam
"I have always romanticised shepherds crossing the mountains with their sheep as it creates a beautiful picture, but when I read this book, it took me by surprise as it revealed the real struggles that they were facing," says director Krish on adapting the book Konda Polam into a film.
There are many potential conceits that can result in a film that is far more superior, but those subplots, or sub-thoughts, rather are quickly abandoned.