Malayalam films shone bright amid pandemic gloom

In South, Malayalam films shone bright amid pandemic gloom

They scored with unusual themes. Tamil explored new frontiers, while Telugu only delivered an earworm song

In an interview on a Hindi YouTube channel, actor Fahadh Faasil was asked to describe the Malayalam film industry with three actors. “Three is too short but I will give it a try. Thilakan, Nedumudi Venu, and Sathyan,” he replied. 

A new generation star had admirably avoided the names of superstars like Mohanlal and Mammooty and acknowledged the versatility of legendary performers. Revelling in diverse roles, the trio, and many character actors, are the pillars of an industry that has evolved with time. 

Like Fahadh, the industry is largely against pandering to the popular taste, and therein lies its popularity in 2020. Malayalam films engaged and entertained OTT audiences that are open to anything. 

We had the solidly made ‘CU Soon’ — India’s first computer screen film — by Mahesh Narayanan, the charming slice-of-life drama ‘Varane Avashyamund’ (which pulled off a casting coup), the engaging and explosive drama on male-egos like ‘Ayyappanum Koshiyum’ and ‘Kappela’, a moving thriller. One common aspect of these films was its freshness in treatment. 

Fahadh, extending his form from last year, pulled off extremely complex roles in ‘Trance’ and ‘C U Soon’, like only he can. And the women excelled. Ann Benn (‘Kappela’), Kalyani Priyadarshan (‘Varane Avashyamund’) and Grace Antony (‘Halal Love Story’) revelled in stories that didn’t keep women on the margins of their narratives.

Stars and anthologies 

In Tamil, the year began with the fall of a superstar and concluded with the rise of another. AR Murgadoss’ underwhelming ‘Darbar’ once again highlighted the Rajinikanth conundrum. 

Ever since ‘Enthiran’ (2010), filmmakers have struggled to turn out satisfying ‘mass’ entertainers with the veteran, whose career is defined by such films. Fans geared up for another treat after Karthik Subbaraj’s ‘Petta’ (2019) but ended up frustrated watching ‘Darbar’.

The Tamil film industry expectedly scored in the thriller genre. ‘Psycho’ was impressive despite not reaching the high standards expected of director Mysskin. ‘Andhaghaaram’ was a spectacular debut from V Vignarajan, who ended a long wait for a riveting supernatural thriller.

The industry suffered a poor record on OTT platforms, with ‘Penguin’, ‘Silence’, ‘Ponmagal Vandhal’ and ‘Varma’ getting a raw deal from critics and fans alike.

The high of a much-needed comeback didn’t elude Suriya. The gifted actor convincingly brought alive the inspiring story of Capt G R Gopinath, pioneer of low-cost aviation, in Sudha Kongara’s ‘Soorarai Pottru’.

Another significant change was the Tamil industry’s fascination with anthologies. The generic stories of ‘Putham Pudhu Kaalai’ left audiences asking for more and the hard-hitting and well-acted ‘Paava Kadhaigal’ made an impact. Be it ‘Soorarai Pottru’ or the anthologies, director Sudha Kongara’s presence was a refreshing change in a male-dominated industry.  

Butta Boma and a trend 

In Telugu, the popularity of the song ‘Butta Bomma’, from ‘Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo’, transcended boundaries. Australian cricketing star David Warner unapologetically expressed his love for the S Thaman-number with a variety of dance moves on TikTok.

A Telugu song most viewed on YouTube, this historic record shouldn’t mask the lacklustre quality of the film, starring Allu Arjun.

The story of a Telugu hero uniting a dysfunctional family after he is done objectifying his girlfriend and shaking his legs for peppy numbers is as old as the hills. 

The law of averages caught up with Vijay Devarakonda, whose ‘World Famous Lover’ couldn’t go beyond the actor’s now-familiar angry-young-man image. Even as the stars failed, it’s the ‘small’ (‘Colour Photo’), content-oriented (‘Krishna and His Leela’ and ‘HIT’) and stories from the hinterland (‘Middle Class Melodies’) that struck a chord with the audiences. In an industry known for glitzy projects, this budding movement is a big step forward.