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Movies, magic and Mollywood

Known for consistently delivering quality content, Mollywood has emerged as a shining beacon in what has otherwise been a challenging year for films.
Last Updated : 29 June 2024, 00:26 IST

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The year 2024 has been a stellar year for the Malayalam film industry. Just like Soubin Shahir’s Kuttan from Manjummel Boys, the industry is climbing (pun intended) to the top of everyone’s watchlist across the country. Known for consistently delivering quality content, Mollywood has emerged as a shining beacon in what has otherwise been a challenging year for films.

In the 1980s and early ’90s, Malayalam cinema underwent a seismic shift with Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Elippathayam and Sibi Malayil’s Kireedam and Bharatham. These movies were more than just entertaining — they questioned social norms and explored deep human emotions. Mammootty and Mohanlal emerged as pillars of the industry during this transformative era: Mammootty’s commanding presence in Vitheyan showcased unparalleled versatility, while Mohanlal’s ability to seamlessly embody characters in ‘Bharatham’ and the evocative ‘Vanaprastham’ captivated audiences across genres.

Rohit Harindra, a Blockchain guru from Kerala now based in Dubai, underscores how these films from the Golden Age captured Kerala’s essence. Whether exploring the humorous escapades in Nadodikattu, delving into the complex relationships of Thoovanathumbikal, or navigating the dramatic narratives of Pattana Pravesham, each movie skilfully blends humour, drama, and social commentary into the fabric of Kerala’s culture. According to Rohit, these movies resonate because they authentically reflect Kerala’s ethos, resonating deeply with audiences seeking genuine storytelling that mirrors their lives.

Like all great empires what rises must inevitably fall. The early 2000s marked a dull phase for the Malayalam film industry, deeply immersed in a fierce rivalry with its flamboyant cousin, the Tamil film industry. Tamil cinema churned out both commercially successful blockbusters and critically acclaimed films at a relentless pace. In a bid to keep up, the Malayalam industry eagerly hopped onto the bandwagon. Money talks, after all. But this chase for commercial success came with a price: the rich storytelling that once defined Malayalam cinema started to fade away, losing its unique allure and depth. Caught in this whirlwind were films that missed the mark and tales that failed to strike a chord, despite the industry’s wealth of talent. It felt like navigating a dark phase, struggling to find balance amidst the glitz and glamour of blockbuster economics. It was akin to witnessing a seasoned mountaineer lose grip — a painful decline tinged with a sense of lost potential.

Come 2010s, Malayalam cinema saw a significant shift thanks to bold filmmakers like Amal Neerad, Aashiq Abu, Anwar Rasheed, Alphonse Puthren, Lijo Jose Pelissery etc. Films such as Bangalore Days and Premam ushered in a thrilling new era, captivating audiences in Bengaluru and beyond. These directors not only entertained but also crafted cinematic gems like Traffic, City of God, Salt N’ Pepper, and Chaappa Kurishu, known for their authenticity and relatability. Blockbusters such as Mohanlal’s Drishyam shattered records, showcasing the power of captivating storytelling. The early 2010s? They weren’t just a good time for Malayalam cinema — but an electrifying journey, blending Kerala’s rich culture with a fresh, bold twist.

Sadhika Arora, a Delhi/Bengaluru-based influencer, discovered Malayalam cinema after moving from her hometown, where film culture was quite different. Introduced to Premam by a Malayali friend in college, she was captivated by its concise storytelling and talented actors. Unlike Bollywood, these films emphasised plot over song fillers. Initially concerned about language barriers, Sadhika found comfort in subtitles and support from Malayali friends, which helped her appreciate and enjoy Malayalam cinema.

But history has a way of repeating itself, and indeed, a slump loomed again in the late 2010s for Malayalam cinema. While Mollywood faced challenges, south Indian cinemas elsewhere thrived. Tamil and Telugu films dominated the box office with 2.0, Baahubali and Arjun Reddy. Meanwhile, Kannada cinema saw success with films such as KGF, revitalising the rugged, macho archetype that audiences loved. However, this time, they didn’t chase the trends set by their counterparts. Instead, they focused on their strengths — started producing quality films and exploring new styles and genres. Yes, not every film was a hit, but there were standout successes like Angamaly Diaries, Lucifer, and Kumbalangi Nights that garnered critical and widespread acclaim from the audience.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, the world paused — no movies, no bustling sets, just absolute silence. But as they say, necessity sparks creativity. Filmmakers whipped up gems like Fahadh Faasil’s Joji, C U Soon, and Trance, Mammootty’s Bheeshma Parvam and Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam, and Soubin Shahir’s Romancham. Even within confines, they flipped limitations into opportunities, wielding minimal crews and smaller sets to weave captivating tales, proving once again that modern problems require modern solutions. 

Filmmaker Nithish Prajwal notes that Malayalam films gained popularity in Bengaluru during lockdown, driven by increased OTT platform usage. This expanded exposure highlighted Malayalam cinema’s compelling storytelling and performances, leading to greater demand in multiplexes with subtitles for wider audiences. Acclaimed films like The Great Indian Kitchen and Jallikattu achieved international recognition, elevating the profile of Malayalam cinema. This trend reflects a broader shift in Indian cinema consumption, where audiences value quality content across linguistic barriers, enriching Bengaluru’s cultural diversity.

Malayalam cinema’s adaptability shines through its mix of fresh themes, diverse actors, and new directors and crew. Embracing innovation in both theatre and OTT releases has been crucial amid economic challenges and fewer screens compared to other industries. Films like Bramayugam, Manjummel Boys, Premalu, Aavesham and the recent Ullozhukku remind us that the magic of cinema extends beyond our living rooms to the enchanting ambiance of theatres, with popcorn rustling and lights dimming. Despite ups and downs, Mollywood shows resilience, reflected in solid box office numbers this year. As for what lies ahead, only time will tell. On a parting note, for (Malayalam) cinema lovers, “Eda Mone, Happy Ille?”

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Published 29 June 2024, 00:26 IST

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