Around 136 Malayalam movies were screened in theatres in 2015, and December isn’t over yet. As the year draws to a close, we pick our favourite Malayalam movies released thus far. The films that won our hearts, stood out in a different league from the rest, pushed narrative boundaries, and simply raised the bar for Malayalam cinema.
This Alphonse Putheren–directed film, with its young cast, defined 2015 for the Malayalam film industry. Not only was it a giant commercial success, it was also a critics’ favourite. The black shirt and white mundu costume the film’s protagonist (George) wears in a particular ‘mass’ sequence, became a trend in college and school campuses across the state. In fact, during the Onam season, some textile shops found it hard to meet the unforeseen demand for black shirts!
A realistic love story set in Aluva, a small town in Kerala, Premam featured Nivin Pauly as the male lead, while three newcomers played the female leads. The film was produced by director Anwar Rasheed on a budget of ₹4 crore (US$600,000). It grossed an estimated ₹60 crore (US$9.0 million) worldwide. At present, the film is being remade in Telugu with Naga Chaitanya, Shruti Haasan, and Anupama Parameswaran.
National award-winning director Salim Ahamed’s last film is a poignant period-drama about the life of Kerala-ites who migrated to the Middle-East in the early 1980s. Mammootty plays Pallikkal Narayanan, a man who migrated to the region at a time when Kerala’s Gulf boom was at its peak. Pathemari is Salim Ahammed’s third feature film, and released on 9 October 2015 to critical acclaim. And unlike Ahammed’s previous projects, Pathemari was also a commercial success.
Can gods be subject to caste segregation? Karie, a Malayalam indie film directed by Shanavas Narayanippuzha, hovers its camera over a Kerala society where even gods come with caste tags. An NRI from the Middle-East arrives at a hamlet in Kerala to meet an employee’s family. Thanks to a number of goof-ups, he is forced to look for a Karinkali, a performer of Karinkali Theyyam, a traditional ritual dance in North Kerala, to perform a religious ritual for the family. Karinkali is regarded as a lower-caste god, and forbidden to enter temples. It would make the temple impure. Karie has a realistic narrative style. Initially screened only at film festivals, Karie recently released in a few theatres across the state.
Ennu Ninte Moideen (With Love, Your Moideen)
Move aside Romeo-Juliet and Laila-Majnu. Malayalees now have their own romantic idols with Kanchana Mala and Moideen. Ennu Ninte Moideen is the screen adaptation of a real-life love story between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man. Kanchanamala is from an opulent Hindu Nair family in Mukkam, a small town in north Kerala, while Moideen is a smart Muslim youngster from a rich, political family in the same area. Directed by a debutant, RS Vimal, the story won the hearts of people across generations, and posed a serious challenge to Premam. The lead pair of Prithviraj and Parvathi won much praise for their strong and convincing performance.
Ennu Ninte Moideen’s music album, composed by M Jayachandran, Gopi Sunder, and Ramesh Narayanan, is still a favourite. After the film released, audiences flocked to the Moideen Seva Mandir to meet Kanchana Mala. Moideen Seva Mandir is a welfare institution run by Kanchana Mala’s charitable trust, named after the beloved she could never marry.
Another Nivin Pauly film which struck gold was Oru Vadakkan Selfie. Directed by G Prajith and scripted by Vineeth Srinivasan, Oru Vadakkan Selfie featured Nivin as an aimless engineering student, with Aju Varghese and Neeraj Madhav portraying his close friends. The film’s songs revolved around youth, and there were plenty of humorous moments, making it a film that youngsters could really relate to. The first half of the film was practically an ‘ode’ to engineering students in Kerala, a state where students are herded towards engineering.
Chandrettan Evideya (Chandrettan, Where Are You?)
Dileep’s only commercial success in 2015 was this film, directed by Siddharth Bharathan. Chandrettan Evideya is a comic take on a love triangle between an irresponsible husband, a possessive wife, and the gorgeous ‘other’ woman. Dileep plays a government employee named Chandramohan, while young actress Anusree plays his wife. Anusree interrupts Chandramohan’s languid evenings of drinking parties and art events with her frequent phone calls. Namitha Pramod plays Anjali, a dancer who befriends Chandramohan and becomes a threatening figure in Anusree’s ‘almost happy’ family life.
The film is a breezy family-drama, and became a sleeper hit, thanks to its innocuous jokes and emotionally charged moments. It was also a refreshing change to see Dileep in a movie that wasn’t just about cashing in on his star image.
This movie, directed by Rajesh Pillai, was a heroine-centric film, with Amala Paul playing the titular Mili. Mili is an introverted girl who loses her job because of her shy and clumsy nature. With the major supporting roles played by women, Mili won appreciation for its subject matter. Amala Paul’s sans make-up avatar, and Nivin Pauly’s supporting role as a personality trainer were the film’s highlights. Amala’s performance in the film was considered outstanding.
Picket 43, starring Prithviraj and Javed Jaffri, is about a borderless friendship, across the border. Set in a picturesque army border post in Kashmir, this Major Ravi film features Prithviraj as an Indian soldier who strikes an unusual friendship with a Pakistani soldier (Jaffri) across the fence. Through their conversations and heartfelt gestures, Picket 43 shows how the common man’s life is the same everywhere in the world. Both Jomon T John’s camerawork and Ravi’s mature handling of the subject were widely praised.
This road-movie, directed by Ashique Abu, narrates the story of two women, played by Rima Kallingal and Manju Warrier. The two are born in different places, and raised in entirely different circumstances. They meet during a trip to the Himalayas and strike up a friendship. The film was shot in locations across the country, from Ottappalam in Kerala to Ladakh in Kashmir. The camera work, handled by veteran DOP Madhu Neelakantan, added much charm to the film, and the actresses’ performances won acclaim .
Ottaal is director Jayaraj’s screen adaptation of the short story ‘Vanka’, by Russian writer Anton Chekhov. This film is the first Malayalam movie to have swept every top award (including the ‘Best Film’ award) at the recently-concluded International Film Festival of Kerala, in its 20-year history. Ottaal also won the ‘Best Film’ award in the ‘Environment Conservation’ category at the 2015 National Film awards. Ottaal tells the story of a young boy and his relationship with his grandfather, his only living relative in the world.