Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Malayalam cinema did just that in 2021, producing some great films under the stringent restrictions induced by Covid-19.
When film shootings in Kerala were allowed to resume in July, makers were given a strict set of SOPs to follow and many locations were marked off limits. However, Malayalam filmmakers adapted quickly and came up with ideas for films set in a single location.
While bigger film industries like Tamil, Telugu and Hindi struggled to find ways to stay afloat through the pandemic, the Malayalam industry thus rose to the occasion by making small, yet good films with limited resources.
Silverscreen India has curated this list of Malayalam films released in 2021 that were shot in confined spaces during the Covid-19 pandemic.
This suspense drama film marked actor Jayasurya’s 100th outing. Directed by Ranjith Shankar, it is set in a single location: a high-end Kochi hotel with a balcony that offers a sweeping view of the backwaters. The film revolves around the titular Sunny, a musician who finds himself in an emotional crisis. He returns to Kerala from Dubai amidst the pandemic and has to undergo a 7-day quarantine at a hotel. The film follows the events that take place inside the hotel room where he is forced to remain, away from human contact.
In her review, Silverscreen India’s Aswathy Gopalakrishnan particularly called attention to cinematographer Madhu Neelakantan’s deeply-engaging visuals of the space and the character.
Sunny was released on Amazon Prime Video on September 23.
Set in 1997, this Tovino Thomas-starrer was shot in a piece of land in Piravom, Ernakulam and a cardamom plantation in Kumili. The plantation area and the house in Piravom play a significant role in the climax. Most of the action sequences were also filmed in the house’s surroundings.
In an interaction with Silverscreen India, director Rohith VS said that a majority of the portions were shot over 48 days in 2020 amid Covid-19 restrictions. “Finding a house in Kerala today that resembles a house from the 90s was a difficult task. We were very specific about the type of house we were looking for – it had to be a lone house standing right in the thick of a sprawling piece of land. We spent quite a bit of time on this,” he said.
Silverscreen India’s review appreciated the filmmaker’s talent for “capturing the essence of geographical space.” The review further added, “In Kala, he and his cinematographer (Akhil George) make a thorough study of the specifics of the estate and the house. They create a dark, dingy and eerie atmosphere to place the action set piece in the second half.”
The film had a theatrical release on March 25 and is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
A mystery drama directed by Sanu Varghese, Aarkkariyam was both set in and shot during the Covid-19 pandemic. The film’s location is an old house amidst a rubber estate near Pala in Kottayam district. The story follows Shirley (Parvathy Thiruvothu) and her husband Roy (Sharaf U Dheen) who leave Mumbai and go to the former’s ancestral house, where her father Ittyavira (Biju Menon) stays. The location has a great significance to the film’s plot.
Actor Biju Menon in an interview with Silverscreen India praised Sanu Varghese’s filmmaking style and said, “It amazed me how real everything felt, right from the interior lighting to the utility tins placed on the kitchen rack. An upcycled Dalda tin, the bedroom curtains made of old sarees… Sanu, who is also an excellent artist, has keen observation skills. The finesse of the production design inspired us, the actors, to perform better.”
Following its theatrical release on April 1, the film premiered on various OTT platforms, including Amazon Prime Video.
This crime drama starring Fahadh Faasil is inspired by William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The film was shot at a house in Erumeli in Pathanamthitta district. The house, which is set amidst a rubber plantation and seems to have been built at least 20 years ago, takes centre stage in the film.
“The house is frequently looked at from a distance, in long and aerial shots in the middle of a thick green plantation, away from human settlement. The household is clean but bland, not just in terms of the emotions that are allowed to be expressed within it, but also the physical elements that make it up the unevenness of its interior design, the ordinariness of the furniture,” the review said.
Joji released on Amazon Prime Video on April 7.
Santhoshathinte Onam Rahasyam
Don Palathara’s experimental film featuring actors Rima Kallingal and Jithin Punthenchery is an 80-minute single-shot film. It takes place inside a car as the couple travels to a clinic to take a pregnancy test. The film is shot in one long take using a camera strapped to the car’s dashboard. The space inside the vehicle acts as a moving stage for the domestic drama to unfold. There is no pan, no zoom-in or zoom-out or any shift in the angle.
“Throughout the film, the characters are within the confines of the moving car, akin to the Covid-19 pandemic-induced lockdown that brought back many families under the same roof, forcing them to address emotions bottled up over the years,” noted Silverscreen India’s review.
The film was released on Neestream and six other OTT platforms in July 2021.
Starring Nivin Pauly in the lead role, this film directed by Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval is set in a hotel in Munnar. An absurdist comedy with thriller and humour elements, it revolves around an incident that happens in the hotel. Kanakam Kaamini Kalaham is a confined space film and the whole story takes place in one night. The film follows a couple that goes on a three-day vacation as a last-ditch attempt to save their marriage.
Kanakam Kaamini Kalaham released on Disney+ Hotstar on November 12.
This Kerala State Award-winning film directed by Jeo Baby features actors Nimisha Sajayan and Suraj Venjaramoodu in the lead roles. It is set in an old mansion in Kozhikode. Most portions of this critically-acclaimed film are shot in the house, particularly the kitchen. This space becomes a metaphor for how women are suppressed by the patriarchy.
Silverscreen India review noted that the production design is fantastic with the household and characters looking authentic and “straight out of a family photo album.”
The Great Indian Kitchen was directly released on Neestream on January 15.