Compared to 2012 which was a landmark year of sorts for Malayalam Cinema 2013 was a little uneven year of sorts. But 2013 is a unique year for Malayalam Cinema where in terms of quantity of output Malayalam saw the maximum number of straight releases as compared to any other Indian language (apparently 158 straight releases and 12 dubbed releases with Tamil being a close second with 149 straight releases). In terms of films which were clear trendsetters maybe the number of exceptional films weren’t too many, but keeping in mind that 2013 wasn’t an exceptionally special year for Indian Cinema per se, the output of Malayalam Cinema was still quite impressive. Sure the industry had its fair share of disappointments but then they do not outweigh the things which worked positively. Before I go on to talk about the films which made a difference in the year, let’s first look at some of the significant developments and aspects that were observed over the year.
It was not a very favourable year for the two superstars Mammootty and Mohanlal (till Drishyam at the fag end of the year changed the equation completely). Mammootty had 6 releases this year of which films expected to do well like (Proprietors) Kammath & Kammath, Kadal Kadannu Oru Mathukkutty and Silence turned out to be duds. Even the other 3 films, Immanuel, Kunjananthante Kada and Daivathinte Swantham Cleetus were a far cry from what he’s capable of. Mohanlal also had 6 releases of which most of them didn’t work till Drishyam came along towards the year end. Dileep continued to work in loud masala entertainers, catering to his target audience but none of them are memorable films. The younger lot especially Prithviraj, Fahadh Faasil and Dulquer Salmaan all continued to impress and Fahadh Faasil had an extremely busy year with a whopping 12 releases. Jayasurya too finally got back to reckoning with 2 good films towards the end of the year- Philips and the Monkey Pen and Punyalan Agarbathis.
As for filmmakers, 2013 saw the senior lot having a mixed year of sorts. Kamal started off the year in style with Celluloid but his Nadan wasn’t all that well received. Sathyan Anthikkad’s Oru Indian Pranayakatha is one of the last releases of the year and surviving more due to the fresh lead pair (Fahadh Faasil and Amala Paul). Joshiy’s Lokpal was an embarrassment, both for him and his leading man, Mohanlal. Siddique’s much publicized Ladies and Gentleman was another big disappointment of the year. Others like Rajasenan, Shaji Kailas, Jayaraj etc also continued to disappoint but the most disappointing film of the year is undoubtedly Priyadarshan’s Geethanjali. Trying to cash in on the success of Manichitrathazhu and with Mohanlal’s presence, this was a film which should never ever have been made. But if there was one senior filmmaker who continued to make films of some standard and remain as popular as ever it is indeed Lal Jose who gave Mammootty a respectable film in the form of Immanuel and then made one of the better entertainers of the year, Pullipulikalum Aattinkkuttiyum.He also had a Christmas release, Ezhu Sundara Rathrikal which is carrying mixed reports but enjoying the benefit of the festive season.
There were quite a few new filmmakers who left their mark with their debut film including Rajeev Ravi (Annayum Rasoolum), Joy Mathew (Shutter), Anil Radhakrishnan Menon (North 24 Kaatham), Alphonse Putharen (Neram), Rojin Philip & Shalin Muhammed (Philips and the Monkey Pen) etc. But the filmmaker of the year is none other than Jeethu Joseph who came out with not one but two successful films this year. Memories featuring Prithviraj was a lovely moody thriller which turned out to be another success for the director and actor. And at the very end of the year Jeethu came up with his fifth and his best film till date, Drishyam which has also turned out to be the best Mohanlal film in recent times. So now it’s time to look at the best 10 Malayalam films of the year and they have been presented as per their order of release date (starting from the earliest and ending with the latest).
- Annayum Rasoolum: Directed by Rajeev RaviThis was not only the first release of the year but was also a good start for the industry this year. Ace cinematographer Rajeev Ravi chose to make his filmmaking debut with a slightly unconventional love story set in Kochi. This was not just the love story of Anna (Andrea Jeremiah) and Rasool (Fahadh Faasil) but was also a story about the lovely city of Kochi. The film had a languid pace which pretty much suited the film and visuals by Madhu Neelakantan added to the film’s strength. The icing on the cake came in the form of K’s music and the songs included a couple of recreated old hits sung by late Mehboob. Apart from the lead pair the presence of Sunny Wayne was also a good casting choice which went down well with the audience. In terms of story-telling, character building and on the technical front Annayum Rasoolum turned out to be a good debut for Rajeev Ravi.
Directed by Kamal This biographical film by veteran director Kamal will certainly go down in history for managing to chronicle the life and times of J.C.Daniel, the once forgotten Father of Malayalam Cinema in a remarkable fashion. J.C.Daniel went on to make the first ever Malayalam movie Vigathakumaran, but fate ensured that the rest of his life was spent in obscurity rather than fame.Kamal based this film on 2 books, Nashta Naayika by Vinu Abraham (which talks about Rosie, the heroine of Vigathakumaran) and Life of J.C.Daniel, a biography of J.C.Daniel by Chelangatt Gopalakrishnan. In terms of getting the period look correct, the art direction, costumes and locations all aided the film. The casting was another positive aspect about the film. Prithviraj in dual roles (playing J.C.Daniel and his younger son) was aptly cast and so were the others including Mamta Mohandas as J.C.Daniel’s wife Janet, Sreenivasan as the journalist Chelangatt Gopalakrishnan, Chandni as Rosie, the heroine of Vigathakumaran. Celluloid was also among the final 6 films under contention for India’s official entry to the Oscars 2014.
3. Shutter: Directed by Joy Mathew
Joy Mathew who’s more popular as an actor, made his filmmaking debut with Shutter, a film that basically revolves around an incident that happens over a period of two days and a night which affects a few people directly and indirectly. Three individuals- a ‘Gulf’ Malayalee, a film director and an auto driver get into a strange mess and there is a woman in common to the mess created and these three men. Completely based in Kozhikode, the film is a satire and a social commentary of sorts. All the four lead actors i.e Lal, Sreenivasan, Vinay Fort and Sajitha Madathil were apt choices for their respective roles. Incidentally Shutter was also quite popular in the film festival circuit, winning a few awards as well. Shutter is a film which works despite its flaws and ends up as one of the better debut films by a director in Malayalam Cinema of late.
4. Amen: Directed by Lijo Jose Pellissery
Traditional rivalries between two villages stemming from the annual band competition, a love story between a poor clarinet player and a rich girl, the village church, the local toddy shop and the villagers, these are the elements which form the major part of Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Amen. Lijo who is known for his slightly serious films like Nayakan and City of God this time attempted a musical romance with a large dose of humour and succeeded wonderfully in holding the attention of the audience. The film had a whole host of interesting characters and the choice of cast was spot on. Led by Fahadh Faasil as Solomon the clarinet player, Swati Reddy as his beloved Shoshanna and Indrajith as Father Vincent Vattolli, the film managed to entertain as well as leave the audience asking for more. Apart from the interesting plot and characters the film also had some wonderful visuals (cinematography by Abhinandan Ramanujam) and a totally refreshing soundtrack composed by Prashant Pillai. This is probably the feel good film of the year in my opinion.
5. Mumbai Police: Directed by Rosshan Andrrews
After the disastrous Casanovva one wasn’t really sure what to expect out of his next film Mumbai Police, especially when the promos also seemed to suggest another The Bourne Identity sort of film. But the end result turned out to be a superb cop thriller which surprised the audience and the critics alike. Easily the best film made by Rosshan so far, the film was embellished by the spectacular lead performance of Prithviraj, with ample support from Jayasurya and Rahman. While the film itself by and large hooks you right till the end, the now famous climax was a jolt out of the blue. With that very twist Rosshan Andrrews and Prithviraj did something that has probably not been attempted in mainstream Indian Cinema so far, earning more brownie points. Mumbai Police has brought Rosshan Andrrews back in the reckoning and it will be interesting to see how his next film turns out.
6. Left Right Left: Directed by Arun Kumar Aravind
The combination of filmmaker-editor Arun Kumar Aravind and writer-actor Murali Gopy had teamed up to provide one of the better films of 2012, Ee Adutha Kaalathu and hence the next film from the same team, Left Right Left was eagerly awaited. The promos by themselves were powerful and we know this could be a realistic political entertainer and the film delivered just that. The film which keeps the Communist movement in Kerala as the background focuses on 3 individuals, ‘Vattu’ Jayan (Indrajith), a brash corrupt cop, Kaitheri Sahadevan (Hareesh Peradi), a veteran Communist leader who revels in his larger than life image and Roy Joseph aka Che Guevera Roy (Murali Gopy), a former firebrand Communist leader who’s now leading a quiet life having been injured due to an attack on him. The story shows how the lives of these 3 people converge around the same time with the political background adding the necessary dimension to it. Left Right Left is a hard hitting bold narrative which dares to comment on the socio-political scenario in the state.
7. Neelakasham Pachakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi: Directed by Sameer Thahir
Cinematographer Sameer Thahir made heads turn with his first film as director, Chaappa Kurish. Though evidently inspired by the Korean film Handphone, Chaappa Kurish was technically sound and the film’s star cast also was a little unconventional. Apart from directing one of the short story segments in this year’s Anchu Sundarikal, Sameer also came out with his road film, Neelakasham Pachakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi. NPCB re-united Dulquer Salmaan and Sunny Wayne who made their debut together in Second Show. The film which starts off in Kerala becomes a bike journey for the two friends across a major part of India as Kasi (Dulquer) sets out to meet his estranged girlfriend Assi (Surja Bala) all the way in Nagaland. Hashir Mohamed’s writing is contemporary and with the film’s dialogues being a mix of Hindi, English, Tamil, Bengali and of course Malayalam, it is certainly a Pan Indian film in a unique way. Gireesh Gangadharan’s cinematography and Rex Vijayan’s music also added to the beauty of the film.
8. North 24 Kaatham: Directed by Anil Radhakrishnan Menon
Anil Radhakrishnan Menon’s debut film, North 24 Kaatham is another road movie but a very unique one. Harikrishnan (Fahadh Faasil), a nerdy techie suffering from an Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCD) and Narayani (Swati Reddy) are travelling along with Gopalan (Nedumudi Venu), a veteran Communist leader and due to a turn of events Hari and Narayani end up on a journey on a hartal day trying to help Gopalan get back home to reach his critically ill wife on time. For Harikrishnan the journey also is self-liberating of sorts as he gets to understand life and its nuances in a different way and ends up a changed man along the way. A crisp narrative, some really good performances, lovely visuals by Jayesh Nair and some excellent music by Rex Vijayan and Govind Menon all contribute to make this a lovely cinematic experience.
9. Punyalan Agarbathis: Directed by Ranjith Sankar
Ranjith Sankar and Jayasurya were teaming up for the first time in this film and it was heartening to see Jayasurya co-produce the film as well along with Ranjith. The promos promised a realistic feel good film based in Thrissur and the film certainly delivered that and more. A satire with a political angle attached to it, the film speaks of Joy Thakkolkaran (Jayasurya), an enterprising man who tries to fight all odds to ensure that his business of making incense sticks from elephant dung becomes a success. With some wonderful characters and actors doing justice to them and Bijibal’s music that is so apt for the film, Punyalan Agarbathis more than does justice to Thrissur and its environs. The film in a way also reminds us of the simple feel good satirical films of the 80’s and has surprisingly turned out to be a huge commercial success.
10. Drishyam: Directed by Jeethu Joseph
Right at the fag end of the year when Mohanlal is almost bogged down by back to back failures all through the year, comes Jeethu Joseph with Drishyam to turn the tide for both the superstar and the industry too in a way. Georgekutty (Mohanlal) is a simple self made man with modest ambitions and whose life revolves around his family comprising of his wife Rani (Meena) and their two daughters. When an unexpected stranger comes into their lives, their tranquil life is shaken up and therein begins a unique cat and mouse game, with Georgekutty going all out to protect his family. The film which begins off as a simple family film soon turns into a thriller but of a special kind. Despite the presence of Mohanlal in the film it is the actor in him whom we get to see and never once do we get a glimpse of any larger than life moments from him. Kudos to Jeethu Joseph for maintaining a tight control over the narrative and sustaining the audience interest right till the very end. As I write this article there are already talks of whether the film will probably go on to gain all time blockbuster status too, which is remarkable. Regardless of how the film’s final box office outcome is, Drishyam is a realistic family thriller which seems to have struck the right chord with everyone. Such films are rare to come by these days.
Films Deserving Honourable Mention
- Anchu Sundarikal, an anthology film directed by Amal Neerad, Aashiq Abu, Anwar Rasheed, Sameer Thahir, Shyju Khalid
- Artist directed by Shyamaprasad
- Philips and the Monkey Pen directed by Rojin Philip and Shanil Muhammed
- Thira directed by Vineeth Sreenivasan
- Neram directed by Alphonse Putharen
So this was a look at what Malayalam Cinema had to offer us in 2013, let us see how the year ahead turns out. Note- There are a few other films that I liked which I have hinted to in this same article but the idea was to highlight upon films which really stood out and appealed to me across genres and from various filmmakers. I’m quite keen to know what are the choices of all you readers as well.