At the very outset while I do feel that 2015 wasn’t an exceptional year for Malayalam Cinema, there were some interesting films and certain interesting trends were noticed as well. The number of releases overall dipped a bit this year, with an overall number of 153 releases (140 straight and 13 dubbed releases) compared to 163 last year. There were disruptions to the movie business seen in the form of the exhibitors association shutting down the theatres in Kerala on 2 separate occasions. While in July we saw a strike (thankfully only for a day) due to protest over the piracy controversy surrounding Alphonse Putharen’s Premam, we saw the the Christmas releases being threatened thanks to the strike over the Government’s decision to introduce a Rs. 3 cess on tickets intended to be used for helping poor artists of the industry with a monthly pension. There were quite a few films which saw success at the box office, including 3 bonafide blockbusters, all of them bringing in a fresh aspect of filmmaking.
Before throwing light on the best 10 films of the year, it makes more sense to take a look at how the year went by overall for Malayalam Cinema in detail. To start with both the superstars, Mammootty and Mohanlal continued to be seen in multiple films, both of them having 5 releases each. Mohanlal unfortunately would perhaps not look back at 2015 with a lot of satisfaction. He began the year with a cameo in Rajeevnath’s Rasam, before emerging reasonably successful with Sathyan Anthikkad’s Ennum Eppozhum, a film which saw him reunite with Manju Warrier after a long time. Unfortunately the films with veterans like Joshiy’s Lailaa O Lailaa and Ranjith’s Loham turned out to be completely disappointing. Finally M.Padmakumar’s Kanal turned out to be an average outing at best. Mammootty on the other hand had a far better year, beginning with Deepu Karunkaran’s Fireman; a film which did surprisingly well. He later came up with Siddique’s Bhaskar the Rascal, a film where his pairing with Nayantara was appreciated turning it into a success despite not so great reviews from the critics. Films that followed like Marthandan’s Acha Dhin and Kamal’s Utopiayile Rajavu turned out to be disappointing but he ended the year in style with Salim Ahamed’s Pathemari which was not just commercially successful but also critically acclaimed.
As for the younger lot of actors the first half of the year belonged to Nivin Pauly while the second half undoubtedly belonged to Prithviraj. The former continued to support meaningful films like Rajesh Pillai’s Mili where the focus was not on him, while also allowing Prithviraj to take the centre stage in Shyamaprasad’s Ivide. But Nivin will be mostly remembered this year for his two blockbusters, Prajith’s Oru Vadakkan Selfie and of course Alphonse Putharen’s trendsetter Premam. Prithviraj found success to an extent with Major Ravi’s Picket 43 while Shyamaprasad’s Ivide unfortunately was too classy for the audience to be accepted. The much awaited Double Barrel from Lijo Jose Pellissery did not please either the audience or the critics and just when things were looking a little tough for Prithvi, he bounced with a hat-trick of hits, R.S.Vimal’s Ennu Ninte Moideen, Nadirsha’s Amar Akbar Anthony and Sachy’s Anarkali. Fahadh Faasil had a bad year, all his 3 films-James Albert’s Mariyam Mukku, Vinod Sukumaran’s Haram and Vineeth Kumar’s Ayal Njanalla failed at the box office. Dulquer Salmaan started off the year with Jenuse Mohammed’s 100 Days of Love, which despite doing decent business wasn’t majorly appreciated, following which he entered Tamil Cinema with a bang in the form of Mani Ratnam’s O Kadhal Kanmani. He ended the year on a good note with Martin Prakkat’s Charlie, the Christmas release that is being well received. Asif Ali was noticed in V.K.Prakash‘s Nirnayakam and Vinay Govind‘s Kohinoor,while mostly doing multistarrers otherwise.
Dileep had a mixed year of sorts, with films like Suresh Divakar’s Ivan Maryadaraman and Sreebala K.Menon’s Love 24X7 not really working, while Sidharth Bharathan’s Chandrettan Evideya which had the rocking “Vasanthamallike” number was quite noticed. While his much touted film with Jeethu Joseph, Life of Josutty didn’t do any wonders in terms of business, he seems to have regained lost ground with Shafi’s Two Countries which has just released for Christmas and is going great guns at the box office. Kunchacko Boban had an interesting year with 6 releases, where he balanced content based interesting films like Santhosh Vishwanath’s Chirakodinja Kinavukal, Anil Radhakrishnan Menon’s Lord Livingstone 7000 Kandi and Dr.Biju’s Valiya Chirakulla Pakshikal with regular commercial films like Sugeeth’s Madhura Naranga, Thomas Sebastian’s Jamna Pyari and Reghu Rama Varma’s Rajamma @ Yahoo. Jayasurya had a good year too, and if films like Midhun Manuel Thomas’ Aadu Oru Bheegara Jeevi Aanu and Aneesh Anwer’s Kumbasaram did not work, he was quite appreciated for his work in films like Bash Mohammed’s Lukka Chuppi and Arun Shekher’s Jilebi, while finding commercial success with Nadirsha’s multistarrer Amar Akbar Anthony and ending the year in style with Ranjith Sankar’s Su Su Sudhi Vathmeekam.Biju Menon mainly did multistarrers though he was noticed for his solo hero act in Rajesh Nair’s Salt Mango Tree and appreciated in Sachi’s Anarkali where he played second fiddle to Prithviraj.
In terms of films that gave prominence to female characters, there were quite a few interesting films as well. Rajesh Pillai’s Mili (Amala Paul), Siddique’s Bhaskar the Rascal (Nayantara), Alphonse Putharen’s Premam (Anupama Parameshwaran, Sai Pallavi and Madonna Sebastian), Lal Jose’s Nee-Na (Deepti Sati, Ann Augustine), Sugeeth’s Madhura Naranga (Parvathy Ratheesh), Saji Surendran’s She Taxi (Kavya Madhavan) etc being examples. But the actress who made the most impact was Parvathy with splendid work in both R.S.Vimal’s Ennu Ninte Moideen and Martin Prakkat’s Charlie. After last year’s successful comeback to films with How Old Are You, Manju Warrier had 3 releases this year, with Sathyan Anthikkad’s Ennum Eppozhum working, while Aashiq Abu’s Rani Padmini (which also had Rima Kallingal) and the Christmas release, Rojin Thomas’s Jo and the Boy were ignored by the audience to a large extent.
In terms of filmmakers, among the seniors Sathyan Anthikkad manage to hold the attention of the audience with Ennum Eppozhum, Siddique scored a hit with Bhaskar the Rascal,Lal Jose made an impact with his slightly different offering, Nee-Na, while Major Ravi sort of bounced back with Picket 43. Most of the other seniors like Kamal (Utopiayile Rajavu), Renjith (Loham), Joshiy (Lailaa O Lailaa) etc failed miserably while Jayaraj managed to get his much feted film Ottaal released in theatres. Dr.Biju managed to get 2 of his films released, Perariyathavar and Veliya Chirakulla Pakshikal while Shafi made a solid comeback with Two Countries. Ranjith Sankar continued to impress with Su Su Sudhi Vathmeekam, while Jeetu Joseph failed to do justice with Life of Josutty. Among the more recent crop of directors Lijo Jose Pellisserry and Anil Radhakrishnan Menon failed with Double Barrel and Lord Livingstone 7000 Kandi respectively. Salim Ahamed found his first major success in the form of Pathemari, Alphonse Putharen followed up the success of Neram with an ever bigger successful film, Premam and Martin Prakkat impressed with Charlie. There were some interesting debut films made as well, Oru Vadakkan Selfie (Prajith), Lukka Chuppi (Bash Muhammad), Kunjiramayanam (Basil Joseph), Ennu Ninte Moideen (R.S.Vimal), Oraalppokkam (Sanal Kumar Sasidharan). While Nadirsha made a good transition from acting, singing and composing to direction with Amar Akbar Anthony, Sachy made a smooth shift from writing to direction with Anarkali.
The trend of making films with a youth brigade in the scheme of things continued once again, films like Premam, Oru Vadakkan Selfie, Kunjiramayanam, KL 10 Patthu, Adi Kapyare Kootamani being examples of the same.
If one has to look back at the year objectively then it is only right to also acknowledge a few individuals who more than left a solid impression with their work in the industry in 2015. They include
- Jomon T.John– DOP who handled the cinematography of fine films like Picket 43, Oru Vadakkan Selfie, Nee-Na, Ennu Ninte Moideen and Charlie.
- Gopi Sunder and Bijibal-composers who were in superb form both with songs and BGM for various films. Some of Gopi Sunder’s wonderful output came from films like Mili, Ivide, Ennu Ninte Moideen and Charlie. While in case of Bijibal the notable films included Nee-Na, Pathemari, KL 10 Patthu, Su Su Sudhi Vathmeekam and Amar Akbar Anthony.
- Vijay Yesudas-the male playback singer whose output had no parallel I feel this year. If you have any doubts try listening to “Malare” from Premam or “Hemanthamen” from Kohinoor.
The top 10 Malayalam films of 2015 (arranged in the order of their release dates) are as follows-
1.Perariyathavar: Directed by Dr.Biju
Winner of 2 National Awards including the Best Actor for Suraj Venjaramoodu, this film on environment conservation/protection, takes a good look at the marginalized section of the society without trying to be preachy. The tale revolves around a widowed father (Suraj Venjaramoodu) and his son (Master Govardhan) who lead a poor but contented life by themselves. The father works as a temporary scavenger with the Municipal Corporation and Chami (Indrans), who belongs to a tribal community, is his colleague. Despite its docu-drama feel the film is certainly a harsh reminder of how we just take certain sections of the community for granted, never bothered about their existence. The film got a small release in Kerala and a few places outside thanks to the PVR Director’s Rare platform.
2. Picket 43: Directed by Major Ravi
Major Ravi had been going through a dull patch, with failures like Kandahar, Karma Yodha and Oru Yathriyil (anthology film where he had written 2 segments out of 4 and directed 1) behind him when he began work on Picket 43. Though this was yet another armed forces based film, a genre that Major Ravi is most familiar with, this time around the film had Prithviraj in the lead instead of Mohanlal. The film talks about an isolated military outpost, Picket 43 in the India-Pakistan border which is manned on both sides by just one soldier each. Havildar Harindran (Prithviraj) is deputed to Picket 43 against his protests and reluctantly moves over there. After some initial misgivings he gets friendly with his Pakistani counterpart Mushraff (Javed Jaffrey), as the 2 form an interesting bond between themselves, a bond which puts humanity and friendship above all, despite not shying away from their duty towards their respective countries. Focusing more on the friendship between these 2 people, as well as Harindran’s relationship with his canine companion, Bacardi this was a welcome comeback for Major Ravi.
The highlights of the film included more than half the dialogues being in Hindi and a couple of wonderful songs composed by Ratheesh Vega, with “Manjormakal” easily being one of the best songs of the year.
3. Nee-Na: Directed by Lal Jose
After Vikramadithyan’s success Lal Jose surprised everyone by going for a relatively smaller film in the form of Nee-Na. It was also an interesting choice considering that the film was a female centric one revolving around Neena (Deepti Sati) and Nalini (Ann Augustine). Their lives intersect thanks to Vinay Panicker (Vijay Babu),an advertising professional who is married to Nalini and the new boss of Neena. Neena is an extremely talented professional with a major drinking problem who lives in her own World of sorts. Neena starts taking more than professional interest in Vinay, which Nalini notices as well. But Vinay rebuffs her leading to a situation which goes on to impact all three of them. Refreshingly told and quite topical in every way, Nee-Na is a reflection of life that high flying professionals in Kochi can perhaps be going through. The film also traces an interesting trajectory, which you need to watch to appreciate. Debutant Deepti Sati clearly leaves a mark in her first outing and is well supported by Ann Augustine and Vijay Babu. With wonderful performances and a narrative that mostly stays in control, this film from Lal Jose will continue to be debated but is certainly one of the better Malayalam films of the year.
4. Ivide: Directed by Shyamaprasad
Shyamaprasad’s Ivide is quite an interesting experiment within the commercial space. Set in Atlanta, the film talks of three main characters, Varun Blake (Prithviraj), a cop who is battling many issues of his own, Roshni Mathew (Bhavana) who was previously married to Varun and an I.T professional and Krish Hebbar (Nivin Pauly), the CIO of an IT firm where Roshni now joins. Krish and Roshni know each other from school days, at the same time we see that Varun is still yet to recover from the divorce and is struggling to come to terms with his identity (he was an orphan back in Kerala and was raised by his foster parents in the U.S). Around the same time there seems to be a series of killings across the city. So how are these murders linked to the lives of the principal characters is what the film tells us as it chugs along. With the bulk of the dialogues being in English, this was always going to be a challenging film for the audience back in Kerala. To add to its woes the film clashed with Alphone Putharen’s Premam which released the same day and also featured Nivin Pauly, and we all know the outcome. But all said and done Ivide gave us a good insight of cultural displacement and except for the weak culmination; it remains quite an engaging effort from Shyamaprasad. To top it all we see a power packed performance from Prithviraj who pulled off the act including the American accent quite well.
5. Premam: Directed by Alphonse Putharen
If you are reading this and have not heard of this film then either you don’t follow Malayalam Cinema and/or you have been living in some isolated cave for a long time now. Jokes apart this film by Alphonse Putharen was a true blockbuster in every sense. A fun nostalgic ride, it’s a peep into the life of George David (Nivin Pauly) as he moves along from the age of 16-30 in the company of his friends Koya (Krishna Shankar) and Shambu (Shabareesh Varma). It’s also about the women who enter the life of George at three different points of time, and how they leave an impact on him. While the premise by itself doesn’t really sound all that great, what made things work in favour of the film is the way it has been executed by Alphonse Putharen. The film has gone on to make all the 3 heroines Anupama Parameshwaran, Sai Pallavi and Madonna Sebastian popular; Sai Pallavi in particular perhaps had the most impactful debut this year. Rajesh Murugesan’s songs were all chartbusters and “Malare” became an anthem of sorts. Despite the piracy issue the film went on to very well both in Kerala and outside, even managing to complete its 200 day run in Chennai where it still continues to play. Be it the dialogues, the costumes worn, the locations etc, almost everything has gone on to become popular ever since the film released. The film also has been a good example of marketing, especially getting the online marketing strategy right.
6. Ennu Ninte Moideen: Directed by R.S.Vimal
This was the film which saw Prithviraj begin his outstanding form in the later part of the year. Based on the real life tragic love story of Moideen and Kanchanamala, this was a subject on which director R.S.Vimal had already made a much appreciated documentary film, Jalam Kond Murivetaval(2006). Armed with a lot more research done over the years, it was a fitting subject for Vimal to make his feature film debut as well. Prithviraj and Parvathy carried off characters of Moideen and Kanchanamala with a lot of grace and charm, so much so that the audience fell in love with this lyrical romantic tale and Ennu Ninte Moideen went on to become the third blockbuster of the year (after Oru Vadakkan Selfie and Premam). The songs composed by Ramesh Narayanan, M.Jayachandran and Gopi Sunder, as well as the cinematography by Jomon T.John were the added highlights in case of the movie. Despite 2 more films of Prithviraj releasing over the next few weeks, Ennu Ninte Moideen continues to play today in select screens of Kerala, truly making the success even more special. A film like this is a good example of the fact that one doesn’t have to make a dumbed down film alone to earn megabucks.
7. Pathemari: Directed by Salim Ahamed
Salim Ahamed’s third film after the critically acclaimed Adaminte Makan Abu and a reasonably interesting Kunjananthante Kada, Pathemari sees him unite with Mammootty for the second time in a row. Through the eyes of Pallikkal Narayanan (Mammootty) we see the tale of a teenager who leaves his hometown in Kerala to find his fortune in the Gulf. Over a 50 year period we are treated to various incidents and stages in his life, as he goes about slogging in the U.A.E to ensure that his family back home is well taken care of. Pathemari is a grim and a realistic reminder of the fact that not every Malayalee who makes it to the Gulf is leading a life of luxury over there. At the same time we are told that the success of an individual is not to be measured by his/her riches alone. A poignant tale that’s been well narrated, Salim Ahamed ensures that the audience stays through the journey of Narayanan right till the very end. Mammotty comes up with a fantastic performance, bringing in subtle shades of emotions at various points of time. Considering the theme of the film and the way it has been executed, Pathemari will remain a relevant film for a long time.
8. Ottaal: Directed by Jayaraj
A festival favourite and multiple award winner, including 2 National Awards, Jayaraj’s Ottaal is an official adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Vanka, a fact that has been highlighted prominently. Screenwriter Joshy Mangalath leaves no stone unturned in ensuring that the Russian short story is not just adapted keeping in mind the local flavour and traditions, but also without changing the basic soul of the plot. Set in the scenic backwaters of Kuttanad in Kerala, Ottaal is a tale of a grandfather and his 8 year old grandson whose parents are now no more. The scenic locales of Kuttanad are brought alive wonderfully on screen by DOP M.J.Radhakrishnan and the BGM by Sreevalsan J.Menon is haunting yet soothing. Featuring mostly newcomers (Shine Tom Chacko being an exception), the performances are amazingly wonderful. Ottaal is a fable like tale that’s virtually a visual treat on screen and is easily one of the best works of Jayaraj and one of the finest Malayalam films of the year.
9. Su Su Sudhi Vathmeekam : Directed by Ranjith Sankar
Ranjith Sankar and actor Jayasurya had joined hands sometime ago with Punyalan Agarbathis, a film which they jointly produced. They got back together this year with Su Su Sudhi Vathmeekam, inspired by the life and times of a close friend of director Ranjith Sankar himself. Jayasurya plays Sudheendran who has always suffered from a stammering problem which affects his confidence, making him an introvert of sorts. How Sudhi undergoes a transformation in his life and how he is able to overcome his weakness is what the basic crux of the film is. With a not so serious approach to the narration, the film steers clear of unnecessary melodrama and hooks you all the way. Jayasurya is fantastic as Sudhi and he carries off the emotional scenes extremely well. This is a simple, feel good film for the family audience, thankfully it appealed both to the audience as well as the critics by and large.
10. Charlie: Directed by Martin Prakkat
After having made films like Best Actor and ABCD: American Born Confused Desi, it was quite a surprise to see Martin Prakkat come up with a film like Charlie. An esoteric journey of 2 soulmates, we get an insight into the characters of Charlie (Dulquer Salmaan) and Tessa (Parvathy), in the process meeting a number of interesting characters as well. A not so straight jacketed tale, this is a fun film if you can just let yourself loose and go with the flow of the narrative. Both Dulquer and Parvathy are a treat on the screen and they complement each other quite well, despite sharing very little screen time together, quite a feat by Martin Prakkat. Unni.R’s screenplay ensures that you slowly but surely get hooked to the tale, cinematography by Jomon T.John and the songs by Gopi Sunder acting as added attractions certainly help the film as well. Released for Christmas, Charlie certainly is an eclectic film which should certainly appeal to the discerning viewer.
Having not seen films like CR No.89, Oraalppokkam and Two Countries so far, I don’t think there were many other contenders who gave a tough fight to the films listed in the top 10 already. However Prajith’s Oru Vadakkan Selfie, Bash Mohammed’s Lukka Chuppi, Sachy’s Anarkali and K.R.Manoj’s Kanyaka Talkies certainly deserve a mention for the freshness portrayed and/or the novelty of the concept involved.
So this was all about Malayalam Cinema in 2015, let us wait and watch what lies in store for the industry in the year ahead. Do feel free to use the comments section to tell me what you feel about this compilation, irrespective of whether you agree or not. And yes do share your list as well.
Note: Only films released theatrically during the period 1st January-31st December 2015 have been taken into consideration. Otherwise a film like Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Ozhivu Divasathe Kali would perhaps also have been in contention for the list over here.