The Best of Malayalam Cinema in 2016: A Perspective

2016 has turned out to be a slightly low key year for Malayalam Cinema overall, with strangely a decrease in the output, both in terms of quantity and quality. Talking of the number of releases there has been a sharp decline in terms of both straight as well as dubbed releases. From 153 releases overall last year (140 straight and 13 dubbed), 2016 saw the release count drop to 122 overall (118 straight releases and 4 dubbed films). And sadly the culmination of the year has ended on a really sad note for the industry, a pity considering the kind of promising films which were lined up for release in the Christmas-New Year festive season.  What started off as a tussle between the producers and distributors/exhibitors over revenue sharing and was expected to get resolved well before the Christmas weekend has extended into a huge deadlock of sorts. As a result all the major festival releases continue to wait for a release and will now in all certainty turn out to be the first few releases of 2017.

With Ore Mugham being the last notable release in a way (released on December 2nd), we still have Pulimurugan and Kattappanayile Rithwik Roshan pulling in the crowd in theatres across Kerala, apart from Dangal of course. As always before I go on to highlight upon the best 10 Malayalam films of the year I feel it is mandatory to throw a look back at how the year has turned out to be for the industry. Mohanlal and Mammootty continued to be prolific this year as well, with 4 releases each and in a way this year can be described as Mohanlal’s year as far as Malayalam cinema is concerned. Missing in action for a major part of the year, Mohanlal initially was seen with Vismayam (Manamantha in Telugu) and the dubbed from Telugu film, Janatha Garage, films which saw him make a good impact in Telugu and keeping his fans asking for more. And he responded in style within weeks with the back to back stupendous success of Priyadarshan’s Oppam and Vysakh’s Pulimurugan. While both Oppam and Pulimurugan have gone on to become blockbusters, the latter continues to break records at the box office even today.

Mammootty started off well with A.K.Sajan’s Puthiya Niyamam which made decent business at the box office but went on to receive some flak for the next couple of films, Nithin Renji Panicker’s Kasaba and Uday Ananthan’s White, though Kasaba was a box office success. He managed to win back some appreciation with Johny Antony’s Thoppil Joppan before the year came to an end. Dileep started off the year in great form, Shafi’s Two Countries a Christmas release of 2015 turning out to be a blockbuster and running to packed houses for a long time. Lal’s King Liar may not have impressed the critics but it managed to make money. His attempts to go the offbeat route with veteran filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Pinneyum and do a mass comedy with Sundar Das’s Welcome to Central Jail did not work out. But he continued to remain in the news thanks to his wedding with Kavya Madhavan. Kunchacko Boban continued to remain busy in 2016 as well with 5 releases, even turning producer with Siddhartha Siva’s Kochavva Pauelo Ayyappa Coelho which was reasonably well received by the critics and the audience alike.

best-of-malayalam-cinema-2016-1Jayasurya was seen in 4 releases, with Ranjith Sankar’s Pretham going on to become a runaway success though it was not as a good as a film as their previous ventures together, Punyalan Agarbathis and Su Su Sudhi Vathmeekam. Biju Menon had an interesting year with 6 releases, ranging from a slightly abstract film like Ranjith’s Leela, to the commercially successful Anuraga Karikkin Vellam, with smaller films like Olappeeppi, Kavi Uddeshichathu, Marubhoomiyile Aana and Swarna Kaduva to balance the equation. In fact 2 of these films, Anuraga Karikkin Vellam and Kavi Uddeshichathu saw Biju Menon team up with Asif Ali, both of which turned out to be better than Asif Ali’s only other release, Ithu Thaanda Police. Prithviraj’s fantastic form of 2015 continued initially in 2016 with G.Marthandan’s Paavada turning out to be a commercial success. However none of his forthcoming films be it Jijo Antony’s Darvinte Parinamam, Sujith Vaassudev’s James & Alice or Jeethu Joseph’s Oozham could turn out be as successful as expected. After an extremely disappointing 2015, Fahadh Faasil managed a big recovery in 2016. While Abi Varghese’s Monsoon Mangoes wasn’t a commercial success, it was at least noticed for its freshness but with Dileesh Pothan’s Maheshinte Prathikaaram he delivered a career defining performance and rightly the film turned out to be among the best of the year.

Dulquer Salmaan’s Charlie, a Christmas release of 2015 was quite successful and continued to draw the audience to the theatres in early 2016 and this was followed by the success of Sameer Thahir’s Kali. He followed that up with Rajeev Ravi’s Kammattipaadam, a film though not a commercial success per se, went on to receive critical acclaim and is easily one of the best Malayalam films of 2016. Dulquer even made his presence felt in a cameo in Midhun Manuel Thomas’s Ann Maria Kalippilaanu, a surprise hit. And finally we come to Nivin Pauly, the man who could do no wrong in 2016. With Abrid Shine’s Action Hero Biju and Vineeth Sreenivasan’s Jacobinte Swargarajyam he went on to make a huge impact, continuing the mileage he had gained with Premam last year. And towards the end of the year he made his presence registered with a small but fun cameo in Ganesh Raj’s youthful entertainer, Aanandam. Tovino Thomas had an amazing makeover with Johnpaul George’s Guppy, making people take notice of him. This talented actor might finally get his due in 2017 with a wonderful line-up of films which includes Ezra, Godha, Oru Mexican Aparatha and Oru Bhayangara Kamukan,

Strangely there was nothing outstanding this year from Malayalam cinema as far as showcasing female characters was concerned. No heroine in particular dominated Malayalam cinema as such this year.  Manju Warrier of course continued to feature in author backed roles in late Rajesh Pillai’s Vettah as well as Deepu Karunakaran’s Karinkunnam 6S. While Kavya Madhavan received more attention thanks to her wedding with Dileep than her performances in films like Khais Millen’s Aakashvani and Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Pinneyum. Sai Pallavi who made a smashing debut with Premam, was well received in her second outing, Kali as well. Madonna Sebastian who had also made her debut with Premam, went on to feature in a hit film, King Liar but it was more of a Dileep driven film. Mamta Mohandas was seen in just one film, Thoppil Joppan and managed to get noticed. Amala Paul with Shajahanum Pareekuttiyum and Nayantara with Puthiya Niyamam remained in the fray, but nothing beyond it. Shruthy Menon finally made people notice her thanks to her good work in Kismath, one of the better Malayalam films of the year. Also making an impact were Aparna Balamurali (Maheshinte Prathikaaram, Oru Muthassi Gadha), Rajini Chandy (Oru Muthassi Gadha), Rajisha Vijayan (Anuraga Karikkin Vellam) and the Aanandam trio of Siddhi Mahajankatty, Annu Antony and Anarkali Marrikar.

As for the filmmakers it was only Priyadarshan among the seniors who managed to leave a solid impact. With Oppam he managed to tell people confidently that he is still a major force to reckon with. Some of the other veteran filmmakers who had a release but without much success were Adoor Gopalakrishnan (Pinneyum), Lenin Rajendran (Edavappathy), T.V.Chandran (Mohavalayam) while Lal did see a hit in the form of King Liar. The most successful filmmaker of the year is none other than Vysakh whose record breaking Pulimurugan is still going strong at the box office. Ranjith’s Leela was an interesting film but a little too abstract for comfort while Rosshan Andrrews and Jeethu Joseph disappointed with School Bus and Oozham respectively. Ranjith Sankar scored his career’s biggest hit with Pretham which incidentally is perhaps his weakest film so far. Actor Dileesh Pothan made a fantastic debut as director with Maheshinte Prathikaaram. Other debutant directors who got noticed being Johnpaul George with Guppy,Ganesh Raj with Aanandam, Omar Lulu with Happy Wedding, Khalid Rahman with Anuraga Karikkin Vellam and Shanavas K.Bavakutty with Kismath.

This year also saw the tragic death of Rajesh Pillai whose Vettah released sadly just a day before his passing away. Some of the younger lot of filmmakers went on to impress and they proved with their second film that their debut was not a fluke. These filmmakers include Abrid Shine (Action Hero Biju), Sanal Kumar Sasidharan (Ozhivu Divasathe Kali), Jude Anthany Joseph (Oru Muthassi Gadha) and Nadirshah (Kattappanayile Rithwik Roshan). Vineeth Sreenivasan with Jacobinte Swargarajyam and Rajeev Ravi with Kammatipaadam in their own ways continued to successfully make the kind of films that they believe in. Films featuring a youth brigade continued to get made in 2016 and these included Aanandam, Happy Wedding (another surprise hit), Ore Mugham etc.

Some of the salient highlights overall of 2016 with respect to Malayalam cinema would include-

  1. Reinforcement of Mohanlal’s superstardom with Oppam and Pulimurugan.
  2. Priyadarshan bouncing back to form with Oppam.
  3. No single music director dominating the music scene overall, also not a single standout album/movie soundtrack per se from Malayalam cinema unlike last year. Though we did continue to have quite a few numbers which clicked in a big way. (Check out this article from E.Pradeep on the Top 20 Malayalam Film Songs of 2016).
  4. Many senior directors including the usually prolific ones like Lal Jose, Kamal etc went without a release.
  5. At the fag end of the year the standoff between the producers and distributors/exhibitors has turned out to be a spoilsport for the industry.

The Top 10 Malayalam films of 2016 (arranged in the order of their release dates) are as follows-

1.Action Hero Biju: Directed by Abrid Shine

Action Hero Biju (2016) - PosterAbrid Shine had made his debut as writer-director with 1983 (2014), a wonderful cricket themed film which was refreshingly different from the usual sports based films. And he was backed up by a wonderful lead performance from Nivin Pauly. Hence it was no surprise that his second film, Action Hero Biju also featured Nivin Pauly, this film turning out to be totally different from his previous film. Playing a cop in the film, Action Hero Biju is a Nivin Pauly showcase alright but it’s not a conventional cop film and is very realistic, looking at a month in the life of a cop. There is no trademark villain, there are no punch dialogues and over the top stunts. What we see instead are slice of life moments, some inside the police station and some outside it. Some funny moments and some not so funny, all of them capturing our attention. While Nivin Pauly as SI Biju Paulose shined in the film, we also saw a good cameo of sorts from Suraj Venjaramoodu who reminded us again of the serious actor in him. The songs by veteran Jerry Amaldev also were one big reason for the film’s success, be it the soulful ‘Pookkal Panineer’ or the impromptu styled ‘Muthu Ponnne Pinangalle’. Action Hero Biju went on to become one of the biggest hits of the year, quite deserving I must admit.

2. Maheshinte Prathikaaram: Directed by Dileesh Pothan

Maheshinte PrathikaaramIn a sleepy little town called Prakash lives the protagonist Mahesh Bhavana (Fahadh Faasil) who runs a photo studio. He leads a simple existence and lives along with his father. He does not manage to marry his childhood sweetheart and is heart-broken. One fine day unknowingly he ends up getting into a brawl with some strangers and gets badly beaten up. His ego having been bruised severely, he swears to take revenge on those people and takes a pledge to remain barefoot till he extracts revenge. Now with a storyline like this one could wonder if anyone would actually want to make a film like this, but that’s where actor turned director Dileesh Pothan shows that execution can make a lot of difference. Based on a true story that’s been adapted well by Dileesh and his co-writer Syam Pushkaran, the film turns out to be a stirring tale of a common man and his trivialities in life. Fahadh Faasil bounced back in style and put up a bravura performance, the supporting cast also proving to be very effective. Maheshinte Prathikaaram easily is one of the best Indian films of 2016, not just among Malayalam films.

3. Kali: Directed by Sameer Thahir

Kali Poster 2Kali or rage is an apt title for this film by Sameer Thahir who reunites with Dulquer Salmaan over here after Neelakasham Pachakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi. The film also generated attention for the casting, with Sai Pallavi of Premam fame being paired against Dulquer and the posters and promos being well received. What begins as a love story or rather a tale of a relationship between Siddharth (Dulquer) and Anjali (Sai Pallavi) soon goes on to shift to a road movie of sorts, the change of tone, setting and pace taking us by surprise. Apart from some similarity with the Hindi film NH10 in the second half and a slightly tapered down or easy culmination to the edge of the seat proceedings, Kali made for a good viewing. Chemban Vinod and Vinayakan also impressed with their performances, while primarily it is a film where Dulquer and Sai Pallavi pulled off their lead roles admirably.

4. Jacobinte Swargarajyam: Directed by Vineeth Sreenivasan

Jacobinte Swargarajyam PosterReturning to direction after Thira (2013) with Jacobinte Swargarajyam, Vineeth Sreenivasan went on to base the film on a true story which was adapted for the big screen. The film revolves around Jacob (Renji Panicker) and his wonderful family, comprising of his wife Sherly (Lakshmy Ramakrishnan) and four children, Jerry (Nivin Pauly), Abin (Sreenath Bhasi), Ammu (Aima Sebastian), and Chris (Stacen). Jacob is a successful businessman in Dubai who enjoys a lot of goodwill in the trade and he loves his family above all. One fine day their World crashes down as Jacob encounters a major financial crisis thanks to a trusted business associate who cheats him. The turn of events force Jerry to shoulder the responsibilities of the family and the rest of the film is all about he tries to overcome the crisis and take care of his family. A good family entertainer, this is a film which was all about team effort. If the first half was more of a Renji Panicker show then the second half saw Nivin Pauly coming into the limelight, with Lakshmy Ramakrishnan providing the balance admirably. The film also had good music (Shaan Rahman) and was visually pleasing. Probably this was the family entertainer of the year from Malayalam cinema.

5. Kammatipaadam: Directed by Rajeev Ravi

Kammatipaadam Poster 6Rajeev Ravi’s third film as a director, Kammatipaadam is quite different from his previous films, Annayum Rasoolum (2013) and Njan Steve Lopez (2014). Based on a slum locality of Ernakulam (part of Kochi) i.e Kammatipaadam, the story spread over 3 decades tells us how the downtrodden including the Dalit community was forced to give up their lands to real-estate mafias and how the modern urbanisation of the bustling city of Kochi took place right over the plight of the Dalits and the others for whom Kammatipaadam was more than just their home. Narrated through the angle of Krishnan (Dulquer Salmaan) now a man in his early 40’s working with a security firm in Mumbai, all of a sudden he decides to go back home on receiving a couple of calls from his old friend Ganga (Vinayakan). Somehow Krishnan gets the intuition that Ganga is in danger and hence wants to trace him out and help him if necessary. And thus Krishnan lands up in Kochi after ages, but then he realizes that the area that always belonged to him, Ganga and his other friends from childhood, Kammatipaadam isn’t really looking the same as before. Kammatipaadam is a true blue gangster film from Malayalam cinema and Rajeev Ravi has made it with panache. Except for the filmy culmination to the tale, the film is a case study in all respects. Fantastic casting, technically pleasing and striking a raw chord with the viewers, this was certainly one of the best Indian films seen in 2016.

best-of-malayalam-cinema-2016-2

6. Ozhivu Divasathe Kali: Directed by Sanal Kumar Sasidharan

Ozhivudivasathe Kali Poster 4Sanal Kumar Sasidharan sprang to prominence last year with his crowd funded film Oraalppokkam and then quickly came up with another truly indie film in the form of Ozhivu Divasathe Kali. Quick to make heads turn in the few film festivals it went to and also managing to win a couple of state film awards including one for the Best Film, this is a film that was shot in just 10 days and based on a short story by noted writer Unni.R. Featuring a team of almost no known actors (except Abhija Sivakala), the film talks of a five friends getting together on an election holiday, as they decide to have fun with a booze party, in the process getting to unwind themselves. As the time passes they start to open up the hidden wildness of their real nature. Tired and bored in arguments they plan to play a game. A game they used to play in their childhood and that goes on to shock and surprise them all. Ozhivu Divasathe Kali is not something that everyone might relate to and be fond of, this is purely for those who are serious about cinema. But if you are in the mood for something that is insightful, gives you food for thought and leaves you gasping for more, then this indeed a film for you.

7. Kismath: Directed by Shanavas K.Bavakutty

kismath-posterShanavas K.Bavakutty came up with his debut film which was largely based on the true story of a couple from Ponnani in Malappuram district,  a 28-year-old scheduled caste woman and a 23-year-old Muslim man – who faced backlash from society for their relationship in 2011. The screenplay was conceived by Bavakutty while serving as the town’s Municipal Councillor. A multi layered film which showed us what it probably feels like to spend time in a police station for no fault of one’s own, this was a film which came without the trappings of a big star, director or producer but managed to impress one and all. Shane Nigam who was seen in a small role in Kammatipaadam and model-actress Shruthy Menon more than did justice playing the lead pair of Irfan and Anita with conviction. More than their own romantic tale and the problems that they faced, the side stories like the motorbike accident case involving someone from the North-East and a case of drunken arrest captured more attention. Kismath in many ways is the dark horse entrant in this list.

8. Guppy: Directed by Johnpaul George

guppy-posterJohnpaul George was one of the few filmmakers who made a confident debut this year in the industry. Guppy is a tale that revolves around a boy named Guppy (Chethanlal) who finds his living out of rearing and selling the small fish also called Guppy. Guppy has this dream of buying an automatic wheel chair for his ailing mother (Rohini). When engineer engineer Thejus Varkey (Tovino Thomas) lands up at the coastal village for the construction of a railway bridge turmoil of sorts comes into effect. Many unexpected things occur when a small rivalry starts between Guppy and Engineer taking the coastal village also by surprise. A simple feel good tale, Guppy reinforces the fact that there will always be a kid hidden among us no matter how old we grow up to. Also that we need to live and let live, that is the only way to survive and never to let our ego get the better of us. Boasting of stellar performances from the cast and turning out to be a visually appealing film (cinematography by Girish Gangadharan), this was a film was a tad unlucky not to receive a great response when it released in theatres, only to find a lot of love and appreciation once the home video release happened.

9. Oru Muthassi Gadha: Directed by Jude Anthany Joseph

oru-muthassi-gadha-poster-2With Ohm Shanthi Oshaana (2014) Jude Anthany Joseph had announced his arrival as a filmmaker in style and while he could have managed to do his second film with just about any big star, he chose to surprise one and all by doing a film like Oru Muthassi Gadha. It was a surprise because not only was the film not featuring a prominent hero or heroine in the lead, it was a film about two grandmothers, with one of them making her debut as an actor and the other being more known as a voice over artist than an actress. Leelamma (Rajini Chandy) is a an uptight lady who makes life quite tough for her family comprising of her son Siby (Suraj Venjaramoodu), daughter in law Jeena (Lena) and their two kids. Things take a turn for the positive when Leelamma decides to stay back home alone as the rest of the family goes on a vacation and Soosamma (Bhagyalakshmi), the mother of Jeena comes over to provide company to Leelamma. How Soosamma goes on to slowly but surely bring a changeover in Leelamma’s behaviour and attitude is what the film goes on to tell us. Narrated with a liberal dose of humour and without an emotional over drive, Jude once again displays that he is good when it comes to portraying human emotions. With some wonderful performances from the cast and some good work on the music front by Shaan Rahman this was a nice feel good film towards the second half of 2016.

10. Aanandam: Directed by Ganesh Raj

aanandam-posterGanesh Raj made an interesting debut as filmmaker with Aanandam produced by Vineeth Sreenivsan. Unlike films like Happy Days which have focused on the entire journey of a group of friends in college, Aanandam is restricted to a narrow span of a few days in the life of some engineering students from a college. The film talks about the short duration starting from when the industrial tour towards the latter part of the academic year gets fixed and the actual tour itself, in the process it’s a tale of friendship, love, relationship, emotions etc. The tale focuses upon a brat pack which comprises of distinct characters and all the actors who make their debut here get noticed (Thomas Mathew, Arun Kurian, Roshan Mathew, Vishak K.Nair, Siddhi Mahajankatti, Annu Antony, Anarkali Marikar). Nivin Pauly features in a cameo and manages to impress, the film also benefiting from the music of Sachin Warrier and the cinematography of Anend C.Chandran. Aanandam is a film that one did not go in with expectations, perhaps that’s also why the film works quite well by and large.

Honourable Mentions

The following films certainly deserve to be mentioned and appreciated for the reasons that have also been highlighted below

  1. Happy Wedding- Omar Lulu’s debut film which featured some of the actors from Premam came across as a simple comedy which at the outset did not look like something that one would appreciate. But the film turned out to be dark horse, going to take people by surprise by its good run at the box office.
  2. Kattappanayile Rithwik Roshan-After the success of Amar Akar Anthony it would have been no surprise if Nadirshah had gone on to work with any star of his choice in his second film. But with Kattappanayile Rithwik Roshan he did exactly the opposite and came up with a new spin to the classic tale of an underdog, with Vishnu Unnikrishnan (also the co-writer of the film) doing well in the lead role. This is a film which has reached out to people by and large and is still doing well at the box office.
  3. Oppam– Priyadarshan’s comeback is a good way to describe this thriller which sees Mohanlal as a visually impaired person trying to protect a small girl from the evil hands of the protagonist. With a stellar star cast, neat performances, popular music and overall a good amount of thrill, it was no surprise that the film went on to become a huge success.

So this was all about Malayalam Cinema in 2016, 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 own list as well.

Note: Only films released theatrically during the period 1st January-31st December 2016 have been taken into consideration. Also a film like Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan’s Lens has not been considered for reckoning despite a release in Kerala as it is primarily an English film with a bit of dialogues in Malayalam and Tamil as well.

3 thoughts on “The Best of Malayalam Cinema in 2016: A Perspective

  1. Superb artcile. Extremely helpful in putting the year in perspective. One grudge/complaint – Rajisha Vijayan needed more than a passing mention 🙂 She was terrific and that too in her debut movie.

    • Ah!Thank you for reading and giving a clear & concise thought on the write-up Ranjit. Well the article is already way too long and that’s why I could not write more on any of the promising debutants including Rajisha. Hopefully we’ll see more of her in 2017 & in the next year’s write-up it could be taken care of 🙂

  2. Pingback: Podsumowanie 2016 roku | All around Indian Cinema

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