A Blog on Cinema

Are We recovering?


During the Mathrubhoomi Kalyan Silks Awards recently, Ashique Abu gave a shoutout to the producer of Salt N Pepper. In a rare gesture which conveyed humility as well as magnanimity, he gifted his cash award to the producer so that the producer can recover his investment. A decade back this statement would not have attracted much attention, but in 2012 it is very important. It showed the attitude of new generation of film makers as well as it pointed out that even a successful movie like Salt N Pepper is struggling to recoup its investment. Over the past few years we have seen a rot in Malayalam cinema and people spent their money watching Tamil movies and wondering why can’t we make movies like that. Now in the past two years we have seen some amazing movies come from new film makers. So what all contributed to this revival?

Before we go there let’s blame a few people. Like the European economy, there was a serial collapse in Malayalam. So let’s blame pretty much everyone including script writers, directors and actors for presenting us with nonsense movies. What was the last best movie written by Srinivasan? Or what was the best movie of Sathyan Anthikkad or Sibi Malayil or Priyadarshan or K Madhu or Fazil in the past few years? Things became so bad that Sibi-Udayan movies looked like classics and Illayaraja’s terrible music became the standard. In a year, out of the 50 odd movies that were released, only half a dozen made money and only one or two were worth remembering.

Malayalam movies were going through a tough transition period. Untimely demise of some of our stalwart writers and directors gave opportunity to a bunch of writers and directors, who made us think that mediocrity is the new standard. Aping out of state movies which had high production standards sans content, infighting among Malayalam movie fraternity, rising super star fees,mindless antics by fans associations took Malayalam movies from the exalted heights to the place where James Cameron went in his new submarine.

At such a period, it would have been easy for any producer to go into other business like starting a resort or betting on real estate. So first we have to thank those producers who invested money in movies like Salt N Pepper, Traffic, Beautiful, Urumi, City of God, Passenger, Chappa Kurishu, Ordinary etc. Those are the people who stand first in our list and we agree with Ashique Abu. They are the brave ones.

Second we have to appreciate the new generation of script writers. Look at Salt N Pepper for example. If it was a Sathyan Anthikkad movie, it would have KPAC Lalitha playing an old woman abandoned by her children and Innocent doing his standard senti act. If it was a Shaji Kailas movie, you could predict next dialogue to be mouthed by the superstar or the next scene to come. All other movies had the hero living in exile in Pollachi. But keeping the melodrama minimal, the script writers [Shyam Pushkaran and Dileesh Nair] kept Salt N Pepper going without having much conflict. It was utterly refreshing.

Third, lets meet the new directors. We mentioned Ashique Abu, but there are folks like Sugeet, Rajesh Pillai, Samir Thahir, Lijo Jose etc. They know the new grammar of movie making. Among these Abu and Sugeet are disciples of Kamal and while their guru is making classics like Pachakuthira, the disciples are entertaining us.

Before mentioning the actors, we applaud Malayali audience for supporting movies which did not have superstars in them. It reminds us of a time when people used to watch movies based on who wrote it (Padmarajan, T Damodaran, MT) or who directed it (Bharathan, I V Sasi, Padmarajan, Hariharan). We have almost reached that state now. Having said that, we find a fearless generation of new actors shaping up. Some of them are new ( Fahad Fazil, Asif Ali,Vineeth Srinivasan), some of them re-invented themselves (Baburaj, Kunchako Boban).

Also look at the new generations of actresses like Remya Nambisan, Swetha Menon, Mythili and Rima Kallingal who are bold enough to portray realistic roles representing evolving womanhood. The goody-goody Kavya Madhavan-Navya Nair-Bhavana type roles no longer appeal to people.

Even though he’s delivering flop after flop of late, Mammotty played an important role in bringing up many new talents into Malayalam cinema. This man has a knack in unearthing talented directors.Lal Jose, Blessy, Ashique Abu, Amal Neerad … It’s a huge list. Even though he did not act in some of these new director’s movies, he supported them and helped launch their careers. It shows that he is one intelligent man who knows that his stardom is doomed if there are no good writers or directors.

If you look at Malayalam cinema, the target audience is limited. We don’t have the reach of Tamil or Telugu or Hindi movies. We made it up by writing innovative scripts and creating a mass appeal. The movies were always low budget. In the recent past only superstar movies were making money and the cost of moving making went over the roof. Then we reached a stage where only super stars where making money and most of their movies ended up as super hit in a channel. Now we are back to the basics again with small movies with good script.

Another good thing is the advent of multiplexes. The multiplexes era has opened up niche markets. This would be a boon for small movies as well as there is no need to please entire cine-going crowd. This should draw family audiences who are scared to visit big theatres. We had covered this in detail at Varnachitram few months back.

There are reactions to this. Mohanlal who had kept a distance from Ranjith now met him and patched up things. Mammootty after a string of flops must be going back to the drawing board. It will be better if Suresh Gopi actually joined Kerala Police. One of the consequences of this revival of small movies is that there will be less producers investing in Super Star movies. This is a good thing because we want to see M&M in fewer but better movies. To make their quota of 6 movies a year, they end up acting in Cassanova and Venicile Vyapari. Instead of that we want a Pranayam or a Pranchiyettan. Another positive thing about this revival is the sidelining of the “talents”  of mimicry brigade like Suraj Venjarammoodu and Salim Kumar.

What can go wrong with this revival? There is always the customary infighting with the banning of actors and actresses. Sibi and Udayan, S N Swamy, as well as directors like Shaji Kailas are still in business. These new age directors and writers whom we praised earlier could get sucked up into big budget movies and lose focus on the craft. Or the new directors/writers not able to live up to the hype created by thier initial movies: For example look at the difference between Passenger and Arjunan Sakshi or James Albert’s creations after Classmates. Another huge problem is piracy, which is affecting every movie. As soon as a movie is released, torrents follow and soon it is uploaded on YouTube. For good movies to happen, movie makers have to make money.

Even though all these movies are interesting, it is important to add one historical perspective. We had fallen to such a rut that pretty much any non-template movie looks interesting and refreshing. With that perspective, we have to ask one question. How many of the movies we listed will stand the test of time and be looked on as a classic. Our answer is not a single movie qualifies in that matter.

Few years back when we were busy covering AMMA-MACTA fights at Varnachitram , we never thought this kind of turnaround would happen. We are really charged by this.

Question: What is common in Chappa Kurish, Traffic, Salt n Pepper, 22FK, Ee adutha Kalathu,Second Show, Cocktail
Answer: They don’t have Dappan Koothu
Question: How many Salt N Peppers can be produced with the money wasted on Casanovva
Answer: 16
Question: How many Chappa Kurish can be produced with the money wasted on Casanovva
Answer: 32

Thanks to Kishor Kumar for inputs.


  1. Hopefully by the end of this decade, I hope a new kind, a better kind, of filmmakers, writers, and actors come into Malayalam cinema.

  2. True. This is indeed a period where malayalam movies seems to be changing for the better.

    But there are two points which I disagree with.

    1. I feel multiplexes actually will have a bad influence on malayalam movies. If you look into other metros where there are only multiplexes and almost all ordinary theaters have disappeared, you can see one thing. The multiplex audience doesn’t care about the movie they have come to see. They come to a mall to hangout and just go in for some movie. The situation is that, while chick flicks have huge crowds, the good films or the ones which deserve more crowd, remain deserted. Also, the high cost of tickets actually prevent people from going to as many movies as they would like to go. So I believe that better ordinary theaters are going to be much more important to malayalam movies than multiplexes.

    2. I feel its better if Mammootty and Mohanlal started acting in many small films than in 1-2 huge films per year. When there are only 1-2 films, they have to be made in the best way possible, which somehow turns out to mean that it needs an out-of-life intro scene, many car chases, 3-4 songs with bare-dressed models and so on. But if they decide to support smaller movies, these movies would get an audience which it otherwise wouldn’t have. If you check the movies made by Mohanlal and Mammootty in the last few years, its easily observable that all huge budget movies turned out to be craps (Pazhassiraja might be an exception) and the best movies were the low budget ones. Personally, I feel they should give dates only to Ranjith films. 🙂

  3. Alex makes some interesting points with his 1) comment. It is a good question. Do multiplexes make any difference?

    I read an interesting article regarding this in The Hindu.

  4. Hats off to you for presenting such insights on Malayalam cinema humorously – your column is always entertaining!

  5. Yes we r recovering big time.. Congrats Varnachitram 4 ur brilliant observation and right criticism. Our film industry was badly in need of a renaissance. Now it’s happening by all means. I think nobody wud dare to make the audience fools anymore.. For the sake of our film industry &its auspicious future we ought 2 say No 2 the ‘tickling remakes’ pandits pranks & dubbed masalas..
    Hopefully waiting 4 the movies like 7amathe varavu, friday & spirit..

  6. Nice article, it’s great to be looking forward to malayalam films in a long time. Btw, are there any malayalam comedians / comedies that you do like? While Suraj and Salim Kumar may not be everybody’s cup of tea, I have a feeling you don’t like malayalam comedy at all…

  7. People have always complained about not having enough screenwriters and directors in Malayalam cinema. The focus though mainly on the writers. Which is understandable. After the screenplay is the floor if a house is the whole film. But one aspect that I’ve always found lacking in mainstream Malayalam films were the editing. I think the directors have always relied too much on dialogues and the actors. Just like the stage plays. They haven’t fully understood the medium of cinema. Editing is the one thing that is unique to films. And after watching this I realize how much more important it is.

    Even in Chappa Kurish I felt like the editing was below par. You have good actors and a good cinematographer, but without the good editing it loses that punch.

    A film like the Chaser (2008), beyond the actors, cinematography, and writers, what held me in my seat while watching that film was due to the excellent work in editing.

  8. I don’t know how many of you know the story behind how the success of Dabbang bankrolled “That girl in Yellow Boots” ?. Apparently Abhinav Kashyap was the director of the runaway hit Dabbang and the success of the movie helped his brother Anurag Kashyap make TGIYB . The point besides brothers helping each other out is how a big movie funds or literally spawns a small movie . It’s a phenomenon which is quite prevalent in Indian Cinema on a pan Indian level . For instance Director Shankar of Tamil cinema makes larger than life movies ,Is the production house behind smaller successful movies as Kadhal,Kalloori,Veyil & Eeram .Or for another instance actor Prakash Raj’s production house Duet Pictures .Prakash Raj is the most famous Villain in south India and also a very good character artist .The money he makes through acting is put into making movies such as Mozhi & Payanam .My point is our film industry on a whole has always been about the star rather than the script .Even though it should be other way around . My point is why can’t Mohanlal and Mamooty have a bigger hand in promoting new talent like Directors /Script writers/Technicians ?. IMO their existence is quite crucial to Malayalam Film industry even now.Their ability in able to pull in the masses is rarely matched by other actors .Malayalam Audience are more sensible than the general audience on the whole and they would gladly lap up good movies .The people in the top or on the position of power should try to do more to improve the depth of writing and the quality in talent . Mamooty does to extant bring in fresh talent from time to time though . Summing up , I wouldn’t call for the complete boycott of M&M’s movies aimed at the masses ,As in their success has an innate ability to spawn more movies .

  9. An interesting fact..
    Accidently or deliberately the 70% of the malayalam movies released during the past 1-2 yrs, have been having english titles..
    Eg: Pranchi & saint, cocktail, best actor, tounamnt, 4frnds, traffic, race, makeup man, city of god, thriller, christian bro, doubles, chinatown, violin, salt&ppr, filmstar, seniors, 3kings, teja& famly, Dr.lov, sevenes, indian rupe, beautiful, secondshw, masters, ordinary, cobra, insider, spanish masala, casanovva, king & cmsr, grandmaster, 22fk, dimond necklace..
    And some upcoming films like friday, hero, spirit, hus in goa etc..
    … Why our filmmakers go on 2 prefer english titles?
    Becoz the films having english title can be marketd better.. People think that those films wud be good packages of entertainmnt..

  10. Hahaha. Suddenly Ramya Nambeesan and Rima Kallingal became the good actresses and others became bad.

    You gotta remember that Navya Nair had portrayed better and “bolder” characters – Kanne Madanguka and Saira!
    Have you even seen them?
    Yeah, that’s right. No one applauded her except for a mere state award committee. Oh yeah, because there were no NEW Generations fans during that time.

    Rima Kallingal did Unnam just before FK and is doing Happy Husbands after FK. What is the difference? Great movie, ah?

    Bhavana and Navya Nair or even Remya would have happily taken up FK if they were offered and would have done it as good as Rima or even better! They have done it before, they have done good characters.

    Save this ignorant man!

  11. If so, how is the the paragraph about those actresses valid?

  12. I have seen Kanne Madanguka and Saira, both in the Film Festival and even though the movies were excellent, Navya Nair was a really bad choice. She is in my opinion one really terrible actress. In all her career, there is not one movie which is exceptional for her acting. She looks like an exceptional actress only when she is acting in Dileep movies. There is no comparison between Navya and Rima Kallingal.

    • @John i dont agree with you;may be Navya Nair has done some bad films but She was exceptional in Nandanam in which she carried the film on her shoulders single handedly playing the house maid and lover of the then debutant Prithviraj and if I am right she won the state award for the best actress in that film.I really don’t think too many actresses would have done that as convincingly as she did.(perhaps the credit for that goes to the director Ranjith too). Yes Rima did great in 22FK and perhaps Navya couldnot have done it that well;but then Rima also couldnot have played Balamani -a role in which Navya fitted like a cork.Of course there is no comparison between the two but that statement does not mean one is too bad or one is too good.

  13. Alex & James,
    I think it will be really bad if all normal theaters are shutdown and we only have multiplexes. I don’t think we are ready for that in near future. But I have seen situations where low-budjet art movies like Electra, Makaramanju etc. did not get a theater release because in current scenario of limited movie halls, no one wants to screen such movies in a theater with 500+ seating capacity. Multiplexes are going to help such movies in a big way. Mass entertainers like Dabaangs and MayaMohinis will (should) continue to rule normal theateres.

  14. Interesting article. I would like to add that all good work needs to be encouraged – whether it is by young or old contributors. I hate to see a divisive approach where the new and old ‘people’ become the reason for the good or bad. I feel the focus has to be on work, on ideas, on artistic approaches, creativity etc. Lets look at all these departments as individual areas of strengths and weaknesses rather than focusing on people. E.g. I found Lal in Bhramaram extra-ordinary, especially the last sequence after the Jeep chase – these are the best moments of cinematic excellence – unmatched artistic expression. Traffic and Salt-n-Pepper had their strengths in script and execution. The scope for improvement in creative expression has no ceiling….

  15. What a change over mama.. I copied this from kolaveri.. Now u look at all movies that came recently.. This is what happening. There are few talents who make a difference in thinking and everybody else copies that. Do u need another traffic honestly no, but what our brainless talent pool does is run behind the Trent, and that steam won’t last. M&M won’t act anymore, they have to show their faces and get crores and sports cars. New generation is frantically trying everything to get their voices out, coming in chaddy and preaching bathroom jokes become common and they think that makes them modern, nice, now in between all of this where is good cinema. I agree with the movies u listed here, they are all much wanted change, but in last 1 year all I see is everybody does traffic, chapakurishu and s&p! If u want the audience think loud, get something different, think abt sports, think abt human spirit, think abt nature and we the inhabitants, ther are endless subjects there to make a spark, not triangle relations or copying Hollywood flicks. These directors and actors must first realize that world is not the way they think they know it, every newborn knows more than what we know, so please don’t copy, we have seen, de Niro’s and alpachino’s. We have seen how the shell separates in slow motion in desperado. We have seen criminal and crash. What we are lacking now is talent, and thats where the industry need to spend money on. There are no mt, bharathan or padmarajan anymore. I don’t say we want them back, I should say, we need somebody like that , who can think ahead of their time and get ahead of the challenge. That’s why we respect them as our mavericks. if we still need M&M , we have a problem. Our young generation is not motivated enough or doesn’t have the spirit to prove that they can do better. We need Haward Hughes, we need bhagat shing’s. We need john abraham’s. And the sad story is we simply don’t have that. So we poor audience had to wait and watch the flood of Tamil, Hindi, may be French .

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