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
Question: How many Chappa Kurish can be produced with the money wasted on Casanovva
Thanks to Kishor Kumar for inputs.