Malayalam Cinema: First Half 2014 Review

Ultimately, Malayalam cinema’s current fortunes owe to just one factor: Talented writers. Great scripts have been the heart of this year’s success streak. Actor-writer-director Sreenivasan predicted this turn of events many moons back

Dulquer, Nivin and Nazriya 2 in Bangalore Days
Dulquer, Nivin and Nazriya

This week, Malayalam film industry will once again celebrate another festival season. Four high-profile Ramadan releases have been lined up including Mammootty’s comedy-flick Manglish, directed by Salam Bappu; Dileep’s Avatharam, directed by Joshiy; director Lal Jose’s Vikramadityan, scripted by Dr. Iqbal Kuttippuram, starring Dulquer Salman and Unni Mukundan; and Hi I’m Tony, directed by Lal Jr, starring Lal, Asif Ali and Bi  ju Menon.

A cursory glance at the titles shows the emergence of youth power both on the cast and crew. While our superstars continue to make their impassioned attempts to maintain their throne, the young upstarts are indeed giving them a run for the money.

That, indeed, has been the dominant trend all through this year. With some 86 films released in Malayalam until this weekend, comparable to the numbers last year, the industry has once again illustrated that even raw talent has their space.

At one point in time, with television channels going slow on their purchase of satellite rights, it was feared that the industry was on a downswing. However, sheer numbers prove that even the muscle-power of television channels cannot dampen the spirit of youth, who leverage digital technology to cut down costs and bank tremendously on script-power to pull off hits with panache.

While stardom has taken a backseat and story, style and structure have gained prominence, there is one star who is standing tall. That is Nivin Pauly, who has a largely unblemished track-record at the box-office, and has made his mark this year with three back-to-back hits.

The strength and success of Nivin Pauly lies in his ability to pick the right scripts, and if his films –1983, Om Shanthi Oshaana and Bangalore Days – have scored it big at the box office, a chunk of the credit also goes to the power of the script and the sheer talent of the films’ directors.

Manju Warrier
Manju Warrier

In a year that opened to the successful hangover of Mohanlal’s Drishyam, the month of January, despite ten releases saw only one certified hit – 1983, directed by the debutant Ebrid Shine. The photojournalist turned filmmaker banked on Kerala’s 1980s nostalgia, married it with cricket and Sachin Tendulkar, roped in a realistic story, and laughed all the way to the bank with a critically and commercially acclaimed movie.

History repeated in February, a month that saw 17 releases, with Nivin Pauly scoring once again with Om Shanthi Oshaana, directed by Jude Anthany Joseph. With Nazriya Nazim, who consolidated her stardom along with Pauly, taking the lead in the film, the innocent romance of OSO touched a chord with the audience. While Jayasoorya’s Happy Journey earned some plaudits, the month also saw Mammootty and Prithviraj facing a box-office thumbs down for their movies Balyakaalasakhi and London Bridge, respectively.

If March offered no clear winner – not even Mammootty’s Praise the Lord, April, another festival month, saw Mammootty floundering badly, despite the support of Aashiq Abu. Their much-awaited Gangster opened to hostile reviews, while Fahadh Faasil’s One By Two, which had Murali Gopy in a double role, also receiving a lukewarm response.

Once again demonstrating the magical touch of fresh talent, debutant Syamdhar’s 7Th Day with Prithviraj became a runway hit, matched by a crass commercial, Ringmaster, starring Dileep.

May had an exciting selection of films – from the classy Mosayile Kuthira Meenukal  and the multilinear God’s Own Country starring Fahadh Faasil to the crassy Ulsaha Committee  and the much-awaited come-back vehicle of Manju Warrier, How Old Are You. She offered stiff competition to Mohanlal’s Mr. Fraud, which did not live up to the expectations that followed Drishyam.

A scene from 1983And then came along Bangalore Days, and rest, as they say is history. The film has smashed box-office records, and is emerging as the most loved family, youth flick, defining its director Anjali Menon in the top league.  The youth multi-starrer featuring Fahadh Faasil, Dulquer Salman, Nivin Pauly, Nazriya Nazim, Parvathy Menon and Nithya Menen, continue to be the toast of audience, even in the face of new releases.

The cheer that Bangalore Days brought helped audiences overcome their disappointment in Mohanlal’s Koothara and a slew of also-ran films in June.

The success track record of the year definitively proves two points: One, you can bring audiences to theatres with superstars but you cannot sell them a bad product; two, while the young Turks can revel in their newfound success, they are yet to prove their single-hero credentials that is hot enough to sell even a mediocre product.

Ultimately, Malayalam cinema’s current fortunes owe to just one factor: Talented writers. Great scripts have been the heart of this year’s success streak. Actor-writer-director Sreenivasan predicted this turn of events many moons back. He was then accused of poking fun of superstars. How right he has proved to be, and how needed this change is!

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