There are many love stories and romances in Malayalam cinema which have left an indelible mark in the hearts of the audiences. In contemporary cinema, from the start of the new decade, we have seen a shift in how these relationships are portrayed. From conventional man-woman love where the goal is marriage or confronting the problems within a marriage, new films explore and question what it means to be in a relationship in the first place. The couples take their time to think about what they want from each other and how they should prioritise romance in their relationship. The problems that they confront together have also seen a shift -- from family and livelihood matters to larger issues.
Here are some new Malayalam films which have stood out in their approach to relationships:
Ayyappan and Kannamma from Ayyapanum Koshiyum: In this film directed by Sachy, the focus is on the ego battle between two men -- police officer Ayyappan (Biju Menon) and ex-army man Koshy (Prithviraj) who is a privileged brat. However, the relationship between Ayyappan and his activist wife Kannamma (Gowri Nandha) is even more interesting. Kannamma is an adivasi woman who cannot be easily intimidated. When she sees Ayyappan behaving in a slightly servile way with Koshy, she's annoyed that he's giving a "bourgeois" man unnecessary respect. She also stands up to Koshy when he tries to make threats. Although their love is understated, we see that Ayyapan and Kannamma are on the same page as far as their ideology is concerned and that's what keeps them together.
Puthiyappla and Jameela from Sudani from Nigeria: Zakariya Mohammed's film on a footballer from Nigeria who comes to Malappuram, tells several stories. The most unusual of the lot, however, is the relationship between the protagonist's mother (Jameela) and her second husband (KTC Abdullah). Though they are not at the centre of the film, it is their marriage which has led to a rift in the house, with Jameela's son Majeed (Soubin) resenting the stepfather. Nothing is spelt out, but you know how sensitive a person Puthiyappla is -- respecting his stepson's feelings, he leaves the house whenever the latter is at home. Even when Majeed behaves in an insulting manner, he puts up with it. It pains his wife as she watches him leave, but the two of them don't blame each other for how things are.
Akbar and Ameer from Moothon: Indian cinema has rarely represented gay love with dignity. In this Geetu Mohandas film, however, Nivin Pauly played a gay man called Akbar, who romances Ameer (Roshan Mathew) in a moving flashback. Without the film making a point of how different this was for the audience, the romance between the two was presented as naturally as any other relationship. For once, we got to watch the sensuality of two men in love on the big screen. While Prithviraj had already played a gay man in Mumbai Police, the depiction was quite confused and bordered on vilifying the gay community. With its lyrical beauty, Moothon was a much needed course correction.
Mathan and Appu from Mayanadi: Appu (Aishwarya Lekshmi) is a struggling actor while Mathan (Tovino Thomas) is a criminal on the run. The two are sweethearts from school who keep finding each other even as circumstances fling them apart. Aashiq Abu's intense love story tugged at heartstrings like no Malayalam film in recent times. Though Appu loves Mathan, she's clear about her priorities and knows that they may never be able to live together in peace. And surprisingly, Mathan understands her though there's nothing more in the world that he wants. Devoid of the toxic masculinity of the rejected hero, the film gave us a rare love story that presented the viewpoints of both characters without making us pick a side.
Irfan and Anita from Kismath: Directed by Shanavas Bavakkutty, this film was about a Hindu Dalit woman (Shruthy Menon) and a Muslim man (Shane Nigam) who fall in love. Their love seems even more impossible when we consider the differences in their age (she's older by many years) and social class. With both families opposing the match, the couple land up in the police station asking for help. The film is based on a real life story, and is a rare attempt to delve into the political consequences that forbidden love can have. The storytelling is straightforward and devoid of melodrama, but the obstacles in the path of Irfan and Anita affect us all the more because of it.
Anand and Aishwarya from Eeda: B Ajithkumar's modern take on Romeo and Juliet is about two people from families which can't see eye to eye because they have different political ideologies. Set in the hotbed of Kannur where political violence is common, we see the entire trajectory of the love between Anand and Aishwarya unfold. The freedom they enjoy when they step out of their hometown, the oppressive climate in their homes, and how things began to unravel when their relationship is made known.
Jaison and Keerthy from Thaneer Mathan Dhinangal: Seldom have we seen a sensible teen film revolving around romance. Gireesh AD's joyful film takes us through school crushes, friendships and nascent relationships -- keeping it real but also getting the politics right. Jaison is an ambitious teenager with a somewhat inflated sense of self-importance. He falls for his classmate Keerthy who initially does not reciprocate his feelings. However, though the director tells the story with honesty, it doesn't derail into one of those predictable films with an angsty hero. Instead, we also see things from Keerthy's perspective. Jaison and Keerthy's young love thankfully escapes the moral judgment on adolescent sexuality that we're used to seeing in films.
Aju and Sarah from Bangalore Days: While the Anjali Menon film revolves around the troubled marriage of Divya and Das (Nazriya and Fahadh), the other characters too get in and get out of relationships. Striking among these is the romance between Aju (Dulquer) and Sarah (Parvathy). Aju is a biker with an unhappy childhood; Sarah is a wheelchair-bound RJ who has plans of going abroad. He's attracted to her voice on the radio and tracks her to the studio, but stops short when he realises that she has a disability. Meanwhile, Sarah is a self-confident, independent woman who likes to live life on her own terms. Interestingly, her mother doesn't push her towards marriage but wants more for her daughter. From the easy friendship to the growing trust between them, and the final stretch when Aju finally breaks free and acknowledges his feelings, the film takes us through an evolving relationship between the pair.