This year was also one where several impressive films were made by debut directors.

Best of Malayalam cinema 2019 From Virus to Helen here are our picks
Flix Mollywood Monday, December 23, 2019 - 14:39
Written by  Cris

After many updates about an upcoming film, beginning from the announcement of the title to the first look poster, the teaser and the trailer and finally the release itself, everything is over in the blink of an eye. A movie you have been waiting for, or read lots and lots about for months, has come and gone. It may not have even been that good. There’ve been a few like that this year, coming with a lot of noise, blowing its proverbial trumpet a little too loudly and then fading away just as soon.

This is not about those movies, but the better ones – the ones that came quietly and surprised you, or the ones that simply met your expectations, or the ones that just made you feel good about the world. When you look at the list though, you notice one common thread: most of these are by debut directors. It is a pleasant thought that so many new talents have been waiting to emerge in Malayalam cinema, and they have all found space here, been accepted and applauded.

In no particular order, the list begins:

Kumbalangi Nights: The film about four men in a house somewhere in Kochi snatches your heart away, helped by some really powerful performances by the likes of Soubin Shahir, Fahadh Faasil, Sreenath Bhasi and Shane Nigam. Without a voiceover, without any grand entries, new director Madhu C Narayanan introduces you to the house where lives a broken family. Women -- curly haired Anna Ben and a sedate Grace Antony -- play two sisters next door. The film written by Syam Pushkaran challenges patriarchy in new ways, through the character of Shammi that Fahadh plays.

June: It's difficult to believe that June was written by three men - Libin Varghese, Ahammed Khabeer and Jeevan Baby Mathew, and one of them - Ahammed - has directed it. It is one thing to make a convincing woman-centric film, but to get each little gesture, expression and spontaneity of teenage girls correct, is not easy. June - the protagonist - goes through teenage to her mid-20s in the movie, but most of the focus falls on her adolescent age. Rajisha Vijayan transforms easily into a perfectly ordinary teenager with her perfectly ordinary problems, including that of a new boy at school.

Read: 16 producers rejected ‘June’ because it was a girl’s story: Director Ahammed to TNM

Uyare: Another first time director does a really clean job of getting it right. It is the rarely told story of an acid attack survivor. Manu Ashokan, the director, cast Parvathy as the woman who suffers the attack that would put an end to her dreams of turning a pilot, an ambition she’s been nurturing for years. Asif Ali plays the dominating boyfriend perfectly and Tovino plays a rich spoiled man, mending his ways. But it is an out and out a Parvathy film.

Ishq: Ishq, directed by Anuraj Manohar, got much talked about, for addressing the serious issue of moral policing and toxic masculinity. However, there have been different interpretations to its handling of the subject. On one side was the appreciation for showing the middle finger to patriarchy. On the other was the criticism for how Shane Nigam’s character reacts to the moral policing that he and his girlfriend were subjected to. Shine Tom Chacko who plays the antagonist does a really good job of portraying the disturbing character we are all familiar with, the one that shines a torch on your most intimate moments and tries to shame you.

Thamaasha: Originally a Kannada movie, the remake by debut director Ashraf Hamza is a sweet remake of the story of a bald man and his attempts at finding a partner. While Vinay Forrt excels as usual in his role as the insecure Malayalam professor, it is the female lead Chinnu who surprises you with her performance. She plays the overweight woman that Vinay’s character meets and becomes friends with. She surprises him and you the viewer, with her confidence and refusal to be pulled down by negativity. The film also touches upon the real problem of social media abuse very effectively.

Read: Meet Chinnu Chandni, 'Thamaasha' actor who plays an assertive, overweight woman

VirusVirus came with a lot of expectations. And it didn’t fail any of them. Director Aashiq Abu had announced the movie much earlier, with a bunch of stars playing real life characters – heroes – involved in the Nipah virus attack that struck Kerala in 2018. Revathy, Parvathy, Tovino, Rima, Kunchacko Boban, Sreenath Bhasi and a bunch of other actors made it a beautiful retelling of the real story, not one star any more important than the script.

Unda: After a long, long time, Mammootty played an ordinary man with no extraordinary powers in Khalid Rahman’s Unda. Mammootty plays the cop that leads a team of young men to a Maoist area for election duty. He excels as the SI who is protective of his team of motley characters played by various talented actors like Shine Tom Chacko, Arjun Ashokan and Lukman.

Janamaithri: The film did not get a lot of attention at the theatres but it showed once again that comedy rules. John Manthrickal, yet another debut director, does wonders with a simple but smartly scripted plot to make you laugh. The film tells the story of a night when some Kerala cops decide to launch a scheme to be friendly to the public – offer them a cup of tea when they drive at night so they won’t be sleepy. The comical situations that come out of this makes Janamaithri an enjoyable two hours with actors like Indrans, Saiju Kurup, Sabumon and Vijay Babu at their natural best.

Read: Now on Amazon Prime, Malayalam comedy ‘Janamaithri’ shouldn't be missed

Thanneer Mathan Dingangal: Not an easy job, telling a teenage story, at a time when so many of these have come out. But debut director Girish AD does that beautifully, making teenagers deal with actual teenage problems like a difficult new teacher or a crush, their conversations rooted in everyday matters. Mathew Thomas and Anaswara Rajan play the teenage pair adorably while Vineeth Sreenivasan plays the slightly weird new teacher that Mathew’s character finds difficult to get along with.

Jallikattu: Word really travelled faster than the movie when it did wonders at foreign film festivals. Kerala eagerly waited for the next new magic that director Lijo Jose Pellissery would hopefully bring, after an enchanting Ee.Ma.Yau. and a refreshing Angamaly Diaries. Lijo didn’t disappoint. The new movie was another vortex he created, one you might feel trapped in – a world of beasts and humans not a lot different from animals. Chemban Vinod, Antony Varghese, Santhy Balachandran, Sabumon all give their most raw performances as a buffalo runs amok and the townsfolk go crazy.

Read: 'Jallikattu': How Lijo dissolves the differences between man and beast

Moothon: Geetu Mohandas gives perhaps the best depiction of a same sex relationship in Malayalam cinema through Moothon, the first feature she has directed in Malayalam. Nivin Pauly and Roshan Mathew play a beautiful couple on the dark shores of Lakshadweep. The darkness of the night and the blueness of the day sea caught beautifully by Rajeev Ravi. Years later, a child would go in search of her elder brother (Moothon) from the Dweep to a distant land and be entrapped in the risks of a strange city. Sanjana Dipu is simply too good as the younger sibling.

Read: Meet the man who became Amir in ‘Moothon’: Roshan Mathew interview

Android Kunjappan Ver 5.25: Suraj Venjaramoodu and Soubin Shahir, both amazing actors, make a wonderful father-son duo, living in a big house in a village. The son has to go away for work leaving the old father alone, and to help the old man out, he sends a robot home. You see a beautiful relationship develop between the grumpy old man and the adorable robot. Another debut director – Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval – proves fresh ideas are always welcome in Malayalam cinema.

Read: Why Ratheesh Poduval made ‘Android Kunjappan’, a film about a lonely old man and a robot

Helen: Anna Ben was wonderful in Kumbalangi Nights but you might not have noticed her among many talents. You can’t however miss what she’s capable of in Helen, playing a young woman trapped in an extraordinary condition. The survival drama, directed by debutant Mathukutty Xavier, has to be told with a lot of conviction – it’s not easy. Every last bit of detail has been carefully written and the performances by Anna, Lal playing her dad and Aju Varghese playing a bad cop just make it a smooth film to watch, albeit through many tense moments.