Fresh faces, new themes, bold experiments: Best of Malayalam cinema in 2016

From juvenile love to caste politics, Malayalam cinema explored many a territory with guts and gumption.
Fresh faces, new themes, bold experiments: Best of Malayalam cinema in 2016
Fresh faces, new themes, bold experiments: Best of Malayalam cinema in 2016
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2016 was an interesting year for Malayalam cinema, with fresh faces, new themes, and reinvented avatars of familiar faces populating the canvas. From juvenile love to action thrillers, caste and minority politics to comedy, Malayalam cinema explored many a territory with guts and gumption, even if the efforts may not have translated flawlessly to the big screen always. Here's a look at some of 2016's most absorbing films.

A small film that takes on a giant subject, Kismath was Kerala's Sairat. This love story between a Muslim boy (Shane Nigam) and a Hindu girl (Shruthy Menon) who belongs to the Scheduled Castes and is older than him, impressed audiences and critics alike. 
That it's based on a real life story which exposes the ugly face of a "progressive" society like Kerala makes it all the more relevant. Directed by debutant Shanavas K Bavakutty, the film courageously handles a politically volatile subject like love jihad with a lightness of touch that saved it from the routine sentimentalism of films that talk of forbidden love. The performances of its lead pair and Vinay Forrt who plays the villainous cop, were fantastic. 
Dulquer Salmaan was a revelation in this epic-like film -directed by Rajeev Ravi- which traced the story of a young boy caught in gang wars and whose life is forever under the shadow of violence. As Krishnan, Dulquer plays the role of a teenager who gradually ages into a greying middle-aged man haunted by his past.
Like KismathKammatipadam, also takes on caste politics, with Krishnan's best friend Ganga (Vinayakan) coming from a Dalit community. The film had the dusky Shaun Romy playing the female lead and her unusual pairing with Dulquer was a refreshing departure from the conventional heroine we're used to seeing. 
Though a tad too long and sometimes repetitive, Kammatipaadam stood out for its attention to detail and its painstaking willingness to allow its characters to grow and come of age.
An edge-of-the-seat thriller, Kali was about Siddharth (Dulquer Salmaan), a young man with anger issues and his wife Anjali (Sai Pallavi) who struggles with his rage. Siddharth's quick temper lands them in a nightmarish situation in a deserted area. 
The tense, taut plotting of the film was ably complemented by the stellar performances of its cast, including Chemban Vinod Jose who played the leery and menacing villain. Directed by Sameer Thahir, Kali  managed to keep its delicious suspense alive right to the end. 
Maheshinte Prathikaaram
Comedy in a revenge film is rare but that's what sets apart Mahesh's (Fahaadh Faasil) "prathikaaram". This story about a small-time photographer and his circle of friends and enemies, ably directed by Dileesh Pothan, is the kind of film that's Malayalam cinema is known for - the attention to detail, the insight into human nature, and the ordinary dreams and ambitions of ordinary people. An entertaining film that's considered to be among Fahaadh's finest till date.
Action Hero Biju
As far as human rights are concerned, this film about a police officer and the various cases he encounters is on a sticky wicket. Directed by Abrid Shine, the "action hero" in question was played by Nivin Pauly, and involved a good amount of justifications for police brutality. 
But that apart, this was an unusual cop story which followed an episodic structure and showed us the human side of a character who is usually glorified in films that are of this genre. 
There was plenty of humour too, with the narrative taking us through the many big and small encounters of a police officer's life. Though not without its flaws, Action Hero Biju was an experiment that Nivin Pauly managed to pull off admirably.
A multi-starrer about juvenile love, Aanandam directed by Ganesh Raj was a campus entertainer with refreshing ideas about love, gender, and life. The film is about a group of seven friends (new faces) who go on a college trip. 
Funny and insightful by turn, Aanandam quietly overturned many stereotypes about romance and relationships without making a big song and dance about it. Heartening all the more because its a feel-good film that's unapologetically youth-centric. 
Mohanlal's record-breaking Pulimurugan would have found a place in the list if not for its regressive ideas about women, crass comedy, and its rather surface-level portrayal of the human-animal conflict. 
Other films that deserve mention are Kattapanayile Ritwik Roshan (for taking a reflexive look at the film industry and beauty standards), Kochavva Paulo Ayyapa Coelho (a sweet film about a boy's burning ambition to fly in a plane), Oppam (mainly for Mohanlal's terrific performance as a visually impaired man hunted by a dangerous criminal) and Anuraga Karikkin Vellam (for its little insights on relationships and everyday life).

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