Malayalam cinema is increasingly becoming popular across the country, with multiplexes playing films with subtitles, and OTT platforms improving the accessibility of such films. While viewers might be familiar with new age Malayalam cinema, this list is for those who want to catch up on old Malayalam films but don’t know where to begin.
The list below has some of the most iconic, most popular, most re-watched and celebrated cult comedy classics of Malayalam cinema. Available now on Hotstar and YouTube. Enjoy!
Peruvannapurathe Visheshangal (1989): A casual observer can be forgiven for believing this to be a Sathyan Anthikad film (directed by Kamal). About a village called Peruvannapuram and its quaint, disarmingly original inhabitants. Every village stereotype is present, including a towering tharavadu steeped in patriarchy and casteism, its occupants a headstrong matriarch, her brawny sons, an arrogant granddaughter, the karyasthan, and the villagers who find an unlikely hero in a scrawny young man. It’s the quirky sub-characters that stand out, like they have been plucked right from that village – the barber, the nosy college peon, the flirtatious photo studio owner and the local no-nonsense lady. Writer Ranjith brings enough engaging situational comedy into the proceedings and typically introduces this mass hero in the form of a cameo (Mohanlal) – the surprise entry who in turn epitomises the old cliché – the adichu thalikkariyude makan.
Kilukkam (1991): Inspired by The Roman Holiday, Priyadarshan sets out to make the desi version with a lot of madcap characters and makes sure there isn’t a single dull moment in the film. Set in Ooty, a local tourist guide’s routine life gets a jolt with the arrival of a rich heiress. It doesn’t take much time for him to realise that he is in the company of a loony and ends up chaperoning her. The superb chemistry between Mohanlal and Jagathy Sreekumar, Thilakan’s mild comic timing, and Innocent at his irrepressible best – clearly nothing can go wrong with these actors around.
Sandesham (1991): Malayalam cinema’s best socio-political satire, written by Sreenivasan and directed by Sathyan Anthikad, is about two sons belonging to opposing political parties and the hilarious mud-slinging that ensues between them. In the middle of this mayhem stand their helpless parents. With terrific dialogues that touched on the hypocrisy and double standards of society, Sandesham is still discussed among cinephiles and some of the dialogues, turned into superb memes, continue to stay politically and socially relevant even today.
Ramji Rao Speaking (1989): What was till then the stronghold of Priyadarshan and Sathyan Anthikad got a refreshing diversion with the arrival of Siddique-Lal, who brought a new brand of irreverent comedy into Malayalam cinema. They weave a tale around middle-class woes and unemployment, layering the issues with generous doses of humour. Fine actors, super comic lines, and the beauty of the middle-class all came together nicely in this film. It also nudged a bunch of mimicry artists out of anonymity into the world of cinema.
Boeing Boeing (1985): A remake of the American comedy film of the same name, this Priyadarshan film is centred around a man who is dating three women simultaneously and gasps for breath to save himself from being caught by them. A fair-weather friend ensures that he is never let off this complicated romantic merry-go-round. Highlights include the terrific partnership between Mohanlal and Mukesh, and the superb outing by Sukumari as Dikkammayi.
Nadodikkattu (1987): One of the finest social satires in Malayalam cinema that picked on the trials and tribulations of two unemployed young men. The biggest motifs of middle-class youth’s struggles in the state, the film is about how they take the world head on with their wry sense of wit. Add a smidgen of hilarious sub-characters (the funny don Ananthan Nambiar, the grim hitman Pavanayi, Gafoor) and you get a timeless comedy.
Gandhinagar 2nd Street (1988): When it comes to ripping apart the Malayali sense of false ego, superiority and hypocrisy, nobody does it better than Sreenivasan. He pulls it off here with hilarious side-effects in this simple tale of a young man who dons the role of a Nepali Gorkha in a middle-class residential colony to make ends meet. Not only are the residents impressed by his lame attempts at bad Hindi, they also make full use of his situation to their advantage. Note the realistic characters who walk in between – the busy pulp fiction writer, the headstrong secretary, the gossipy housewife, and a Romeo who never gives up his quest to woo girls. And what performances!
Godfather (1991): It’s a classic mega serial story – two warring families headed by a patriarch and matriarch nurturing a generation of hatred. A romance breaks out and all hell breaks loose. In fact, this could be fodder for any mass Telugu or Tamil film starring a top actor. But then it’s Siddique-Lal at the helm and they make a rollicking comedy amidst this humdrum. Look out for the assembly line of characters and their names – the grim Anjooran, the cunning Anappara Achamma, the goofy Mayankutty, the hapless Swaminathan. When it comes to situational comedy, no one does it better than Siddique-Lal.
In Harihar Nagar (1990): The one liner is simple – four jobless young men who begin and end their day by wooing women find themselves in a dangerous mess, thanks to their own foolishness. Again, it’s how Siddique and Lal sneak in comedy at the most improbable scenes that makes In Harihar Nagar such a riot. Plus the goofy characters – each with their own brand of silliness, played with aplomb by Mukesh, Jagadeesh, Asokan and Siddique. With a lot of help from the queen mother of comedy, Philomena.
Punjabi House (1998): A young man decides to drown to save himself from debtors. He gets rescued by a pair of nutty fishermen and finds himself having to work in a Punjabi household to pay off one of their debts. Quite the silly tale, isn’t it? And then Rafi-Mecartin further up the silliness by bringing in a load of featherbrained characters and you get probably the most iconic comedy film of the 90s. Harisree Asokan’s Remanan is a legend among trolls.
Aadu Oru Beekarajeeviyanu (2015): Midhun Manuel Thomas gives a new spin to an old madcap comedy with the help of a seasoned line-up of oddballs, headlined by the irrepressible Shaji Pappan (Jayasurya), whose attempts to turn heroic are always ruthlessly cut short by his sprained back. The writing is clever, feeding on irreverence and sarcasm, and the characters are singularly original. Look out for Vinayakan’s ‘Dude’, Vijay Babu’s ‘Sarbat Sameer’ and Saiju Kurup’s Arakal Abu. Undiluted fun. Same goes for the sequel as well.
Sreekrishnapurathe Nakshathrathilakkam (1998): Imagine a joint family of three brothers and their wives who lead an uneventful life. Then comes the entry of a glamorous female actor in the neighbourhood. Things just go haywire as they fall over each other to please her. What really sets the narrative are the ingenious characters who win you over with their abject goofiness. The youngest wife who abuses the English language with disastrous results, the Hindi speaking elder brother, the movie crazy younger brother and a grandfather who is struggling to remain sane amidst all the hilarious chaos. There are sexist undertones to the narrative but the engaging humour is enough for us to forgive the flaws.