In recent times, Malayalam cinema has shown an interest in studying the male ego rather than celebrating it at face value as was the practice. Though the industry's ageing superstars continue to make bombastic films where "mass" is valued over the script, the younger generation is moving towards a brand of cinema that is exploring new shades to masculinity.
Usually, a challenge between the hero and the villain is seen as an opportunity for the former to succeed and display his superiority over the latter. But in these new films, the challenges and conflicts are pushed to an extent that the absurdity becomes apparent to the audience.
What's more, the actors who play the hero in most films, seem to be enjoying doing roles where the underdog gains an upper hand over them. They don't mind losing on screen or accepting that they were in the wrong. There is no hero or villain, only characters caught in circumstances.
Here are six such films which illustrate the change.
Maheshinte Prathikaram: Written by Syam Pushkaran and directed by Dileesh Pothan, the title of this 2016 film translates to 'Mahesh's Revenge'. That would have the audience imagining bodies flying in the air, gunshots or at the very least, bloodied noses. However, this delightful little film starring Fahadh Faasil, revolves around Mahesh, a photographer who gets beaten up in public and swears that he will only wear slippers after he's had his revenge. But unfortunately for our hero, Jimson, the man who beat him up, soon leaves for Dubai, leaving him in the lurch. In the meantime, Mahesh ends up falling in love with his enemy's sister. Though Mahesh eventually does beat up Jimson, we never forget the pettiness of the challenge.
Kumbalangi Nights: Once again written by Syam Pushkaran, this 2019 film directed by Madhu C Narayanan is about a dysfunctional family of four brothers and another outwardly perfect family ruled by a patriarch. Fahadh plays Shammi, 'the complete man' who loves to control everyone at home, especially the women. Every little action of his is bloated by his air of self-importance. Whether it's puncturing the ball that falls into his compound or taking his seat at the head of the table, Shammi takes his 'manhood' very seriously. And in the end, it's revealed that he's actually psychotic. Shammi's actions would have been par for the course in earlier movies but in Kumbalangi Nights, the character ends up looking bizarre and foolish.
Ishq: Written by Ratheesh Ravi and directed by Anuraj Manohar, this 2019 film is seemingly about an incident of moral policing but offers a clever twist. Sachi (Shane Nigam) and his girlfriend Vasudha (Ann Sheetal) are about to make out in a car when two men posing to be the police catch them. While Vasudha is traumatised by the incident, Sachi is more concerned about whether Alwin (Shine Tom Chacko) molested her. To take revenge, he goes to Alwin's house and touches the latter's wife inappropriately to get the truth out of him. Though the incident is framed as an act of heroism, the ending deflates Sachi's egoistic actions. Vasudha gives him the middle finger and breaks up with him.
Jallikattu: Written by S Hareesh and R Jayakumar, Lijo Jose Pelliserry's 2019 film is about a buffalo that has broken free and must be captured. Even as the whole village is out to catch it, the contest boils down to two men -- Kuttachan (Sabumon) and Antony (Antony Varghese) who share an old rivalry. Antony resents Kuttachan because the woman he likes, Sophie (Santhy Balachandran), chose the latter over him. The ego battle between the two men reduces them to animals and the entire narrative is focused on blurring the lines drawn by civilisation.
Driving Licence: Written by Sachy and directed by Lal Jr, the 2019 film is about a movie star Hareendran (Prithviraj) and a motor vehicle inspector Kuruvilla (Suraj Venjaramoodu) who end up in a clash. Hareendran has misplaced his driving licence and needs to get it replaced before an important shoot. Kuruvilla, his ardent fan, is keen to help him at first but turns hostile after Hareendran insults him in front of his son. What follows is a game of one-upmanship between the two men, which becomes more and more ridiculous. Though Prithviraj is the bigger star between the two, it's Suraj's character who gets our sympathy. In the end, it becomes obvious that the whole standoff could have been entirely avoided.
Ayyappanum Koshiyum: Sachy once again places two men fighting it out over a small issue that gets blown up in the 2020 blockbuster Ayyappanum Koshiyum. Here, too, it's an underdog policeman versus a privileged person. While Biju Menon plays Ayyappan, who comes from an oppressed caste, Prithviraj plays Koshy, who comes from a rich family but has a tyrant for a father. Ayyappan arrests Koshy for carrying alcohol in a prohibited area and assaulting the police who question him. An FIR is filed before Ayyappan finds out who Koshy is. However, though Ayyappan decides to back down, Koshy is insistent that he avenges the humiliation he has suffered. From demolishing buildings to setting fire to vehicles, the two men go at each other's throats. The premise would have been like any other cat and mouse thriller had it not been for the trouble Sachy takes to tell the backstories of the two men which explains their violence. As in Driving Licence, here too the two men have moments of doubt about their own actions, but are pulled into the battle again and again due to their ego.