Malayalam cinema has been well served over the years by directors who have given the industry some outstanding films that have won both national and international acclaim.
A director like the late Bharathan could flit effortlessly between genres, titillate with an erotic and salacious offering like Rathi Nirvedam and also come up with an emotionally charged film like Ormaikkayi and a suspense thriller like Sandhya Mayangum Neram. He could also taste success with a period film like Vaishali.
There were others like KS Sethumadhavan, N Menon, Padmarajan and Mohan who have also left indelible imprints on Malayalam cinema with their oeuvres. Adoor Gopalakrishnan and G Aravindan, however, were a class apart as flagbearers of the parallel film movement in Kerala.
Two directors who can be dubbed as worthy inheritors of the mantle are Sathyan Anthikad and Lal Jose, both of whom have been vying with each other to provide wholesome entertainment for family audiences. Their ventures largely revolve around the social milieu, eschewing as far as possible the routine formula ingredients of stunt, sex, double meaning dialogues and the like.
But while Sathyan has mostly stayed faithful to family oriented themes, Lal Jose made bold to drift to campus themes and could also score with a rollicking comedy like Meesa Madhavan. A striking similarity in their works is however their keenness to keep their themes simple and the script and sequences easily fathomable to the common run of the audience.
Sathyan who worked as assistant to directors like Chandrakumar got his first break as an independent director way back in 1982 when he helmed his first film Kurukkente Kalyanam.
Sixteen years later, in 1998, a young Lal Jose who had apprenticed with director Kamal and had been his understudy for as many as fifteen films was signed on for the Mammootty starrer Oru Maravathur Kanavu based on a script by actor, director and scriptwriter Sreenivasan. Since then the duo has been taking the rough with the smooth and though not all their ventures have met with success, a fair percentage of their films have done well at the box-office.
However, Sathyan, who came on the scene much earlier than Lal Jose has done a lot more films than the latter. Significant films of Sathyan include T P Balagopalan M A, Sanmanasullavarku Samadhanam, Nadodi Kaatu, Thooval Kottaram, Veendum Chila Veetu Karyangal, Kochu Kochu Santoshangal, Manasinakkare, Achuvinte Amma and Snehaveedu.
Lal Jose’s triumphs include Oru Maravathur Kanavu, Chandranuddikinna Dikhil, Rendam Bhavam, Meesa Madhavan, Achanurangathe Veedu, Classmates, Ayalum Njaanum Thammil and Immanuel.
An analysis of five of their best films could come in handy in deciphering their style of filmmaking:
The film revolves around a simple theme - that of a young debt-ridden bachelor seeking to sell his house to pay off his debts and start life on a clean slate but finding an obstacle in his tenants who refuse to budge.
The proceedings have been handled with a touch of wit and Mohanlal as the main protagonist and Sreenivasan as his police inspector buddy have delivered standout performances. Talking of shoestring budgets, this movie was shot in just 27 days flat in a dilapidated house and had a climax where the heroine is revealed as mentally challenged. The hero has a change of heart and decides to let her stay on in the house.
The film turned out to be a financial success and a lot of critical acclaim too came its way, though it was evident that Sathyan did not have to stretch himself much where the directorial department was concerned.
A satirical comedy released in 1987, this film too had the successful duo of Mohanlal and Sreenivasan in the lead as two good for nothing louts who get thrown out of their jobs and decide to try their luck in the Gulf.
However, they are duped by a wily agent and land up in Chennai instead of Dubai. How they extract their revenge on the agent is the crux of the film which again relied heavily on slapstick humour backed by a well written script.
The production cost of the film was just Rs 17 lacs and a good run at the box office ensured that the producers, including Mammootty, Mohanlal and IV Sasi’s wife and actor Seema could laugh all the way to the bank.
Kochu Kochu Santoshangal
Arguably the best film in this list of Sathyan’s hits, Kochu Kochu Santoshangal which won a National Award for the Best Malayalam, film narrated the story of a father and a six year old son. The father is estranged from his wife, a classical dancer who has little time for the family.
Jayaram, another Sathyan favourite and his real life son Kalidas (now a hero in Tamil films), Lakshmi Gopalswamy and Kavya Madhavan headed the cast. Kavya plays the catalyst who reunites the estranged couple. As in other Sathyan films, Ilaiyaraaja’s music was a driving force in this film too.
One of Malayalam cinema’s all time great heroines, Sheela, made a strong comeback to the silver screen with this film.
She essayed with aplomb the role of a propertied, aging Christian widow whose children have turned their backs on her but keep eyeing her real estate. Her abiding friendship with a young man Jayaram and how she finds a new meaning to her life in his company was the focal point of Manasinakkare.
The film incidentally was a launch pad for Nayanthara who later rose in the industry and is today the numero uno woman actor in Kollywood. With Sathyan’s staples Innocent and KPAC Lalitha too turning up trumps with fine portrayals, this film which dealt with elder abuse and the indifference of offspring towards their parents, struck a chord with the audience.
Sathyan handled the subject with a great deal of sensitivity interspersed with a sprinkling of pathos.
A sentimental drama Achuvinte Amma fetched a National Award for Urvashi who was cast as the mother of a young woman, ostensibly a single mother. The topic of who her father is remains a secret and when the young woman (Meera Jasmine) meets a young man (Narain) and surrenders her heart to him, the mother is aghast and tries to wean her daughter away.
Finally, the climax reveals that Meera is an adopted child and that the woman who had raised her had no inkling of who her real parents were. An emotionally draining film bolstered by the performances of the lead stars, Achuvinte Amma enjoyed a good run at the box office.
Oru Maruvathur Kanavu
Like most directors, Lal Jose, too, had to bide his time before making his directorial debut but was fortunate to sign a megastar like Mammootty in Oru Maravathur Kanavu. The film, scripted by Sreenivasan, had a cast that included Biju Menon and Mohini and veteran Nedumudi Venus as the villain.
Mammootty played the role of a muscleman and the film had its quota of action sequences as well. Oru Maravathur Kanavu turned out to be a big hit and Lal Jose soon established himself in the industry with his next film with Dileep in the lead. Chandranukkinne Dikkil, too, was box-office gold.
An out and out action thriller released three years after Oru Maravathur in 2001, this film featured Suresh Gopi in a dual role but it was character actor Thilakan in the role of a don who attracted greater attention with a remarkable performance.
Biju Menon as a police officer who wages a relentless crusade against the Don also shared the credits. The film came a cropper at the box office but Lal Jose proved that he could handle an action film too, though he never attempted a film in that genre again.
The biggest grosser in the year that it was released, Meesa Madhavan tickled the funny bone with Dileep as a small time thief stealing the acting honours . Audiences lapped up the slapstick and often corny comedy and Dileep was promptly christened as ‘Janapriya Nayagan’ ( a hero of the masses).
Logic however was at a discount in the film and the gags of Dileep, Salim Kumar and Harisree Asokan had to make up for the lack of a viable theme.
Lal Jose’s tryst with a campus theme came with Classmates, a coming of age romantic tale with up and coming actors Prithviraj, Jayasurya, Narain, Indrajith and Kavya Madhavan in the cast.
Classmates scored as a racy thriller with a murder thrown in to pep up the proceedings and also did well to expose the ugly side of student union politics. Prithviraj, who was later to act in many more films with campus themes, scored well and the film too found resonance with the youth who ensured that it had a phenomenal run.
Ayalum Njaanum Thammil
The friction ridden relationship between a young medical practitioner and his senior doctor formed the nucleus of this film which brought Prithviraj and old timer Prathap Pothan together in pivotal roles.
How the former who had sacrificed the ethics of his profession at the altar of personal enmity is brought back to his senses formed the main theme of Ayalum Njaanum Thammil.
A strong star cast including Narain, Samrutha Sunil, Rima Kallingal and Remya Nambisan added plenty of grist to the film. One of Lal Jose’s latter day films, this project proved that the director could handle a subject quite alien to him with a fair level of comfort.
Both these feted directors still have plenty of craft left in them and their commitment to good cinema is certain to stand them in good stead in their journey ahead.