Over the past few years, Malayalam cinema has been on an upswing in terms of content and the quality of films it has been churning out. These films have garnered acclaim not only in Kerala but also across the country.
So, if you are a lover of great cinema, irrespective of language, it is probable that you would have heard of people like actor Chemban Vinod, director Lijo Jose Pellissery who made last yearâ€™s phenomenal Malayalam film Angamaly Diaries, or Dileesh Pothen who made the seminal Maheshinte Prathikaram and Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum -both of which have essentially changed our perception of how a story can be told.
But, there are a few fantastic films that might have slipped even the most ardent film loverâ€™s radar. Here is a look at a few of them.
Before Sanal Kumar Sasidharan became a name associated with the controversial S.Durga, he made a film called Oru Ozhivdivasathe Kali (An Off Day Game). This film is a scathing commentary on the times we live in. A slow burn, it starts off as a buddy movie with five middle aged friends who decide to meet at a remote country house. It is their day off owing to elections in the state.
The film delves into a range of topics; the emergency, misogyny, casteism and the politics of it all. The story takes a disquieting turn once these men, quite drunk after a point, start playing a game they used to play as children. The only difference being that this game is anything but innocent.
This is a fabulous film, made in a minimalistic fashion, and tackles very deep socio- political biases we all carry. It won the FIPRESCI Award for Best Malayalam Film at the International Film Festival of Kerala 2015 and Best Film at the Kerala State Film Awards in the same year.
Another film which won a bevy of awards, including the prestigious Crystal Bear at the Berlin Film Fest, was Ottal aka The Trap. Ottal, tells the story of an orphan named Kuttappayi and his grandfather who lives in an idyllic village in Kuttanad, Kerala. There, he makes a friend named Tinku who comes from a more privileged background than him and Kuttappayi starts yearning for a different life.
His grandfather, whom he calls Valyappachy, soon realises that he might not able to provide for little Kuttappayi and give him the future that he deserves. He tries his best to make things work but eventually, Kuttappayi is pushed into child labour. The film is a sad one - after all, it is based on Anton Chekovâ€™s short story titled Vanka, but it is not bereft of hope. With an 81 minute run time, this film challenges your faith in humanity but in the end manages to restore it as well. It is an emotional journey that deserves to be taken.
Jayaraj, the director, has made this film with no big names from the film industry and the canvas is not grand but it is a film made with a lot of heart and passion. This is an incredible film with an equally incredible story to tell.
Talking about incredible stories, Shavam ( The Corpse) has a very interesting story both on and off screen. The film, directed by Don Plathara, is completely shot in black and white and did not have any theatrical release. Instead it was showcased on the â€˜Cinema vandiâ€™, which literary translates into cinema vehicle, a minivan launched by the Kazcha Film Society to tour the length and breadth of Kerala for the screening of parallel, art and low-budget films.
This experimental film is set in a middle class Catholic family that explores the behaviour of people who have gathered for a funeral. Filled with black humour and realism, this film is an exercise in brevity.
These films had limited theatrical release in Bengaluru, and Chennai (apart from Shavam which was never released in a theatre) and it is quite probable that it was missed out amongst all the commercial films that rule the roost at the multiplexes. But fret not because all these films are now streaming on Netflix.
There are a few other Malayalam films on Netflix which deserve a special mention. Dileesh Pothenâ€™s fabulous first film Maheshinte Prathikaram (Maheshâ€™s Revenge) which won both critical acclaim and got the box office cash registers ringing is also available on Netflix; Annayum Rasoolum (Anna and Rasool) , Rajiv Raviâ€™s foray into Malayalam cinema, which tells the love story of a Muslim taxi driver and a Christian saleswoman and how things get complicated when the woman asks Rasool to convert to Christianity; Rajesh Pillaiâ€™s Mili in which you see Amala Paul in a very different, deglamorized avatar as a shy, introverted woman trying to find a place in this world
And last but not the least is the Murali Gopy starrer Kanyaka Talkies (Virgin Talkies) which is a strange and complex tale of an erstwhile cinema hall that screens soft porn movies but is being converted into a church. This movie throws up interesting questions about sex and faith.
What is common among all these films is that they all have a voice, a distinct language which is like a signature of the filmmaker and the land where the story is set. These are films that deserve our time, our love and patronage.