Where content is king: Why Malayalam cinema's domination at National Awards is well-deserved
Quality content at a shoestring budget. Touching globally accessible topics in a laid-back rural setting. Having even their top actors deliver three to four films a year. Emotionally driving their audiences to the verge of breaking them, and then surprising them in a lovely fashion with a smart turn. These are factors that other film industries in India might see as ‘experimental’. But for the Malayalam film industry, this is their modus operandi.
The recently announced National Awards are a shining feather in the cap for Malayalam cinema, which has finally got the blazing recognition that it has deserved for a long while. Jury head Shekhar Kapur came out and hailed the quality of regional cinema as ‘world-beating’, and subsequently, the majority of the honours were gobbled up by the Malayalam film industry. Quietly producing impressive films at the snap of a finger, it is high time that the rest of India looks up to this heavily talented fraternity, who believe in rooted and relevant content, nothing else.
And arguably so, Dileesh Pothan’s Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum has been the show-stealer at the National Awards. The harder it gets for an individual to pronounce the name of the film, the easier it has been for this Suraj Venjaramoodu, Fahadh Faasil, and Nimisha Sajayan starrer to unanimously win appreciation from whoever has seen it. Easily referred to as the ‘chain snatcher film’, this film was a slow-burn crime thriller that takes off in a small village, built on just three main characters – a couple and a thief played by the flawless Fahadh Faasil, who won himself the award for the Best Supporting Actor.
What makes Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum stand out from the rest is the constant tension that the film keeps building, without any loud or jarring moments. There’s a sense of doubt that always prevails with the viewer, which the director and writer (Sajeev Pazhoor, who won the award for the Best Original Screenplay) cleverly handle until the very end when they pull out the trump card and surprise the audience, leaving them terrified. It is the whole style and narrative pattern which Dileesh adopts, which is new to the mainstream viewer. Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum is such a cracker due to these reasons, and makes Dileesh an exciting director to watch out for – with both his films bagging National Awards.
Period drama Bhayanakam was the next in line to take home pride for Mollywood, winning three awards across different categories. The film, which talks about the troubles faced by a postman during the Second World War in 1939 is reportedly a solid portrayal of the issues a common man has to face. 6-time National Award winner Jayaraj bettered his best by winning two awards – Best Director and the Best Adapted Screenplay (since it has been adapted from Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai’s novel Kayar). Bhayanakam is yet to hit the theatres, and the director has assured that it will release in May.
Mahesh Narayan’s Take Off too, distinguished itself at the National Awards. It is one of the neatest films to come out of Mollywood in recent years, despite its delicate premise. While Bollywood blockbusters such as Airlift and Tiger Zinda Hai dealt with the same concept with a commercial and hero-centric approach, Take Off puts its characters (special jury mention for Parvathy) under really tense and worrying situations, enabling the viewer to get to the core of the problem and witness the protagonists find their way out. The film also stays as real to the events as possible, straying away from commercial compromises. And equally real, are the sets and art work – the award for the Best Production Design went to Santhosh Raman for the same film.
The icing on the cake was definitely KJ Yesudas’s eighth National Award for the song ‘Poi Maranja Kaalam’ from Viswapoorvam Mansoor, which happened to be his first award in 25 years, since 1993. Yesudas has won the National Award for the Best Playback Singer – Male a record number of times. The second in line is SP Balasubramanyan with six awards.
66 films were in consideration for the National Awards from Mollywood, a number which in itself is a towering one when compared to the offerings from the neighboring states which have bigger film industries. With the growing multiplex culture and metros playing films with subtitles, Malayalam films are gaining popularity in other states, too. The win at the National Awards will only encourage more people to experience this realistic brand of cinema.