The 2010s was a stellar decade for the Malayalam movies. The decades following the golden 1980s, the industry could not live up to the standards set by the genius filmmakers like Bharathan and Padmarajan. It almost seemed like the spirit of realistic storytelling and the legacy of these brilliant filmmakers of the yesteryears might be lost forever. However, with the dawn of the last decade, Malayalam films saw a renaissance. This new generation movement of the 2010s was a reboot that the cinephiles badly craved for - the storylines and the characters were once again rooted in reality, new faces came in and the techniques and craft of storytelling saw a revival.
Malayalam mainstream cinema is often hailed as the best in the country by film critics. Curious to know what the hype is about? For anyone wondering how to venture into the world of Malayalam cinema, we have picked 10 movies from the last decade which could be your stepping stones into the world of simple yet captivating movies. The budgets of these movies are surprisingly low, despite their technical quality. Thanks to the OTT platforms, you can immerse yourself in these gems of movies set in the beauty of the Western Ghats and the Arabian coast, from the comfort of your home.
This article hopes to be a guide to someone who is venturing into the world of Malayalam cinema. We have picked a few of the wonderful movies that the industry has produced in the last decade.
Set in a backdrop of the beautiful backwaters of a fishing village, this movie is a visual treat in itself. The script (by Shyam Pushkaran) is multilayered but the storyline revolves around the life of four brothers and how their ‘dysfunctional’ home slowly evolves into something beautiful. Through a set of brilliantly crafted and enacted characters, the movie explores and examines different shades of masculinity, some of them surprisingly contrasting.
- Mayanadhi is another masterpiece co-written by Shyam Pushkaran and tells a beautiful love-story with a strange mystical feeling to it.
Premam is a wonderfully crafted, feel-good movie that turned out to be a blockbuster and a trendsetter. The story walks you through the romance in George's (played by Nivin Pauly) life, along different stages of his youth. The movie offers a platter of wonderful things: sweet nostalgia, organic humour, relatable characters, and beautiful cinematography, just to name a few. It beautifully portrays the charm of romance without any over the top demonstrations of love, making you want to ‘fall’ in love. The movie also nudges you to keep your trust and hopes alive, even after that embarrassing rejection or that unfortunate loss leaves you disheartened. As a final disclaimer, it’s just an entertainer, not going much beyond the superficial romantic narratives that we are familiar with.
- Neram is a bilingual dark comedy thriller, unique in its style, from the same director, Alphonse Puthran.
3. Maheshinte Prathikaaram
The movie is said to have its inspiration from a real-life event that the director Dileesh Pothan, in his childhood, had heard to have happened in his village. The story unfolds in Idukki and the cinematographer Shyju Khalid has skillfully captured the mesmerizing beauty of the Western Ghats. As the name suggests, the movie tells the story of Mahesh’s (brilliantly played by Fahad Fazil) revenge. In fact, the story is about a small-town photographer’s waiting to reclaim his pride and repair his hurt ego. However, don’t let that mislead you, there are no over the top heroic acts in this movie. The movie is unique for its brilliantly simple script (yet another by Shyam Pushkaran) and natural acting, both rooting it steadfast to realism. Do not let that intimidate you either, a sweet love story and great humor have been seamlessly interwoven into the plot.
4. Ustad Hotel
A cautionary note, this movie could leave you desperately craving for a plate of Biryani and a cup of hot Suleimani. Ustad hotel takes you through the world of Malabari cuisine. The movie is, however, much more than a gastronomical journey. A heartwarming tale of a grandson and a grandfather, and their shared passion for cooking. Faizi, the grandson (played by Dulquer Salman) had hoped to learn some tips of cooking from Ustad, his grandfather (played by the legendary actor Thilakan). However, his grandfather had greater plans for him. Faizi is a relatable character to many of us; caught in the fast pace of globalization, creating an identity often means letting go of the roots. Holding onto our culture and heritage while not shying away from the modern world often seems like an onerous balancing act. The movie also subtly discusses the topics of patriarchy and gender roles that exist in our society.
Traffic, released in 2011, was that one movie that marked the inception of the new-gen movement in Malayalam cinema. The movie is a thriller that keeps you glued to the edge of your seat with brilliant plot twists. Produced at a surprisingly low budget of 2.7 cr, this hyperlink movie tells the story of an impossible mission - transporting a heart for a transplant, over 150kms by road, under two hours amidst the traffic. The movie has been remade in Hindi and Tamil but had been said to have lost its essence in the process. We strongly recommend watching the original version for an adrenaline ride.
Another Malayalam movie that has been remade in many other Indian languages, Drishyam is a crime drama thriller with a gripping storyline and a shocking climax. The peace and happiness of a rural middle-class family are disrupted when a spoiled teenager son of a high ranked cop sets his evil eyes on one of the daughters. When the guy goes missing, the suspicion falls on the family and they are put through a grueling investigation under the cop’s iron fist.
The movie is a fictional portrayal of the 2018 Nipah outbreak in Kerala and how the health workers, government officials, and people from different walks of life worked towards effectively containing the deadly virus. This well researched medical thriller features an ensemble cast, all of them convincingly portraying the real-life characters. The background music by Sushin Shyam and the camera work by Rajeev Ravi complements the engrossing storyline, keeping you rooted to your seat and having you miss a couple of heartbeats now and then.
8. Angamaly diaries
This movie is a director’s exploration of possibilities, where he has let go of the rules and has taken a refreshing look at storytelling. The movie takes you right into the small town of Angamaly, its pork trade, and associated gang wars. As the story unfolds, you are literally transported to the town and among its people. The unorthodox style of storytelling spans everything, right from the script, to casting (86 debutant actors), to the camera work, and the climax. The camera work is a delight to watch in itself, and the movie has a stellar climax - an 11-minute long single take featuring around 1000 actors.
- Also, you might not want to miss movies like Ee Ma Yu, Amen, and Jallikattu, some of the well-acclaimed movies from the same director.
A sweet and simple story for every sports lover out there. And if you are a Sachin fan (and who here is not !), a must-watch. Across the different languages, we have had amazing and inspiring movies on sports stars. What sets 1983 apart is that it tells a story of those talents who were not able to make it to the glory, yet keep that passion for their sport very much alive in them, all their lives. As a bonus, the movie also gives you a glimpse of the life of youth in a typical Kerala village, with its local youth clubs, low-key sports tournaments, and amazing friendships, things that are slowly vanishing into memories.
10. Android Kunjappan Version 5.25
Who thought a sensible AI movie could be set in a small village in north Kerala? That’s exactly where the writer-director of Android Kunhappan version 5.25 decided to tell his story of the future, where we would inevitably live with artificial intelligence embedded in all walks of our life. Caught between career ambitions and love for his father, the engineer-son is compelled to rely on an on-test humanoid robot for his father’s assistance. An old aged father who even refuses to use an electric mixer grinder in the house is not the end-user you would envision for a robotic assistant. How the father, the robot, and the entire village navigates through this unanticipated bridge in time makes an unforgettable watch.
If you are an ardent lover of the art and technique of storytelling and movies, (and would not be intimidated by the labels like ‘arthouse’ or ‘realistic’), there is a pandora’s box of Malayalam movies awaiting you. We hope this article inspires you to explore and enjoy them.
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