You might not end up falling in love with some of the movies on this list but these films were able to create a mood, set a pace and introduce us to its core right from the first image it presented to us. Alphonse Puthren’s Gold, for instance, didn’t even wait until the first shot to force us into his world. Starting right with the no-smoking disclaimer being read out in Lalu Alex’s voice, we entered its absurd comic world even before the opening credits.
As more and more directors try to lure us without sparing a single second, we got a set of great opening shots and sequences which came with its own story to tell. In an overlooked film like Kochaal (now available on Zee5), this began with what you may call a “zero introduction scene”. The plot itself subverts tropes of a cop movie and we understand this as we see a short, unfit police trainee who has to feel the humiliation of inheriting the job only because his father dies during his service. As a result, we get an opening image with the tiny Krishna Shankar in between two giants—a fitting image for a David Verses Goliath tale it later evolves into.
You find similar imagery in two other under-appreciated films as well. Padavettu (Netflix) for instance starts with a rather soothing first scene that is nothing like the film it later becomes. Nivin Pauly, in this shot, is seen staring at the moon as a caressing lullaby brings a half-smile to his face. The mood is set and we’re led to believe that its story is set in an picture-perfect world when the sound of man spitting wakes us up from this dream. This sets the tone for how this village, with its own set of small issues, takes a turn for the worse with the entry of a new political party and their tempting new brand of freebie politics.
In Pauly’s own Mahaveeryar, we’re left with a lasting image of a King who has every imaginable worldly pleasure expect peace of mind and a good night’s sleep. As the sequence ends, we see this King (played by Lal) sitting on the foot of his bed, his back turned to an army of women behind him—the debauchery not translating to anything meaningful. Starting with these, here are a few other opening sequences shots that made sure these films began with a bang.
We’ve seen a hundred films that begin right in the middle of a battle scene, pushing us straight into action. But Thallumaala sets the film’s visual grammar with an explosion of colours. This isn’t just the colour of Tovino’s clothes or the flashy cars behind him. As a bloodied Shine Tom Chacko waits on the other side waiting for the next brawl, he spits a tiny stream of blood yet the backlighting by Jimshi Khalid cuts through its crimson shade as though it is one to be celebrated. This tells us that the film we’re about to see is indeed going to be violent but when you infuse a pop music video aesthetic to the violence, the effect does not force us to look away. We’re staring at the screen even harder, as a comic-book like dialog box appears on top left side. And by the time the name of the first chapter takes over the screen with an image of pristine white Air Force Ones, we’re already sold on the madness of the film we’re about to watch.
A satire that had an equally original visual palette was Ratheesh Poduval’s Nna Thaan Case Kodu. In a glorious wide shot, we see the courthouse, a petrol filling station and a clock tower between them. This is more than your average establishing shot because fuel prices have reached a stage where it has become tempting for thieves to discard banks and focus instead on stealing from fuel stations. We see two robbers dressed as ayyapans waiting for the perfect time to break in. We see a shot showing the fuel price then and then we quickly cut to an image of the back of a policeman as he takes a leak. What’s the building he’s eclipsing as he answers nature’s call? It appears as though the officer is urinating straight at the court of law.
The very first shot of the grossly underrated Dear Friend is of a hand spray-painting the letter ‘S’ on a yellow t-shirt. The writing is such that it soon becomes obvious that they’re trying to make a superhero costume and it’s surely the ‘S’ for Superman. As the costume goes through its final touches, it is intercut with the same friends putting eye liner and making his hair with Superman’s iconic curl. Tovino, the man being assigned this ‘duty’ is resisting as he tries to lock himself up in his room. It takes us almost the entire running time of the film to understand the significance of this opening sequence. As people, we often find ourselves projecting our needs for a leader or a hero onto a friend. More than them, it is our need to see them a certain way with the costume they end up wearing becoming a sign of what we want to them. But Dear Friend is a film about a friend who does not want to be your Superman. He has his past and he has his future and the best we can do is be his pit-stop on that journey and never really a co-passenger. Put the image of him in a cape to that of the hoodie he wears in the last scene and you’re finally able to see him as he is, without the added filter of one’s memory. There is nothing super about this most ordinary man.
The spookiest of all opening shots of all the films this year is inarguably the one in Bhoothakaalam. In another film, a shot of a grandmother walking into the drawing room from the kitchen is one that may have been something that felt a lot more cheery but over here, the slow steps of this old lady is eerie and unnerving like no other. With a halo hitting her white tresses and with her every step forward feeling like its taking an hour, it's impossible to decipher if she is even alive or if she’s a ghost. In the very least, we are unsure if she’s even awake of if she’s sleepwalking. In its middle-class setting, Bhoothakaalam is pretty much a mind game right from shot one and this shot sets the tone for a film that doesn’t always have to rely on the supernatural to take us to the darkest recesses of our mind.
The montage that Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey begins with isn’t that of any one particular woman. The morning routine, with a quick shower, lunch being prepared and a few other morning chores, could be that of millions of other women in Kerala. The efficiency in the edit reflects the efficiency of this everywoman’s schedule. With every second being counted, she is constantly on her feet, pacing herself to reach work on time.
In contrast, the men in the montage feel like they are following another clock. All three of them are at rest in some form, either sitting down, crouching and smoking a beedi or sleeping, like in the last image of her leaving the house. As she steps outside, all we see are the lazy legs of a man still sleeping even though his wife has already finished half of her day, even before he is up.