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Some filmmakers have such a specific style and tone that you can tell who made the film with just one look. Think Sanjay Leela Bhansali and his elaborate set pieces and costumes draped in red and green. Or Sathyan Anthikad and his family dramas. While we definitely appreciate these directors’ trademark style, every now and then, they bring us some surprises—both pleasant and unpleasant. Read on to find out eight such films that deviate from these directors’ signature styles.

Joshiy-A.K. Lohithadas (Kuttettan): Director Joshiy always gravitated towards revenge dramas, knotted family stories and action dramas, while writer Lohithadas preferred to look deep into dysfunctional human beings and their relationships. In fact, their first partnership was the Mammootty starrer Mahayanam, which revolved around staples (family, death, heartbreak, action) that the director and writer were known for. But then came Kuttettan, headlined by a hero who was a jovial womaniser, who got in and out of sticky situations with ease, in a narrative that was laced with humour. Not only was it a stunning image-breaker for Mammootty, who was also floundering under the weight of his serious on-screen men, but also for the fans of Joshiy and Lohithadas, for whom it was a bolt from the blue. With Kuttettan, the duo showed us that they can let their hair down and have fun.

Sibi Malayil-S.N. Swamy (August 1):  Though he debuted with a light-hearted Mutharamkunnu P.O., Sibi Malayil with his successive films had made it clear where his comfort zone lay—families were the cornerstones—nuclear, joint and extended families and their intricacies. After back-to-back heavy dramas (Ezhuthapurangal and Vicharana) scripted by Lohithadas, Sibi Malayil took a detour with S.N. Swamy and did the slick August 1, which was also his first commercial hit. Loosely based on The Day of the Jackal, the film follows a cat-and-mouse game where it becomes the hero’s job to protect the Chief Minister. Evenly paced, writ with suspense and tension, and a terrific battle of wits between the protagonist and antagonist, August 1 continues to be hailed as one of the best thrillers in Malayalam. Ironically, most people are under the impression that the film is directed by K. Madhu, the man behind the thrilling CBI series. 

Sathyan Anthikad (Artham, Kalikkalam, Pingami):  Villages and their earthy, quirky, unforgettable characters, their way of life, middle-class young men who struggled at the job market, practical, competent women who showed them the way, uncles, aunts, grandmoms, grandfathers, their little conversations and a Sathyan Anthikad film was good to go. Though a majority still pick Pingami as that one film they can’t believe was directed by Sathyan Anthikad, we would like to go to Artham, written by Venu Nagavally, starring Mammootty, Sreenivasan, Jayaram, Parvathy and Saranya, as it had a storyline most likely to be seen in a Joshiy or I.V. Sasi film. A young man ridden with debts and charged for homicide tries to commit suicide, only to be bailed out by a stranger who goes to jail for him. But the young man gets killed and the stranger decides to pursue the case, nabbing the killers in the end. Anthikad wouldn’t ideally touch it with a barge pole but he does and gives it his own spin, resulting in a fairly engrossing film. While Kalikkalam also has a theme that’s not expected from Anthikad—a thief modelled after Robin Hood leading the cops on a wild goose chase, Pingami has a lot of Anthikad tropes. However, it is different as it has a typical hero unlike his coming-of-age heroes. It has a Joshiy film texture, with a hero who systematically hunts down his father’s killers.

Fazil (Harikrishnans):  Director Fazil’s heroes are largely loners, either grieving over a lost lover, spouse, or living in their memory. The archetypal superstar heroes can never be found in his films. That’s why Harikrishnans (1998, easily his most forgettable one) was an odd experience for his fans.  There were two superstar actors, Mammootty and Mohanlal, competing with each other in every scene to please their die-hard fans. And then there was a heroine, whom they were vying for, indulging in the silliest battles to win her over. It neither had depth nor gravitas and can be best described as trivial, attributes Fazil could never be accused of, till then.   

Ranjith (Nandanam): After a string of alpha-male hero projections in AaramThampuran, Ustad, Valyettan, and Ravana Prabhu, no one would have expected Ranjith to make a chaste spin on M.T. Vasudevan Nair’s 1979 romance Neelathamara. He pulls a naïve Guruvaroopan devotee as a heroine (Navya Nair) into the narrative. She is a domestic worker in a decadent tharavadu who finds herself falling for the young scion of the family. And instead of an alpha male hero, it’s Guruvayoorappan who helps her out, in the guise of her neighbour. That Nandanam (2002) remains his most unpretentious film makes this one hell of a surprise from the writer-director-actor.

Hariharan (Prem Poojari): A Brahmin girl and a Christian boy fall madly in love with each other. The Christian lad is also an aspiring singer who eventually hits gold. But when fate pulls them apart, the heartbroken singer takes to drinking, but eventually it ends on a good note. It’s the kind of story usually handled with ease by Kamal or Fazil but unexpected from Hariharan, who prefers to grapple with socio-cultural issues and period films. It’s young romance and the director, even in Ennu Swantham Janankikutty and Aranyakam when the situation arises, barely broaches it. With outstanding songs that uplifted an otherwise cliched love story, Prem Poojari was a bit of a curiosity from Hariharan.

Amal Neerad (Kullante Bharya): Who would have thought that the King of stylised action films and patented slow-motion scenes would craft a cute little love story around a short man and his tall beautiful wife? Set inside an apartment with Dulquer Salmaan playing the neighbour who is also the observer and the narrator, Kullante Bharya is based on Unni R’s screenplay. It has none of the staples or flashy shot placements one is so used to seeing in an Amal Neerad film. Small is beautiful, as they say.

Shaji Kailas (Dr. Pasupathy):  Much before his fiery political thrillers and alpha male heroes were the toast of town, not many knew that Shaji Kailas, along with Ranji Panicker, had crafted a terrific satire in the backdrop of a little village in Kerala. And it’s a veritable shocker—if you miss the title card, you would think it’s a typical Sathyan Anthikad film, with original quirky villagers, hilarious sub characters and witty dialogues centred around a fake shrink (Innocent) and his shenanigans. It remains a mystery why he never attempted a similar comedy after.

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