Malayalam cinema may have always had great screenwriters but Dennis Joseph was perhaps the first superstar among them. And like a legit superstar, his name on a film’s poster had the power to pull crowds into a theatre and it guaranteed entertainment that played a big part in making stars out of Mohanlal and Mammootty. The use of the word stars to describe them here is intentional. For their acting, they could always rely on the writing of other screenwriters like Padmarajan, Sreenivasan, Lohithadas and of course MT Vasudevan Nair, but for stardom, they needed Dennis Joseph and his works with hitmakers like Joshiy and Thambi Kannanthanam.
His autobiographical video series titled ‘Charithran Enniloode’ on Safari TV, is a treasure trove of information on the functioning of Malayalam film industry in the 80’s. His stories of how an astrologer decided major projects and their titles, Mammootty’s plight when he was acting in New Delhi and the making of Rajavinte Makan remains invaluable information every Malayalam film buff will enjoy. As he passes away at 63, he leaves a film titled ‘Power Star’ incomplete. Here’s a list of must watch films from his filmography to understand his impact:
1) Nirakkoottu (1985) — Disney+ Hotstar
Known for the unforgettable ‘Poomaname’ song, the Joshiy film was Dennis Joseph’s first hit. With Mammootty playing two variations of the same character, the film went on to give him his first State Award (song with Yathra).
2) Rajavinte Makan (1986) — Amazon Prime Video
The film that made Mohanlal a superstar and the first time he used his twirled moustache to mine for box office gold. Dennis Joseph created the iconic anti-villain Vincent Gomes and the shades of this persona would go on to clone lesser versions that were successful too. ‘My number is 2255’ is still a pop culture hall-of-famer from the film.
3) Bhoomiyile Rajakanmar (1986) — Disney+ Hotstar
The politics of this political fantasy hasn’t aged too well but the film is still a lot of fun to watch. The scene where the aspiring politician bathes in Dettol after a day of heavy canvassing is still fresh and the exchanges between Mohanlal and his father Adoor Bhasi (as the king) works big time.
4) New Delhi (1987) — YouTube
The film that is said to revive Mammootty’s career. Shot in parts of Delhi that were totally new to Malayalam cinema, the film’s screenplay is still considered a textbook. Mani Ratnam, on watching the superhit Joshiy film, wanted Dennis to write Anjali.
5) Manu Uncle (1988) — Disney+ Hotstar
Even when he was on top of his game, he decided to make his first directorial an adventure children’s film along the lines of Secret Seven or the Hardy Boys. Despite that, it starred Mammootty with Mohanlal and Suresh Gopi playing unforgettable cameos. The film won the National Award for best Children’s Film and it’s a much loved classic among 90s kids today.
6) Number 20: Madras Mail (1990) — Disney+ Hotstar
Another Joshiy film he wrote was the whodunit set on a train starring Mohanlal and Mammotty. Following the pattern of a Hitchcock film, it traced the story of an innocent who is being accused of murder. The chemistry between these actors and the tonal shift is handled with great dexterity.
7) Kottayam Kunjachan (1990) — Disney+ Hotstar
Also released the same year, this film is generally regarded as one of Mammotty’s finest comedic roles. A sequel of this film was on the talks but it didn’t materialise. It also set the ball rolling for a series of films with Suresh Babu and later Biju Varkey featuring variations of the Central Kerala Christian character such as Kizhakkan Pathrose and Phantom.
8) Indrajaalam (1990) — Youtube
His last film with director Thambi Kannathanam was a gangster drama set in Mumbai. Shot by Santosh Sivan, the film is most memorable for the villain character played by Rajan P Dev named Carlos. The film made him a Malayalam cinema regular. The writer remembers his friendship with the actor fondly in his biography.
9) Akashadoothu (1993) — Disney+ Hotstar
His only film with Sibi Malayil is another classic that showed the audience how adept he was at writing deeply sentimental family dramas apart from the larger, massy thrillers. He wrote a fascinating female protagonist in Annie (Madhavi) and the setting, supporting characters and even the writing that went into the children gave us glimpses of a totally different kind of writer.
10) Kadha, Samvidhanam Kunchacko (2009) — Disney+ Hotstar
Although he has written better films before this, this pulpy thriller starring Sreenivasan is an interesting work from his later years. With some cool ideas that resemble the script of Karthik, Calling Karthik the film’s twists and turns are reminiscent of his 80’s glory.