Starting from South to North, here are four maps (plus one extra) to give you an idea about some of Kerala’s most-loved films and where they are placed on the State’s map. As Kerala turns 54 today, here is a list of 54 films and their homes on the State’s map.
Thiruvananthapuram to Alappuzha
The State’s capital is naturally a place where a lot of Malayalam films are set in, but unlike in other industries, it isn’t necessarily the number one choice for filmmakers when they choose to tell purely cosmopolitan stories. In most cases, a film that uses the Thiruvananthapuram setting properly uses it for the politics it represents. Shots of the Secretariat are common and a lot of films also use the place to tell stories of Government employees and their routine way of life. Some of the films set here include Blessy’s Thanmatra, Njan Steve Lopez, Salt N’ Pepper and the more recent Chandrettan Evideya, apart from older political films such as Thalasthanam, Lion and Nadodi Mannan.
Though several actors in the industry hail from Kollam, not many films are set here. And of the few films that were, Suraj Venjaramoodu played the lead role in two — Kuttanpillayude Sivarathri (based on a temple fireworks accident that killed 111 people in Puttingal) and Perariyathavar, which won him the National Award. Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Pinneyum and Adiverukal are other films set in Kollam.
The scenic beauty of Alappuzha, especially the backwaters of Kuttanad, make it ideal for even non-Malayalam films to be set here. Places in Alappuzha are still used to showcase rural life and quirky characters. The boat race too becomes a common fixture in these films, even if it is not central to the plot, like it is in Sibi Malayil Jalolsavam.
In terms of capturing life in these parts, Blessy’s Kaazhcha still remains a great example. Shafi’s Venicile Vyapari, TK Rajeev Kumar’s Kannezhuthi Pottum Thottu and Lal Jose’s Pullipulikalum Aattinkuttiyum are other examples.
Pathanamthitta to Idukki
Travel north a few kilometres and we’re presented with a totally different kind of landscape and protagonists, starting with Pathanamthitta. Again, not a very popular spot for films but the few films that were set here needed the place for the story. Of these, Ordinary single handedly brought statewide attention to a little known beauty called Gavi. Even Ranjith’s Kadal Kadannu Oru Maathukutty used Kozhencherry in the district to tell the story of a rich but ultimately unhappy NRI.
Kottayam remains the main setting for the powerful Christian (Achayan) hero, starting with films like Mohanlal’s Spadikam, Mammootty’s (disastrous) Nasrani and Suresh Gopi’s hit Lelam (and its clones like Vazhunor and Mark Antony). Prithviraj too has done his fair of Kottayam-based characters following the same template. Among comedies, Mammootty’s Kottayam Kunjachan remains a fan favourite. More recent films to use this setting include Leela and CIA.
Until recently Idukki was seldom seen in our films. But in films made in the last 10 years or so, Idukki has been hugely popular. It even got a song dedicated to its beauty.
Be it rural life or a story about five smokers of pot, the place has room for all kinds of stories. Some of the best Idukki films are Maheshinte Prathikaaram, Idukki Gold, Varathan and Carbon.
Ernakulam and Thrissur
These two districts find themselves being used in a big chunk of Malayalam films, mainly due to the various ways in which Ernakulam has come to be used in our movies. Given the micro-cultural specificities of these two districts, filmmakers have explored how differently people in Mattancherry (Parava) in Kochi behave to those in Kumbalangi (Kumbalangi Nights), which is just a few kilometres away. Ernakulam also remains the first choice to tell thoroughly urban stories with its malls, IT spaces and cafes. Even gangster cinema finds its home here with films such as Big B, Ivar, Black and Nayakan being set here. Some of the best recent uses of the district can be seen in Kammattipadam, Annayum Rassoolum, Mayaanadhi and Ee. Ma. Yau.
Thrissur is perhaps the most noticeable of films locations for a lot of viewers, mainly due to the accent the characters have to deal with (or struggle with, like in the case of the terrible Georgettante Pooram). If the Mattancherry Bridge or the stench of garbage signifies one’s arrival in Kochi, in Thrissur it’s the often-repeated shot of the Thrissur Round and the Vadakkunnathan temple it envelopes. Guruvayoor, too, is a common setting for films steeped in devotion like Nandanan. In recent films, the Thrissur-based protagonist is usually a Christian businessman with some sort of an identity crisis, as seen in Pranchiyettan And The Saint and Punyalan Agarbathies. But the all-time Thrissur classic remains Thoovanathumbikal.
Palakkad, Malappuram and Kozhikode
If Kottayam is home to powerful Christian macho heroes, Palakkad is where you’ll find our actors playing feudal Hindu protagonists with even more machismo. Starting with Devasuram, Mohanlal himself has starred in half-a-dozen films that share the same setting. These include Narasimham, Ravanaprabhu, Aaram Thampuran and Chandrolsavam. Palakkad is also home to many films directed by Lal Jose and Lohithadas.
Ironically, stories about the ‘paavam’ naïve hero are also usually set in Palakkad. Think Su Su Sudhi Vathmeekam, Valsalyam, Raapakal, Pavithram and Bhoothakannadi. The visual indicators of this place are usually songs set along the Bharathapuzha, beautiful paddy fields, narrow red-stoned walkways and, most annoyingly, the Varikkassery Mana. The recent Ayyappanum Koshiyum showed us a side of Palakkad seldom seen in our movies.
Though there have always been films set in Malappuram (remember Killichundan Mambazham?), the district’s real beauty and its sub-cultures are ones we’ve become familiar with only in the recent past. Of these, Sudani From Nigeria remains a favourite, giving us a glimpse of the local food, the crazy love for football and the people there. KL 10 Pathu and the recent Halal Love Story are other examples, and all three films saw the involvement of writer Muhsin Parari. The excellent Kismath is another example of a film that used the socio-political climate of Malappuram to tell a compelling story.
Kozhikode, like Idukki, is enjoying a honeymoon period of its own, with filmmakers celebrating the place and it’s specificities. This district too has got a song of its song.
Food is usually central to films set here, like in Ustad Hotel and Goodalochana. Ranjith, too, loves to set his films here — Indian Rupee, Kaiyoppu and Paleri Manikyam: Oru Pathirakolapathakathinte Katha. Recent hits set here include Ennu Ninde Moideen, Adaminte Makan Abu, Munnariyippu and Virus.
Wayanad, Kannur and Kasargod
In terms of representation, these three districts are the least explored in our cinema. Though this is slowly starting to change now, we’re still far away from seeing films set here becoming a part of regular programming. For instance, Wayanad still remains largely unexplored, apart from what we saw in a handful of films such as Mohanlal’s Photographer and a large part of Mammootty’s Pazhassi Raja.
Like Thiruvananthapuram, Kannur is another favourite setting when politics is central to the plot. Eeda, the very political iteration of Romeo And Juliet, is one such example. It has also become home for lighter romances such as Vineeth Sreenivasan’s superhit Thattathin Marayathu and Asif Ali’s Kakshi: Amminipilla. Android Kunjappan too was another recent film that showed us a side to Kannur we hadn’t seen before.
And finally, we reach Kasargod. Given the popularity of ‘Uyire’ from Mani Ratnam’s Bombay shot in Kasargod’s Bekal Fort, you’d expect a large number of films to be set there. We often get songs being shot (Mayaanadhi, Amrutham and even the jail in Anwar) here, but not a lot more.
A big reason for this is because people assume the accent here is very hard to follow, given it is a district that shares a border with Karnataka. But that hasn’t stopped Mammootty from using the accent to make hits out of films such as Chattambinadu and Puthan Panam. Which is why Thodimuthalum Drikshakshiyum remains the best film set in the northern-most part of the State.