When I started understanding a little about storytelling in cinema, what attracted me to Malayalam films was that they were realistic. By the time I began understanding it, cinema was transitioning from indoor to outdoor and that shift amazed me. I wouldn’t say that there is just one film that inspired me to make a career in movies, but it is mostly a number of films and plays that I’d watched, and this has been an evolving process for me. From around eight to nine years of age to that point in time when you start thinking, that’s the time when certain films get into your mind. Back in the day, filmmakers turned literature into cinema, poetry into cinema and cinema into cinema. Looking back now, I don’t feel that we’ve done anything great in comparison to their work. While there are a lot of world cinema and filmmakers whose work have inspired me, this list has a few Malayalam features that have influenced my thoughts.
This film was written by MT Vasudevan Nair and directed by PN Menon. It influenced me a lot, because until then I’d seen cinema that was shot entirely in indoor studios and, suddenly, there was a vastness of geography. There is a river sequence where the hero is taking wooden logs in the Kalai river and the rope breaks. A struggle follows that has been shot very beautifully. Also, the villain’s (Jose Prakash) entry in the film on a boat is something you will never forget.
Adoor Gopalakrishnan Sir’s Swayamvaram is another film that really changed my way of thinking. It was realistic and was, at that point in time, the new-wave in cinema. I’d say a new beautiful cinema came through Swayamvaram. A lot of shots in this film have influenced my filmmaking process. For example, everybody has shown rain but nobody has shown the moment it begins to rain. That kind of stuff stayed with me as to how Nature can blend into cinema.
Arappatta Kettiya Gramathil
This was one film that was not just new to Malayalam cinema, but also something that Indian cinema hadn’t seen until then. It is set in a fictionalised village and is about four young men who go into a brothel with sex workers of different age groups. The entire village reacts to this incident and a religious/political fight ensues. What is beautiful is that there is no actual fight scene shown, but the movie instills fear in our minds. Venu Sir is the DOP of this Padmarajan film and he created a realistic geography that blends with Nature for this fictional film.
I’d say that this Bharathan film was way ahead of its time. Pranamam is about a photojournalist who did a photo feature on drugs in college. She gets kidnapped by a group of boys and the movie beautifully shows how new relationships are formed. The climax shows a stampede and at a time when there was no correction photography or digital techniques, this was very well shot. Bharathan Sir’s Chamaram too was way ahead of its time. When today’s filmmakers, including myself, think that we have made great cinema, I look back and see that there is already a lot of wonderful cinema that has already been made.
This movie was directed by John Abraham, and was the first of its kind of docu-fiction in Malayalam. It is about a guy who, on the way to Delhi, sees a corpse, and he feels he’s seen this person before. He gathers different people who knew the deceased and they go to inform a mother about her son’s death. The dead person is shown through the memories of those who once knew him. In the last scene, after the mother is informed, when we pull back, we see a 16mm screen and this film being played for a group. That’s because, at that point in time, John Abraham couldn’t release the movie in theatres because nobody bought it. So he took a 16mm projector and showed it to everyone in the villages and this was called the Odessa movement. And the beauty is that this moment was blended into his creative idea and shown in the film. It was shot in black-and-white by Venu Sir who won the National Award for Best Cinematography for Amma Ariyan and Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal in the same year.
This is again another one of Bharathan’s films, written by Kakkanadan. The thought is brilliant and has Prem Nazir play a rich man who picks a poor Brahmin girl to be a call girl.
Edavazhiyile Poocha Minda Poocha
This movie dealt with the topic of extra marital affairs. Until then, Hariharan Sir had made comedies such as College Girl and Love Marriage, and I was shocked seeing his transformation in Edavazhiyile Poocha Minda Poocha and then he created Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha and more such wonderful cinema. Edavazhiyile Poocha Minda Poocha was a film that gave me the guts to make Trivandrum Lodge. Anantaram was also one such film that beautifully blended reality and fantasy.
Yavanika & Irakal
Yavanika is still one of the best suspense thrillers that I’ve seen, and both these films are by my favourite director KG George. In Irakal, you can actually ‘experience’ the rubber estate where it is set in, and though the film is in color, in my mind it is a monochromatic film. This is because there is a lot of killing and darkness in it, and it’s set in a very realistic backdrop with a normal family and a psycho, which lend it a specific feel.
Rachana & Randu Penkuttikal
Director Mohan is one of the most underrated filmmakers in Malayalam cinema who’s made many wonderful films. Rachana is about a writer who makes his wife befriend an innocent man in her office. The colleague falls in love with her and the writer plays with his emotions, ruining his life. His directorial debut Randu Penkuttikal, which is the first lesbian film in Indian cinema is also a great film. Shoba and Anupama were the lead heroines and the movie was based on VT Nandakumar’s novel by the same name.