The film was a flop, but the songs were great — this is a line we've all used hundreds of times to describe certain films. Like titles we know only because 90s' Rahman composed for it, Malayalam cinema too has songs and albums that deserved better films. Looking back now, the dissonance between visuals and music is so jarring that we imagine what the same songs would have looked like had a director like Lal Jose or Priyadarshan shot them. As I see it, it's Indian music taking sweet revenge for the way our cinema has monopolised it. In our ignorance in assuming that music needs cinema, we forget about the many cases where films stay alive only through music. Like how a song like "Yeh Teri Ankhein Jhuki Jhuki" will forever keep a film like Fareb (and our man Milind Gunaji) breathing, here's an attempt at finding Malayalam's own 'Jhuki Jhuki' from within a 25-year window. Feel free to add on to this playlist.
I was today years old when I realised that the stud-muffin from this song (Sanjay Mitra) is the same person to play Rishyashringan in Vaishali and Aaromalunni in Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha. But these hits, the film's big budget or Laxmikant Pyarelal's great songs didn't help make this man our next Rahman. The great musical duo's only Malayalam album was a blockbuster, with this song being inescapably catchy. It went viral before going viral was even a thing, with its YouTube video amassing 10 million views even 23 years after release.
Song: Katte Nee Veesharuthipol
Movie: Kattu Vannu Vilichapol
Music: MG Radhakrishnan
Among KS Chitra's best songs is this soulful number from a 'small' film called Kattu Vannu Vilichapol, which dealt with the ostracism a woman faces after she elopes with a man from an oppressed caste. Composed by MG Radhakrishnan, the song is a time machine in its ability to take you back to the 90s when Chitrageetham on DD4 meant party time.
Song: Manimuttathavani Panthal
Shajoon Kariyal's (he later directed Vadakkumnathan with Raveendran's great 'Kalabham Tharam' in it) third film may have been an epic misfire, but it's apparently illegal and wildly inauspicious for a Mallu wedding to be conducted without this song playing at least a few hundred times. The 'Kannadi Koodum Kooti' influence is obvious in the visuals sans the iconic Suresh Gopi head-bob, but the song remains loved and celebrated.
Film: Kukku Kukku Theevandi
Movie: Millennium Stars
Another great Vidyasagar album from the same year was Jayaraj's Millennium Stars, with most of its songs becoming hits. But this wannabe Colonial-Cousins-Breaking-Up-And-Getting-Back-Together story wasn't really a great way to kickstart Malayalam cinema's new millennium. I mean, Biju Menon with corn beads, really? The songs were a delight with 'Kukku Kukku Theevandi' being a favourite, apart from 'O Mumbai' or 'Parayan Njan Marannu' with that wacky Spanish interlude.
Song: Raavin Nilakaayal
Music: Mohan Sitara
Preeti Jhangiani's character in Mazhavillu may have had the superpower to see her husband at work just by staring at an empty wall but the audience surely struggled to see anything more in this 1999 film apart from the songs. Of these, 'Raavin Nilakaayal' was really special giving us Roja's 'Puthu Vellai Mazhai' feels in Mohan Sitara's inimitable style.
Movie: Randam Bhavam
This Lal Jose film may have found its own audience years later, but not the kind that would overshadow this beautiful beautiful song. Even its visuals remain fresh today, with that shot of Lena offering Suresh Gopi some jamun adding to those lovely little moments that would become signature Lal Jose.
Song: Oru Chirikandal
The maestro may have composed several hits in Malayalam (especially with Sathyan Anthikad in the 2000s), but this is a case where one damn good Raaja song brought alive an obscure film. A mixed tape/CD must-have, this song tattooed Manjari's distinct voice into our heads (and hearts) making Manjari-Raaja a combo with its own fanbase.
Song: Bhagavathi Kaavil Vacho
Music: Bombay Ravi
More than one hit song, Mayookham is an album that's great in its entirety, making it impossible to pick one from the great Bombay Ravi's last. The songs are so loved even today that you may have felt a tingle in your stomach when Saiju Kurup gets together with Mamta Mohandas in Forensic. Mayookham's songs that did that for you!
Song: Pachapanam Thathe
Music: M Jayachandran
The first list of songs I made for this piece had as many as eight M Jayachandran numbers in it, indicating the man's ease in creating standalone hits that didn't require starpower, big directors or great videos to become popular. 'Pachapanam Thathe' in KJ Yesudas' voice was among his first songs to outperform the film, a list which will perhaps go on to include even the recent Sufiyum Sujatayum.
Song: Sneha Thumbi
Music: Jassie Gift
Not many Malayalam composers have had a "earth-shattering" first album like Jassie Gift's Four The People and 'Lajjavathiye' (our own Kolaveri). But with its popularity came criticism from purists saying the man could not create melodies. 'Sneha Thumbi' from the deplorable December was his answer to those people (all four of them). Add a song like 'Azhakalila Manja Charadila Poothali' (yes that Suresh Gopi-Padmapriya song!) and you wonder why Jassie didn't become the gift that just kept giving.
Song: Hridayathin Madhupathram
Movie: Kariyilekku Oru Kadal Dhooram
Music: M Jayachandran
It's an understatement to call this haunting melody underrated. An addictive song steeped in real pathos, 'Hridayathin Madhupathram' can alter one's mood like only very few songs can, taking us back to memories of that lover who got away.
Song: Chaanjadi Aadi
Music: Ramesh Narayanan
Adnan Sami's first Malayalam song may have become a joke for his pronunciation, but 'Chaanjadi Adi's' female version by Gayathri had the power to blow us away. One of the great mother-daughter songs, this Ramesh Narayanan composition remains timeless and fresh for its rich orchestration and lullaby-like appeal.
Song: Pulariyo Sandhyayo
Music: Deepak Dev
This spectacularly bad musical film about a band and its members had the soul of a B movie. But the songs, by a young Deepak Dev, were grade A right from the word go. With beats that would sit well among groupies of pop bands such as Boyzone and Westlife of the period, the aforementioned dissonance between song and visuals is strongest in this film's tacky music videos.
Music: M Jayachandran
Arguably, THE song that made Shreya Ghoshal a darling among Malayalees, this Hindustani composition may have deserved a much better film, but there's no denying the beauty of this Kavya Madhavan-Vineeth song.
Song: O Sainaba
Music: M Jayachandran
Directed by Sibi Malayil, Amrutham wasn't a bad film. It gave us a Hindu-Muslim love story set in North Kerala and it also dealt with communal issues we read about even today, but it's the songs that resonated stronger. 'O Sainaba' quickly became a favourite and its popularity became obvious with the number of people who spent good money to make the song their dialer tune.
Song: Oruvenal Puzhayil
A list like this is incomplete without a song from Ousepachan and this first-love song from Pranayakaalam could have done to Ajmal what the songs of Aniyathipravu did to Kunchacko Boban. But alas, the film tried so hard to become the next Aniyathipravu (even the way the heroine behaves is similar) that it lacked the magic to bring alive a truly cliched love story.
Music: Gowri Lakshmi, Gopi Sundar
If this much-hyped film gave you one of life's biggest headaches, to its credit, it also gave you a wonderful pain balm in the form of 'Sakhiye'. We may try hard to forget this film, but this song, we certainly will not.
Song: Allahu Akbar
Music: Deepak Dev
Another disaster we're quick to dismiss is Mammootty's Gangster, but it came with a lovely Urdu song in 'Allahu Akbar', shot beautifully in Rajasthan. We don't often get songs in Malayalam with a Sufi soul but this song is right up there.
Song: Etho Sayana
Movie: 1030 Local Call
Music: Gopi Sundar
We may never have heard of this film but for this Gopi Sundar song. But it adds chemistry and depth to a love story that appears plain and bland throughout the film, taking us back to that period when Gopi Sundar had that Midas touch.
Song: Koode Irikkam
Movie: Ezhu Sundara Rathrikal
Music: Prashanth Pillai
Lal Jose was apparently so in love with Prashanth Pillai's 'Ee Solomanum' from Amen that he wanted to work with him just so he could get another song like that. That song was 'Koode Irikkam', with its minimal orchestration and sparingly used clarinet riffs that made all of us big fans of the Prashanth Pillai sound.