If this decade marked the birth of a renaissance for Malayalam cinema, 2019 is perhaps where it crescendoed. We’ve finally reached a stage where even the ‘bad’ movies have become somewhat watchable. Apart from the Malayalam film industry’s ability to tell rooted stories, what’s impressive is the range it presented us with. The year gave us a film like Android Kunjappan 5.25, a ‘small’ sci-fi film with an indie spirit. It also gave us Lucifer, a well-made mass film that cleverly used stardom to rake in Rs. 200 crore. To put that figure in perspective, it means that EVERY Malayali must have contributed Rs. 50 towards its success. It feels like there’s a film being made for every mood and for all kinds of viewers. If this isn’t a sign of a healthy industry, what is?
Director: Mathukutty Xavier
A heart-warming story about a girl who gets stuck in a freezer, Helen is that rare genre film which achieves more with some great writing. With this, Anna Ben officially became the find of the year, switching between sweet wide-eyed girl and a mature woman bearing the weight of a family with considerable ease.
Director: Aashiq Abu
Aashiq Abu employed three talented writers to create Virus, based on the Nipah outbreak, and it resulted in one of the best screenplays of the year. No single character (of many) gets more than 20-odd minutes of screentime, yet the performances are so on-point that we never feel this. Despite being a medical thriller, it infuses so much sensitivity that it becomes so much more.
Android Kunjappan 5.25
How can a film about a robot become the year’s most intimate human drama? That’s what art director-turned-director Ratheesh managed with his first film. It addresses the father-son relationship like never before, giving the son and his side as much importance as the ageing father.
Thanneer Mathan Dinangal
Director: Girish AD
This nostalgic time machine transported every grown-up Malayali right back to school. The hyper-detailing in the film, the in-between scenes filled with delightful nothingness and a lovely teenage romance at its centre made for this year’s biggest success story, and one helluva song in ‘Jathikkathottam’.
Director: Manu Ashokan
The film uses flying as a metaphor to tell the story of an acid attack survivor, but what makes it a supremely nuanced film is how it trains its lens on the attacker, showing us how all encompassing patriarchy can be. Parvathy delivered one of the year’s best performances — we witness her character overcome both physical and mental scars in her effort to fly and soar.
Director: Khalid Rahman
Writer-director Khalid Rahman subverts every cliché of the hyper-masculine universe of the ‘cop film’ to place a story of a vulnerable police officer who has never fired a single bullet. It discusses a terribly broken system, one that sends a group of untrained police officers to one of the country’s most volatile places with little care or concern. It was also the only Malayalam film of the year to give Mammotty some real meat to work with.
Director: Geetu Mohandas
Geetu Mohandas’ complex character study gave us the year’s best love story and Nivin Pauly in his most moving performance. Stunningly shot, the film really comes into its own in the Lakshadweep portions, which includes one of our best ever mirror scenes.
Director: Anuraj Manohar
The makers weren’t kidding when they captioned Ishq with ‘not a love story’. Before Shane Nigam became Malayalam cinema’s favourite problem child, he starred in this chilling dissection of the male ego to show us two flawed men who look at the women in their lives as mere possessions, to give us another scathing attack on patriarchy and how it conditions people.
Director: Lijo Jose Pellissery
Lijo Jose Pellissery’s most experimental work yet uses a raging bull gone wild to teach us a lesson or two about human nature. Every minute of this work of great absurdity is infused with so many surprises that you’re already planning to watch it again. The film is the answer to those who doubted Pellissery’s auteur status.
Director: Madhu C Narayanan
A broken home (literally) became the setting for one of Malayalam cinema’s modern classics and its humble antidote to the Arjun Reddys of the world. It took the story of four brothers to re-examine masculinity, family and the idea of the ‘complete man’, while also giving us ‘Shammi’, a character that mirrors the very conscience of the Malayali MAN.