Devadoothan (2000): It’s a genre that was unfamiliar in Malayalam cinema at the time—musical mystery horror thriller. Scripted by the talented Raghunath Paleri, directed by Sibi Malayil, the film starring Mohanlal and Jayaprada had the former playing a cranky musician who finds himself drawn to the mystery behind a musical piece he composes. It leads him to an eternal love story. A film layered with mystery, fairy-tale romance and the complexities of the human mind, Devadoothan despite being a critical success, was a box-office dud. Seventeen years later, the film springs up in social media film groups as one of the most underrated films of Sibi Malayil and Paleri.
Bhoothakannadi(1997): Lohithadas’ first stab at direction, the film remains his finest till date. A poignant, intimate examination of humanity, Bhoothakkanadi is about a clocksmith Vidhyadharan who suffers from visual and auditory hallucinations. The magnifying glass is a metaphor for his confounded state of mind—his impaired relationship with reality. A film that was probably too dense for an average movie-goer, Bhoothakannadi, despite receiving high praise from critics and a knock-out act from its leading actor, remained a non-starter at the box office. Today, of course, it has a cult following and is hailed as belonging to the top-tier of Malayalam arthouse cinema.
Kaiyoppu (2007): This was director Renjith going off-track after delivering back-to-back duds and alpha male starrers (Chandrolsavam and Prajapati). It chronicles the life of a potentially award-winning writer who suffers from writer’s block and the changes he makes to those around him. With a strong socio-political undertone, Kaiyoppu made on a shoe-string budget was a bolt from the blue for an average Renjith fan. One of the reasons the film failed to make an impact at the box office was that it was released in a shockingly few number of theatres.
Big B (2007): At a time when superstars (alpha-male heroes) were burdened with long-winding monologues, Amal Neerad introduced a modern-day Phantom in his hero Bilal John Kurishingal (Mammootty). Inscrutable, unsmiling, and a do-gooder to boot—he speaks in crisp, gruff one-liners with just the right degree of menace that spells doom for his antagonists. More importantly, in no movie before or after Big B have we seen such a symphony of style and action (it’s a remake of Four Brothers). Even the slow-motion sequences in this directorial debut later came to be branded as the Amal Neerad staple. But the film met with a lukewarm response at the box office. It was only later that Big b and its dialogues were celebrated. A reason why Neerad’s decision to make a prequel to his first film and title it was Bilal was welcomed warmly by actors and fans alike.
Njan Gandharvan (1991): Like every Padmarajan film, this narrative about a passionate romance between a celestial Gandharva (Nitish Bharadwaj) and a teenage girl (Suparna) was considered ahead of its times. A young impressionable girl stumbles upon a wooden doll at a beach during her school tour, only to discover that it’s a Gandharva in exile. What follows is a poignant and ardent love story, laced with lilting music and intriguing narration. Unfortunately, the film had to face flak for its allegedly wanton display of love and lust on screen. That’s one reason why the family audience kept away from the theatres, resulting in shunning a classic love story that was celebrated decades later.
Oru Cheru Punchiri (2000): M.T. Vasudevan Nair scripted and directed what could possibly be called one of the finest love stories of all times. It beautifully sketches the routine life of an aging married couple (Oduvil Unnikrishnan and Nirmala Sreenivasan) in a little hamlet in Kerala. The writing is real and poignant, leisurely absorbing the little nuances of their relationship, bringing freshness, warmth, and humour into the narrative with their heavily Valluvanadan-spiked dialect. It released in a year when Malayalam cinema was groaning under the weight of superstardom and alpha male films. That could be a reason why this little gem made no noise at the box office. Today, even youngsters rave about this little gem that is widely considered one of M.T.’s finest works.