Growing up in North India in a Malayali family where everyone spoke Malayalam, outside the four walls of my house all that spoken inside seemed alien. With more time spent between Hindi speaking people, Hindi naturally became the language I was more fluent in. The language closest to my home remained farthest from my reach. With a need to decode the words my family spoke, in a language which distanced me from the ones I belonged to, I turned towards the cinema of the people who spoke the language to fill the gap in my understanding of it. Through the cinema, I fell in love with the language, the people and the culture, which even when miles away, remained at a room’s distance from me.
Memories of my childhood bring back memories of the films too. To an extent that now it has become harder to distinguish the two. Even when I fumble today in speaking Malayalam properly, I understand it like it’s been etched to my memories. I pick up words from the memories of the films I watched, enjoyed and then probably rewatched. In a way I understand now that cinema can lead you to believe that you know the land and its people depicted in it better now than you would have known if you travelled all your life through the very same land.
While a large part of the country found its way to Malayalam cinema (I use “discovered” because the films were always there and maybe it’s my nostalgia which cheats me, I remember of them being always good) through OTT, it has given me an opportunity to rediscover the cinema I fondly keep close to my heart. I remember watching Mohanlal in the introduction scene in Narasimham (2000) as vividly I can think of him making the massy entrance in Lucifer (2019). While the former has been an experience privy only to Malayalis, the latter has been one I have shared with many people like me who cannot read and speak the language but thanks to the magic of subtitles, they can understand it just as well.
Malayalam cinema has evolved by leaps and bounds since the memories that I speak of now were created, with great nostalgia. But one thing that has remained is the love of the industry for movies which are grounded in stories of human condition, ordinary humans and the miniscule indulgences in their otherwise uneventful lives.
While similar to most regional film industries in the country, the Malayalam industry has also scaled up, both in terms of budgets and concepts, in the last couple decades, the success of Pulimurugan in 2016 opened up the road to greater possibilities. From then, an industry which otherwise has always focused largely on stories, has now evolved into one which focuses on achieving great productional quality and technical brilliance as well.
Days away from the release of the biggest movie the Malayalam industry has ever seen, Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea, the industry tries to revive itself as the theatres open up to welcome audiences to witness this much anticipated movie. The pandemic saw major stars like Fahaadh Faasil and Prithviraj come up with release after release on the OTT platforms. Marakkar’s success will stand as testimony to whether Malayalis will flock to the theatres to see their dear Lalettan in his full glory or not.
Later in December, another film, a milestone for the industry, is set to release on Netflix. Minnal Murali, the first mainstream Malayalam superhero movie, banks on the talent of Tovino Thomas, some heart pumping music and the great potential it holds by the virtue of portraying the origin story of an indigenous superhero. An Indian superhero movie which doesn’t have the hero jumping from skyscrapers but doing stunts in a Kerala State Road Transport Corporation bus is all I am looking forward to right now. Even for a superhero movie, the trailer suggests the movie remains connected to the rural town setting. The trailer provides a glimpse on how the people of a small town in Kerala will cope with the sight of a human with superhuman abilities. It will be interesting to see how the audiences will react to the same when they see it on their screens at home. For the people on the reel and the audiences, it will be the first time witnessing a Malayali superhero in the form of Minnal Murali.
This December, both these movies will set the course for a humble film industry which until recently has been very unambitious in their way of presenting their well written stories. It’s the simpler stories with their much simpler and unsophisticated to the eye yet complex characters which have attracted our attention. While the monetary success of both these movies will potentially be huge, it will be interesting to see whether these high scale and high concept movies will be backed by great storytelling which the films of the industry are known for or they will compromise substance for visual amusement and grandeur. The responsibility lies on the industry in this period of revival and transition to stick to the roots of their own brand of cinema while aiming for greater heights because even when mythical battles and flying caped heroes steal our eyes, it’s the stories of the humans the Malayalam films portray which evoke our hearts.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.