The past three years saw a vehement interest from movie lovers all over India towards Malayalam movies. The pandemic and OTT subscriptions opened up vast opportunities for Malayalam cinema to bring forth the talents and creative storylines of Malayalees that wasn’t previously popular in India earlier. What is so exceptional about Malayalam movies? Or is it really that distinctive?
The South Indian Influence and Role of Malayalam Cinema
Growing concern over quality, and many critical observations from pan-Indian audiences, have strongly suggested that the South Indian industry is more innovative than Bollywood. The high receptiveness of films like Bahubali, KGF, Vikram, Bheeshma Parvam etc., shows how big an impact South Indian films have all over India. Besides that, many OTT releases and small-budget movies are receiving wide acceptance due to the quality of their content. But unlike Telugu and Tamil movies, Malayalam Film Industry face a higher budget limitation which needs to be compensated with creativity. The richness of stories and plot lines lead to the success of Malayalam movies.
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Why Did Malayalam Movies Get More Attention During The Pandemic?
Film critic Namrata Joshi describes the Malayalam film industry as the “Rapid response unit for Covid films” in her article written for The Guardian. Amidst all the restrictions that Covid brought us in the last two years, Mollywood continued to deliver movies through OTT platforms, which were made within geographical restrictions, i.e. within houses or other specific areas. Malayalam, a minority language, was unlike Hindi, a language spoken by almost half of the Indian population. Increased reliability on OTT platforms made Mollywood popular among the rest of India.
The reason for Malayalam Cinema’s growth dates back to its primordial existence. What started as a movie industry based in Trivandrum moved to Alleppey and Cochin with the advent of Udaya and Navodaya studios due to various reasons. This transfer, and later advancement of the younger generation from Cochin to filmmaking, paved the way for exciting developments in Kerala. Established filmmakers from the South and new filmmakers from central Kerala started to make independent movies. The industry slowly started to dissociate into small groups of independent filmmaking ecosystems. Bollywood works entirely differently from this.
Being well-established with professional-minded film specialists, working together in every aspect to deliver a collective output, Bollywood works like how an “industry” typically should. The same goes for South Indian film industries like Tollywood and Kollywood. The onset of a shortcoming paved the way for the much-needed creative independence Mollywood could ever ask for.
Apart from budget constraints and a small-scale audience, Malayalam cinema discovered quality movies that could make a mark in history. Yet, quality movies are not just unique to Mollywood, as they are also made in other industries. Pan-Indian acceptance came for movies set in the culture and milieu of Kerala only, as noted by writer and film critic N.P. Sajeesh. Movies like Arkkariyam, Kala, Joji and Churuli have cultural influences exclusively on the state. They were all set in a limited area or house setting, and this was ideal for the industry due to its experience in filmmaking within constraints, which came with the advantage of OTT releases as other big industries froze film production.
Is The Malayalam Movie Influence Here To Stay?
It can be said that Malayalam Cinema found a wider audience who may or may not stay. Film historian and critic C.S.Venkiteswaran says that while it was a comfort for a family audience and many regional movie lovers to watch homebound, the post-COVID era will bring industries back to normalcy and big-budget movies which remain a dream for every filmmaker will recover.
Is the Pan-Indian Market Influencing Malayalam Movies To Work For Wider Acceptance?
Telugu influence is not new to Malayalam Cinema. It came when Mollywood was going through a crisis, releasing only a few movies each year. During the rise of new faces like Prithviraj and Jayasurya in Mollywood, stars like Allu Arjun also became familiar to a Malayali audience through Malayalam dubbed Telugu movies. Allu Arjun’s groovy dance moves and unique style got him fame among a Malayali audience, and so did the plotlines of his movies, which were disparate from Malayalam Cinema. Although this cannot be seen as a direct influence on Malayalam cinema, recent releases like Ayyappanum Koshiyum, Lucifer etc. (pre-covid releases) do have the character of Telugu cinema as noted by major film critiques. Themes like familial relations, patriarchy, spectacular action scenes and central character portrayal are visualized in Malayalam movies differently. Even though the formula isn’t apparent, there has been a bit of Telugu intervention in Prithviraj movies lately.
One of the reasons Malayalam movies received acceptance was due to their realistic portrayal of life. The Covid period also saw massive Social Media outbursts for the need for a realistic and rightful representation of movie characters. But, the post covid surge of movies like K.G.F. 2, Vikram, Bheeshma Parvam, Pushpa etc., which portrayed larger-than-life heroes and highly misogynistic and patriarchal content, became massive hits too. What can be the reason for the same?
The new-gen movie trend in Malayalam started in 2011. Realistic representation and common people’s lives became part of stories with the onset of this trend. But, larger-than-life heroes did not fade away from the industry and continued to be a large part of it. “Dheerodathan Athiprabhava Gunavan” (A proverb in Malayalam saying brave and haughty-natured heroes are influential and meritorious) phenomenon used to exist even during the period of cult classic film-makers like Ramu Karyat, Padmarajan, K.G. George etc. Social media responses and #TheBoycott trend exists only inside a bubble. That being said, it is the most convenient and democratic space for common people to speak up and challenge the politics and problems of representation movies.
Mass action movies will continue reiterating throughout all ages, but their flavours will have improved slightly over time. For example, an insensitive dialogue in the movie Kaduva was removed due to mass social media outrage. Yet, this alone is not the problem with the movie. A sexist dialogue from the movie “Namukku Parkkan Munthirithoppukal”’ was removed years after it was released. It was a scene in which a woman asks Solomon about marrying a girl who got raped, and the protagonist replies along the lines of how her chastity was better than the woman who questioned him, a divorcee.
Movies promoting hero worship are commercially viable and are made in a formula centralized in the market. Mainstream macho movies are simply art in “business” form. The viability of these movies still reflects the underlying patriarchal manifestations in our society, but a filmmaker has to create commercial movies in the most creative way possible because these movies will remain as “art” in business form.
This article has been edited by Izza Maryam Ahsan.