M Night Shyamalan – A Malayali Presence In Hollywood

M Night Shyamalan may not be a popular name in Kerala, but do you know where it is? Hollywood. Shyamalan is an Academy Award-nominated director in Hollywood with several acclaimed films to his name including the massively successful The Sixth Sense. You may ask, what is so special about him? If the name hasn’t given it away yet, Shyamalan is Hollywood’s most popular brown director with a link to Kerala. 

 M. Night Shyamalan
Courtesy: Paste Magazine

M Night Shyamalan, whose real name is Manoj Nelliatu Shyamalan was raised in Pennsylvania, the United States. His parents had migrated to America when he was just a baby. Both his parents are doctors, and his father Dr Nelliyattu C. Shyamalan is a Malayali neurobiologist from Mahe. Shyamalan was raised in the United States. ABCD references, anyone? 

As a child, Shyamalan was always fond of filming. His first experience with filming was apparently with a Super 8 camera he got as a child. By 17, he had made over 45 home movies. His interest in filmmaking led him to the New York University Tisch School of arts rather than to an Ivy medical school and today, with his movie grossing over 3 billion USD, Shyamalan has made his mark on the world of silver screens.

However, how good of a mark it was is a topic we can certainly debate on. Shyamalan shot to fame with original movies like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs. According to Forbes, The Sixth Sense is the second highest-grossing horror movie of all time and was as critically successful as it was financially. It was nominated for six Academy Awards with Shyamalan being nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. 

He followed up on this success with Unbreakable, one of the earliest and most acclaimed superhero films ever made. Unbreakable was so ahead of its time that even Disney, which had not yet bought Marvel, chose to market it as a psychological thriller rather than as a superhero movie. “I was on a conference call with the studio, and they were saying we can’t mention the word ‘comic books’ or ‘superheroes’ because it’s too fringe,” Shyamalan told a crowd at Comic-Con International’s Hall H following the release of Glass. Following this Shyamalan made a slew of movies that were bashed by critics. The Village (2004), Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008), The Last Airbender (2010) and After Earth (2013). For these movies, Shyamalan won four Golden Raspberry Awards and got nominated for five more. This gave Shyamalan such a bad reputation that most studies passed on his next script The Visit. However, 2015’s The Visit, turned out to be the success he sorely needed. It earned over 98 million USD against a budget of 5 million USD. Shyamalan got nominated for the Razzie Redeemer Award for it. He continued this winning streak by making two sequels to Unbreakable, the 2017 Split, and 2019 Glass. His latest film, Old is set for a June 2021 release. 

. Night Shyamalan Movies
Courtesy: StudioBinder

Shyamalan has a very distinct style. Perhaps the biggest trait of an M Night Shyamalan film is ‘the twist’. Rolling Stones once called him, “the guy who makes the scary movies with a twist”. However, this epithet has been used to taunt Shyamalan more times than it should have and has often been linked to a sort of racism in the avenue of criticism. Another feature of his style is his usage of reflections. His heroes are seen reflected in mirrors, on shiny surfaces or on blank TV screens. This indicates the deeply emotional sort of movie Shyamalan makes that has a kind of spirituality embedded in its nature. The Sixth Sense and the Unbreakable trilogy are prime examples of Shyamalan’s unique style. 

The only movie Shyamalan has so far shot in India is his first movie, Praying With Anger. It was shot in Chennai and dealt with the life of a young man raised in America having to come to live in India for a while. It was produced and directed by Shyamalan himself, who also played the lead character. The movie did not have a wide release. Years later, following the success of Split, Shyamalan told in an interview with IANS that he would love to make a film in India. Talking about his Indian heritage, he says, “I was born in Puducherry and have aunts and uncles in India.

My parents are very traditional and my uncles and aunts are also very traditional. My generation is kind of the first generation raised in the US. Though I have a mix of these influences and hopefully the different type of values, the spiritual identities, are laced in my thrillers and you could feel that coming through.” In 2008 Shyamalan was honoured with a Padma Shri. How do you think the Indian public will react to a Shyamalan helmed thriller? With our tradition of loving twists, I think he’d fare really well. Time will tell.


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