It’s a great time to be following Malayalam cinema. The sheer range of films that we are offered – in terms of scale or genre – is at local maxima. It’s also heartwarming to see a lesser number of good films going unnoticed, as the advent of OTT has created a two-phase viewing cycle, where people make an effort to watch the film in OTT if they have missed it in the theatres.
But the said ‘sheer range of films’ has grappled the industry with an exciting uncertainty. If we look at theatricals alone, it has become pretty difficult to gauge which films would work and which wouldn’t. Take the last half-year or so – every film that worked at the box office was unconventional in its own way. A film where a “wife kicks her husband” and the kick is celebrated with a BGM? A feel-good devotional film headlined by an actor who has mostly had a dry spell at the box office? A horror-comedy film that mostly features newcomers? Oh, how about this – a dark story about how a lawyer happily mints monies from people’s accidents? For that matter, even a star-led film like Rorschach isn’t one that I’d have expected to draw in the crowds ten years back, given its dark themes.
It is in this context that I think, predicting the next big successes of Malayalam cinema for the next three quarters of 2023 (from the upcoming slew of releases) becomes a juicy challenge. Earlier, we’d just have to look at the most established stars’ lineup of films, and that would be the list. But today, there are a lot of factors that we need to take into consideration: the entire cast, the crew, the genre, the content and so on. Looking at the said factors, if I were a distributor in present-day Kerala, these are the films I’d place my bets on; the ones that could shake up the box office in 2023!
This film is directed by Anandam-fame Ganesh Raj and features a huge ensemble cast, which comprises popular faces like Basil Joseph, Vineeth Sreenivasan and Roshan Mathew. It’s good to see that Ganesh has stuck with the same DOP (Anand Chandren) and music director (Sachin Warrier) from his first film – both had a huge role to play in Anandam‘s success and hence, this collaboration holds promise. The biggest USP however, is Vijayaraghavan’s never-before-seen avatar of an aged man. I think this film could be a surprise hit this summer if it manages to pull in the family audiences during the Vishu season.
Pachuvum Albutha Vilakkum
Fahadh Faasil in a feel-good film: This is a good enough pitch for Malayali audiences at this point, given his success in the genre with outings like Njan Prakashan, Oru Indian Pranayakadha, Maheshinte Prathikaram and North 24 Kaatham. The teaser had me beaming from ear to ear, thanks to glimpses of its supporting cast, which includes veterans like the late Innocent, Mukesh, Indrans and Nandhu. The film is directed by Akhil Sathyan, son of feel-good legend Sathyan Anthikkad, and the music is by Justin Prabhakaran (whose talent remains underutilized in Malayalam – hope this film changes that!).
Directed by Roby Varghese Raj and starring Mammootty (who’s in terrific form lately), this is said to be an investigative thriller, with the star playing an ASI. Technically, the aspect that seems most exciting is Sushin Shyam being roped in for music. We all know how kickass his work for Mammootty’s Bheeshma Parvam was, and in the more recent past, how he held together Romancham with his terrific score and contributed to its humongous success. Of course, the promos will give a clearer idea of the film’s theatrical prospects, but considering just the team and the premise (which is inspired by a real-life squad under the Kannur SP), it looks good so far. Also, in Mammootty’s immediate lineup, this one seems to have more box office potential than the smaller-in-scale Kaathal-The Core, directed by Jeo Baby. But again, who knows?
King of Kotha
Dulquer Salmaan has been juggling projects across 4 languages, and achieving success too while at it (Sita Ramam was huge at the B.O., while Chup got good reviews). This has obviously made the frequency of his Malayalam outings drop drastically – and I actually think that’s good for his stardom in Kerala, given how every Malayalam project would build organic hype among the “Kunjikka” fanboys and girls here who want to see him mouth Malayalam dialogues. The gangster film King of Kotha, directed by Abhilash Joshiy and co-starring Aishwarya Lekshmi, looks and feels like a slick commercial fare. DQ’s look, as well as the teaser, looks dapper. If the content is decent, I think this one would easily rake in the moolah, given that it’s an Onam release.
I am one among the gazillion people waiting eagerly for Mohanlal’s comeback. While some people may opine that his collaboration with LJP might at least deliver a classy product if nothing else, I’d go a step ahead and say that it might just give Mohanlal the big commercial success that has evaded him for a while now. After all, let’s not forget that Lijo Jose Pellissery has made bonafide superhits in the past, such as Amen and Angamaly Diaries. It would be interesting to see how Lijo handles Mohanlal in the arena of wrestling (if reports are to be believed). The cast and crew are also equally exciting – from screenwriter PS Rafeeque (who wrote Amen) to Manikandan Achari to Danish Sait, and speculations even suggesting a Kamal Haasan cameo!
There are three solid reasons to get hyped about this film: One, it is being directed by Pawan Kumar, who has made some path-breaking thrillers in Kannada (Lucia, U-Turn etc); Two, it is backed by Hombale Productions, who are on a dream run with back-to-back successes KGF:2 and Kantara; Three, it’s Fahadh Faasil (again!). Hombale’s involvement in the film guarantees that it will have a huge opening across the country. Whether the film picks up after that, would depend entirely on the script (just like Kantara), as Fahadh, like Rishab Shetty, isn’t yet a theatrical crowd-puller in places outside of his home state.
Tinu Pappachan knows how to make an action film. If anything, the elaborate set pieces and organized chaos in Ajagajantharam (and the crowd’s response to it) stand testament to the matter. He brings the same team of Arjun Ashokan and Antony Varghese back, adds a rustic Kunchacko Boban to the mix, and decides to make things grittier and bloodier – that’s what Chaaver looks like at the moment. The motion poster is out and it has added to the excitement. Moreover, I’m really hoping there’s some killer music from Justin Varghese!
It’s too early to be excited about this film, as there haven’t been any promos or information about it, except an announcement poster. And still, the film makes it to this list because of just one man’s name in the poster – Director Chidambaram, who made a splashing debut with the dark comedy Jan-E-Man. His ability to handle an ensemble cast and pepper the screenplay with unexpected moments of laughter is promising. With yet another ensemble cast (Soubin Shahir, Sreenath Bhasi, Balu Varghese, Ganapathi, Arun Kurian, Deepak Parambol and many others) and a strong technical crew (DOP – Shyju Khalid, Music – Sushin Shyam), this one could just be the next big non-star-driven hit of the year, after Romancham.
Because it’s an iconic work in Malayalam literature, the source material (by Benyamin) already has millions of fans. And because the film has been under production for over 5 years now, there has been a slow but steady interest in it among even the non-reader, layman audience (remember the time the crew got stranded in Jordan during the lockdown?). In the last few months, Prithviraj has left no stone unturned to name-drop and promote the film wherever possible. He advocates that it is a truly international film – and looking at the people involved, from drama veteran Blessy who’s helming the project, to AR Rahman who’s composing the music, to Sreekar Prasad who’s editing, it is reasonable to expect a high-quality product. The factor that would draw people to the theatres, at least in Kerala, would be Prithviraj’s drastic physical transformations as the titular character Najeeb. Outside of Kerala, the film would hinge on the popularity it would gain from screening at any reputed film festival (they’re reportedly trying for Cannes 2023).
There are a few more promising films, which I’m excited to watch in theatres (though I’m not as confident about their box office appeal as the ones mentioned above):
- Ajayante Randam Moshanam, directed by Jithin Laal and headlined by Tovino Thomas who essays three roles across different time periods. The extensive production work spanning 100+ days, and the pan-India style branding of the film as ARM (resembling RRR?) gives me hope that the film would be quite a spectacle to watch.
- Thaaram, directed by Vinay Govind, written by Vivek Ranjit and starring Nivin Pauly (Nivin joining the Kili Poyi team). It is touted to be a completely fun ride – and despite the Saturday Nights setback, I’d still want to see a fun Nivin avatar.
- 18+, directed by Arun Jose and starring Mathew Thomas, Naslen K Gafoor, Nikhila Vimal and others (Essentially a Jo&Jo team reunion)
- Odum Kuthira Chaadum Kuthira, directed by Althaf Salim who made Njandugalude Naatil Oru Idavela, produced by Ashiq Usman (a brand in himself at this point) and starring Fahad Faasil. It really could just be Fahad’s year, innit?
- Kasargold, directed by Mridul Nair, starring Asif Ali, Vinayakan and Sunny Wayne. Though I’m not a big fan of Mridul’s debut BTech, I loved the energy of this film’s recently-released Thanaro song. Might turn out to be a trippy entertainer!
- Neelavelicham, directed by Ashiq Abu and starring Tovino Thomas, Roshan Mathew, and Rima Kallingal and based on Vaikom Muhammad Basheer’s eponymous novel. The genre (romance-horror) could be a level-up for Mollywood in the horror space!
- 2018, directed by Jude Antony Joseph, and starring a huge ensemble cast of Tovino Thomas, Asif Ali, Kunchako Boban, Narain, Vineeth Sreenivasan, Aparna Balamurali etc. I’m not too sure about the film’s opening as the topic (Kerala Floods) is something everyone has gotten over at this point. Also, Jude Antony directed a film of this scale. I’m not too bullish.
I may have missed out on some of the films that would draw in the box office gold in 2023, either because the films haven’t been announced/promoted yet, or because I’ve plainly forgotten about them presently 😛 But that’s okay. This list is just my gut feeling as of today. I’ll come back to this article by the end of 2023 and see how close (or far) I was! Meanwhile, do add your bets for the year in the comments below.