“Auteur Theory” might be a concept familiar to cinephiles alone, so let’s broaden this understanding to those unaware of it. The term “auteur” comes from the French language which literally translates to the English word “author”. Thus, “Auteur theory” regards the director of a movie as the author and major brain for the execution of a film. In other words, an auteur director will have a distinctive directing style that will earmark the work as the director’s piece. It is true that an entire crew of technicians are required to pull off a feature film, but auteur directors involve themselves creatively in all the major areas like writing, editing, music, acting, etc. to have a better output.
To provide an understanding, Alfred Hitchcock and Quentin Tarantino are popular examples of auteur directors who have a distinctive narrative style and filmmaking. Auteurs in Kerala include P. Padmarajan, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, G. Aravindan, K.G. George, Bharathan, etc.; whose works stand out years after their release.
A number of directors of Malayalam cinema have come up in recent years. They have established their voices and placed themselves strongly as auteurs in Malayalam cinema. This article is an exploration of some underrated movies by such auteur directors.
Also, it would be great if you kept in mind that these are personal choices, which may or may not fall in line with the reader’s interest. In other words, this might spark controversy among movie lovers and the ground is always open for discussion.
Double Barrel (Lijo Jose Pellissery)
This 2015 movie was greatly hyped for its ensemble cast and the production company of August Cinema, which guaranteed good quality movies. Lijo Jose Pellissery, who was carving his way as an auteur with Double Barrel after his brilliant directorial Amen, placed himself as a director to look out for. But the box office returns did not keep up with the hype created, with various critics heavily criticizing the work and giving it a verdict of being unsuccessful.
The movie follows a narrative of parallel storylines all coming together in the climax, similar to a comic book. Double Barrel can be categorized under the genre of gangster parody following nonsensical plotline and dialogues. The movie certainly had its flaws, but I believe this movie deserved a greater appreciation.
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A major reason why this movie didn’t work at the box office was its novelty. The Malayali audience wasn’t aware of this mixed-up spoof genre. Whether they were ready to accept it is altogether another question. But with the changing interests of the audience and its introduction to world cinema, it has allowed the audience to have a flexible perspective on this movie.
I believe, Double Barrel was ahead of its time and if released now, a time when Lijo Jose Pellissery is considered an auteur, this movie would have had better results. This movie deserves to be recognized for its absurd narrative, quirky characters, weird instances, brilliant cinematography and the overall mood it puts the viewer into.
How would you define this movie? It was an epitome of quirkiness.
Iblis (Rohith V.S.)
Now for those who might wonder whether Rohith V.S. classifies as an auteur, his work Kala speaks highly of his talent. His authorship is visible through his second movie, Iblis, but the fact that it is underrated makes one doubtful about how far he has proved himself. But as a follower of his work, I believe he has done some outstanding directorial ventures, which are often left unnoticed. Adventures of Omanakuttan, Iblis and Kala speak truly of his touch as an auteur director.
It’s Iblis that personally stands out for me, which falls under the genre of rom-com fantasy. The movie follows the lives of the dead conjoining them with the lives of the living. It was a perfect mixture of fantasy, easy to grasp, which still went under-appreciated. The movie had a clean script and beautiful visual storytelling through the lens of Akhil George. The director was successful in emotionally hooking the audience and letting the audience introspect on the various themes of the movie.
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Koode (Anjali Menon)
Now most readers who have seen Manjadikuru, Anjali Menon’s debut feature film, would argue with me stating it is more underrated than Koode. I mentioned Koode in this list for two reasons; firstly, I have still not been able to watch Manjadikuru as it seems to be unavailable on the various platforms and I believe it’s wrong to write on it without watching, and secondly, Koode is a movie that deserves appreciation as much as her other commercial movies.
Koode is nothing short of beauty. It not only captures our attention through the beautiful frames, but the narrative was also able to dive and connect with our emotions at a deeper level. If Lijo Jose Pellissery is the ‘master of chaos’, then Anjali Menon has to be a ‘maestro in emotions’; such are the depths of the various characters in her movies. She is one of those very few writers in the Malayalam film industry who can develop beautiful character arcs.
The movie follows the relationship between a brother and his sister. Koode falls under the genre of psychological drama and is an adaptation of the Marathi film Happy Journey. The movie is so subtle and surreal, thus letting the audience have the freedom to wander in the world created by Anjali Menon.
What makes Anjali Menon an Auteur? The aesthetics she employs in her movies are one of the ways she marks a film of hers. The elegant usage of various techniques, without letting one factor of a film dominate the other is a brilliant sign of her authorship.
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North 24 Kaatham (Anil Radhakrishnan Menon)
Though this was Anil Radhakrishnan Menon’s debut movie, it was certainly able to place him as one of the remarkable auteur directors among his contemporaries. This movie also had a great influence on the transforming cinema culture in Malayalam.
The film had a successful theatrical run and garnered awards including a National award. So calling it underrated would sound absurd. However, if you compare it with other Fahadh Faasil movies, this film wouldn’t make the cut. This movie requires an appreciation for its fantastic storytelling and though off-topic, the brilliant FaFa acting. Fahadh Faasil slays his character as an introvert who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
The movie is an adventure drama that primarily focuses on three characters. Anil Radhakrishnan Menon was successful in pulling the audience through his narrative techniques into the journey of the characters.
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These are some of the movies that always lingered in my mind as being underrated movies by the auteur directors in Malayalam cinema. Feel free to add your thoughts too.