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Saturday, May 25, 2019


Heralds of a new wave?


Malayalam cinema is showing signs of getting over the bad patch it had hit of late
Tags : Paul Vincent | MALAYALAM film industry | malayalam films |

Cinema came to Kerala when Paul Vincent screened some films with his Edison Bioscope at Kozhikode in 1906.  But film production came much later. The first Malayalam movie, Vigatakumaaran by JC Daniel was made in 1928 followed by Marthandavarma (VV Rao, 1931); and the first talkie Balan (S Nottani) in 1938.

Malayalam film production gathered momentum only by the 1950s. From an average of 6.5 films per annum in the 1950s, and 27.2 in the 1960s, it jumped to 81.8 in the 1970s, and peaked with 113.7 films in the 1980s. By the 1990s, due to various factors including the advent of television, it began to plummet to 78.6 films, a trend that continues to the present.

Malayalam cinema was always deeply influenced by a social realist aesthetic. Other ‘national’ genres like the mythological and ‘patriotic’ films were not popular in Malayalam. The landmark films of the period like Jeevitanouka (1951) Neelakuyil (1954), Newspaper Boy (1955) and Rarichan Enna Pouran (1956) were fired by the vision of a classless society devoid of exploitation. One could describe the 1950s and 1960s as ‘literary’ decades dominated by literary works. Some notable filmmakers of this period were P Bhaskaran, Ramu Kariat, A Vincent and KS Sethumadhavan. Ramu Kariat’s Chemmeen (1965) could be considered a high point of this period.

Thanks to the likes of PN Menon, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, G Aravindan, John Abraham, PA Backer, KG George, KR Mohanan, and TV Chandran, the 1970s – the ‘cinematic’ decade – witnessed resurgence in film form, narration and treatment. Many of them were film institute products or inspired by the film society movement. Through a body of work that stood apart from the commercial-mainstream, they created a ‘new wave’ and won several accolades at the national and international levels.

The 1980s saw the gradual dissolution of the boundaries that separated the mainstream from the elitist ‘art’ cinema. Practitioners of the ‘middle cinema’ like Bharathan, P Padmarajan, Fazil, Satyan Anthikkad, Lenin Rajendran, Shyamaprasad and Balachandra Menon burst onto the scene. The major themes of the period were entanglements in marital/love life and corruption in public life.

IV Sasi, with scenarist T Damodaran, made a series of political melodramas based on the political scandals of the 1980s. Sex and violence formed an inevitable part of the narratives of this period.  The burgeoning film industry and the whopping increase in production acted as catalysts for new technologies and techniques. The fact that India’s first 3-D movie, My Dear Kuttichaathan (Jijo, 1984), was made in Malayalam stands testimony to this. The 1980s was also a decade that replaced the star duo of the earlier decades, Satyan and Prem Nazir, with a fresh duo, Mammootty and Mohanlal.

The buzz-words of the 1990’s were liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. With the spread of satellite television, soaps invaded drawing rooms. The family audience withdrew from the cinemas. Working within limited economies of scale, with no substantial outside markets, and unable to compete technically with other cinemas, Malayalam  cinema retreated into slapstick and sleaze.

The latter half of the decade saw another major shift – the advent of digital technology. The spread of new media technologies changed the composition and character of theatre audience and also film narratives. Elsewhere, cinema addressed this issue by creating spectacular images on screen and by shifting to multiplex screens that offer quality viewing experience. But the state of economy and market of Malayalam cinema did not allow for any such ‘structural adjustments’. Theatres are being closed down at an alarming rate and only a very few multiplexes have come up, that too, only in urban centres.  Adding to its woes are the changing sensibilities of the local youth, largely moulded by globalised media consumption.

So, the present ‘crisis’ of Malayalam cinema industry is that of a ‘regional’ cinema that is struggling to negotiate its space within a highly globalised entertainment environment. But during the last few years, a slew of ‘small’ films have emerged in Malayalam, especially by youngsters, at ease with new technologies and its formats. While their formats and styles are deeply influenced by the global and national trends, their thematics are firmly rooted in Malayali life and mindscapes.

Films like Chitrasoothram (Vipin Vijay) Aadimadhyantham (Sherry),  Adaminte Makan Abu (Salim Ahmed) and Manjadikkuru (Anajali Menon) augur a new trend in Malayalam cinema. They all do away with the ‘superstars’ and are made with small budgets. There is a fresh quality to their narratives. One hopes that these films will inspire and attract more talent to convert these lonely attempts into a wave.              

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017