Best Indian Films (Sanjib Dey)
FAVOURITE INDIAN FILMS (by Kenji)
Literature in Indian Cinema (by Laali)
Indian Bengali Cinema (by Kolar)
Marathi Cinema (by Rohit Apte)
Cinema of Prayoga: Indian Avant-Garde Cinema (by Laali)
INDIA: A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY (by apursansar)
Indian Cinema (by Filmy)
The Cinema of Ritwik Ghatak (by Vikram)
SATYAJIT RAY (by Kenji)
and many more… not listed
Malayalam (pronounced /mæləˈjɑːləm/; മലയാളം, malayāḷam ?, IPA: [mɐləjaːɭəm]), is one of the four major Dravidian languages of southern India. It is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India with official language status in the state of Kerala and the union territories of Lakshadweep and Puducherry. It is spoken by 35.9 million people. Malayalam is also spoken in the Nilgiris district, Kanyakumari district and Coimbatore of Tamil Nadu, Dakshina Kannada, Mangalore and Kodagu districts of Karnataka.
Kerala: The Legacy of Visual Culture
State Kerala ~ Malayalam language
Even much before the arrival of cinema, the people of Kerala were familiar with moving images on the screen through the traditional art form ‘tholpavakkuthu’ (Puppet Dance). Usually exhibited at festivals of village temples, ‘tholpavakkuthu’ uses puppets made of leather with flexible joints. These joints are moved using sticks and the shadow of these moving puppets are captured on a screen using a light source from behind, creating dramatic moving images on the screen. Stories from the mythology were told so, with accompanying dialogues and songs with traditional percussions like the Chenda. ‘Tholpavakkuthu’ uses some of the techniques widely used in cinema like the close-ups and long-shots.
Apart from the art of ‘tholpavakkuthu’, which exhibits the nature of cinema, many of the folk arts and classical dance forms like ‘Kuthu’, ‘Koodiyattam’ and ‘Kathakali’ exhibits very high visual qualities in their form. My be this legacy of Kerala’s visual culture lead the filmmakers of Kerala to take up cinema in a different way, rather than mere plain story telling, than anywhere else in India, and the people of Kerala to appreciate them.
The Silent Era
The first Malayalam cinema was produced and directed by, J C Daniel, a dentistby profession who didn’t had any prior experience with cinema. His film Vigathakumaran was released in 1928, but failed economically. But it is notable that while mythological films ruled all over the Indian cinema arena, J C Daniel had the courage to produce the first ever Malayalam film with a social theme. The economic failure of Vigathakumaran discouraged him from producing further films.
The ill luck of Malayalam cinema continued. The second film Marthandavarma based on a novel of the same name by C V Raman Pillai, was produced by Sunderraj in 1933. But due to a legal confrontation regarding the rights of the film, the producer had to withdraw the film from cinema halls after few exhibitions. Had it not been for the legal embargo, the film would have had a great impact on the cinema of South India. By Marthandavarma the history of silent Malayalam cinema too came to an end.
Balan: The First Talkie
Indian cinema had already entered the talkie age even before Marthandavarma was released. Balan, the first Malayalam cinema with a sound track was released in 1938. Produced by Tamilian, T R Sunderam at the Modern Theatres, Balan was directed by Notani. A melodramatic film, with more Tamil influence than Malayalam, Balan featured the struggle of two orphaned children, Balan and his younger sister, oppressed and exploited by their evil stepmother until they are rescued by a kindly lawyer. Even though this film could be considered irrelevant in artistic sense, its economic success created a base to the Malayalam film industry. Followed by the success of Balan, Jnambika was released in 1940. After Prahlada (1941), Kerala had to wait till 1948 for the next film. Nirmala (1948) directed by P J Cheriyan explored the possibility of music and songs in Malayalam cinema. Legendary Malayalam poet, G Shankara Kurup penned the lyrics for this film. Thus song-dance sequences became an essential ingredient for commercial success in Malayalam cinema.
Inspired from an imported film – Life of Christ – Phalke started mentally visualising the images of Indian gods and goddesses. What really obsessed him was the desire to see Indian images on the screen in a purely Swadeshi venture. He fixed up a studio in Dadar Main Road, wrote the scenario, erected the set and started shooting for his first venture Raja Harishchandra in 1912. The first full-length story film of Phalke was completed in 1912 and released at the Coronation cinema on April 21, 1913, for special invitees and members of the Press. The film was widely acclaimed by one and all and proved to be a great success.
It is notable that none of the Malayalam films that came before the independence of India reflected the mood of the struggle for independence and also the film that came after independence and the early 1950s reflected that torrid period of Kerala, where the Communist upspring was taking place changing the entire social climate of the State. Cinema continued to be dramas happening in a totally artificial and alien world.
Towards New Sensibilities
Newspaper Boy (1955)
Even though Malayalam cinema right from the first talkie, Balan ventured into social themes instead of cosmetic dramas from Hindu Mythology, like anywhere else in India, they stood far away from social realities. While cinema elsewhere in the world, except India, took big leap forward in devising new cinematic forms making cinema an art form by itself, the Indian filmmakers right from the beginning considered cinema as a platform for combining all the art forms available in India. This was the concept about cinema even among the leading film critics then. Malayalam cinema was no exception in this regard. The first International Film Festival of India held in 1952 opened up the window to a new world of cinema to the Indian filmmakers. For the first time they understood that cinema has advanced much further than the make-belief Hollywood films, which were the only source of foreign films then. Films like Bicycle Thief, which was shown for the first time in India compelled a new generation of filmmakers to take a new path of filmmaking. Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali triggered the movement, which was taken up by other new generation filmmakers in Northern India.
Malayalam cinema too took a new path during the mid 1950s towards more down-to-earth social realities, rather than cosmetic social dramas. But this change in sensibility was not due to the effect of world cinema on them, as the Malayalee filmmakers were virtually absent at the film festival. Hence, even though Malayalam cinema became more sensible during the mid 1950s, it had to wait till the mid 1970s, till the new breed of FTII trained filmmakers started filmmaking, for Malayalam cinema to become ‘real cinema’.
In fact, it was the powerful movement that happened in Malayalam literature spearheaded by literary giants like Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai, Viakom Muhammad Basheer and M T Vasudevan Nair and the ‘Library Movement’ which coincided with it became the real factor for this changes in Malayalam cinema. Also the strong presence of playwrights like N Krishna Pillai, C J Thomas, C N Shreekhantan Nair, G Shankara Pillai and K T Muhammad opened up new vistas in the field of stage plays. Dramas of Thoppil Bhasi like Ningalanne Communist Aakki, Survey Kallu and Mudiayanaya Puthran created ripples in the society. Malayalam cinema, which followed these footsteps but couldn’t create its own cinematic form and remained as novels and dramas.
The Growth: 1960s
After the success of Neelakuyil, films with authentic Malayalam stories set in the backdrops of Kerala villages started arriving. Minnaminingu directed by Ramu Karyat and Rarichhan enna Pouran by P Bhaskaran were noted films produced during the late 1950s. Takazhi Shivashankara Pillai’s famous novel Randidangazhi was also seen on the silver screen.
In 1961 Kandam Bacha Coat, the first full-length colour film in Malayalam was released. This was an adoption of a famous social drama. Bhargavi Nilayam (1964) directed by A Vincent is a notable film of this period. This was a cinematic adoption of renowned Malayalam writer Vykom Muhammad Basheer’s novel. Vincent also directed some of the best films of early ages like Murapennu, Nagarame Nandi, Asuravithu and Thulabharam. Irutinte Athmavu directed by P Bhaskaran, based on M T Vasudevan Nair’s story, gave a new face to superstar Prem Nazir, who till then was seen only in romantic hero’s role.Post-Chemmeen Era
The post-Chemmeen Malayalam cinema arena saw an upsurge in quality films, mainly based on literary works of some of the best writers of Kerala. After Chemmeen, Ramu Karyat directed Ezhu Rathrikal which narrated the story of the down trodden. The renowned Malayalam writer M T Vasudevan Nair made his film debut by writing screenplay for Murapennu. Directed by A Vincent, Murapennu was a landmark film. Oolavum Theeravum by P N Menon announced the revolutionary changes Malayalam cinema was about to witness in the early 1970s. A new generation of filmmakers who realized the uniqueness of the language of this medium, ventured into a different kind of cinema. This film could be considered as the bridge between the two eras of Malayalam cinema.
Here onwards Malayalam cinema got split into two distinct streams, one that considered cinema’s artistic qualities as its primary objective, which kept away all the formulas of popularity and the other the crass commercials, which took into consideration only the possibilities to entertain the mass and spin money.The Malayalam New Wave
The growth of film society movement and the screenings of world classics forced a drastic change in Malayalee film sensitivity during the early 1970s. A new movement often termed as the ‘New Wave Malayalam Cinema’ or the ‘Malayalam Parallel Cinema’ emerged. Adoor Gopalakrishnan made his first film Swayamvaram in 1972, which made Malayalam cinema noticed at International film arena. G Aravindan through his Uttarayanam in 1974 accelerated this radical change in Malayalam cinema.
Another major stream of Malayalam cinema that appeared during the 1970s, which was a synthesis of the highly commercial popular cinema and the parallel cinema from which the masses always stayed away, was the ‘middle-stream cinema’. These films, mainly from directors like K G George, Padmarajan and Bharathan, had meaningful themes but had popular forms of presentation and had influenced a generation of film viewers.
Malayalam Middle – stream Cinema
Kodiyettam (aka The Ascent, 1977)
The late 1960s and early 1970s witnessed drastic changes in the approach of filmmakers towards cinema and this was reciprocated in the quality of film viewing too. Films like Kuttyedathy, Oolavum Theeravum and Mappusakshi by P N Menon during the late 60s and early 70s were signals of these changes. These films brought back the heroes of popular cinema down to earth, identifiable for ordinary people as one among them.
The films by Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Aravindan and John Abraham during the early 1970s were reflections of ‘new wave’ movements all over the world, often termed as ‘parallel cinema’ movement. Even when Malayalam cinema reached new heights through these films, they remained as the art of a minority. A synthesis of the easily communicative, but hollow commercial cinema and the cinema enjoyed by a minority, the parallel cinema, took place during this period, which later came to be known as ‘middle-stream cinema’.
M T Vasudeven Nair, with his directorial debut Nirmalyam (1973) pioneered this stream of Malayalam cinema. K G George, with his first film Swapnadanam (1975) later moved to the middle-stream and produced some of the best works of Malayalam cinema. Bharathan with Prayanam (1977) strengthened this stream and also paved the way for one of the most influential directors of the middle path cinema, Padmarajan. Padmarajan with his first film Peruvazhiyambalam (1979) and latter Oridathoru phayalvan (1981) consistently made quality films and stood as a consolation factor even when Malayalam cinema returned back to mindless commercials. K S Sethumadhavan, starting his film career in 1960s and became a strong figure in commercial cinema, produced some better works like Oppol (1980) during this period. The other most consistent director in making quality films, Lenin Rajendran made his debut with Venal (1981) and has made some notable films including his latest film, Anyar (2003). Sreenivasan who entered cinema as an actor later took up script writing and penned some of the best satires ever made in Malayalam. The two films he directed, Vadakkunokki yantram (1989) and Chintavistayaya Shyamala (1998) were hard hitting social critiques, which expanded the boundaries of comedy cinema.
Malayalam Parallel Cinema
Indian cinema took a big leap during the early 1970s, after the first wave of changes that occurred during the 1950s. This new movement was mainly triggered by the new generation filmmakers trained at the FTII, Pune, who made films with the help of the newly constituted Film Finance Corporation.
The early 1970s witnessed a radical change in the perspective towards cinema by filmmakers as well as film viewers of Kerala too. The beginning of film societies resulting in the exposure to world classics helped a group of young filmmakers realise the uniqueness of the language of this medium, which till then was in the clutches of the forms used for stage dramas. Influenced by the French and Italian New Wave, as elsewhere in India, the Malayalam New Wave was born. The arrival of young filmmakers from the newly constituted Film Institute in Pune acted as a catalyst for this radical change.
P N Menon who made films like Kuttyedathy, Oolavum Theeravum and Mappusakshi in early 70s paved the way for the upcoming movement. But due to economic failure of some of his films nothing more came out him.
Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Swayamvaram (1972) outshone many other films of the time because of its exquisite quality. After completing his diploma from the Pune Film Institute, Adoor took active part in constituting Kerala’s first Film Socity, ‘Chalachitra’ (1965). It was also in his active leadership Kerala’s first Film Co-operative Society for film production ‘Chitralekha’ was started.
M T Vasudevan Nair, who wrote screenplay for several memorable films made his directorial debut with Nirmalyam (1973), which won the President’s Gold Medal for the best film. K P Kumaran’s Atithi came out in the next year.
1974 witnessed the birth of a new filmmaker, who gave tremendous contributions to the growth of Malayalam parallel cinema, G Aravindan. Through Uttarayanam Aravindan brought the agitated youth of that time to the silver screen.
Films of Pune Film Institute graduates K R Mohanan, K G George and G S Panikkar were seen in the 70s. K R Mohan’s Aswathamavu, K G George’s Swapnadanam and G S Panikkar’s Ekakani are noted works in Malayalam parallel cinema. P A Becker narrated the story of youth influenced by Leftist extremism and naxalism through his noted films like Kabani nadi chuvannappol, Mani muzhakkam, Chuvanna Vithukal and Sangha Ganam. Padmarajan, who later turned to the field of ‘middle path cinema’ made his first two noted films in 70s, Peruvazhiambalam and Oridathu oru phailvan. Bharathan, who too later joined Padmarajan’s path made his first film Prayanam (1975).
During the 1980s, even though Malayalam Parallel Cinema made a slowdown, some of the best films ever made in Malayalam by master film makers Adoor and Aravindan were made during this decade. Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s masterwork Elipathayam (1981) was followed by Mukhamukham (1984), Anantharam (1987) and Mathilukal (1989). G Aravindan’s major works like Esthappan (1980), Pokkuvail (1981), Chidambaram (1985) and Oridathu (1986) were released during this period. Other major works produced during the 80s were K G George’s Aadaminte Variyellu, M T Vasudevan Nair’s Manju, John Abraham’s Cheriyachante Krurakrithyangal and Amma ariyan, K R Mohanan’s Purushartham, Pavithran’s Uppu and Shaji N Karun’s first film Piravi.
A positive development was witnessed in the field of commercial Malayalam Cinema too during the 1980s. A new path of filmmaking was introduced by directors Padmarajan and Bharathan, films that stood equidistant from traditional ‘popular’ and ‘parallel’ cinema. These film makers successfully made films, which were commercially viable, without using the usual formulas of commercial cinema. The distance between ‘popular’ and ‘parallel’ cinema reduced so that these films could not be distinguished.
1990s could be considered the worst years for Malayalam parallel cinema. Only few good films were produced during this decade. These include Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Vidheyan and Kathapurushan, Aravindan’s last film Vasthuhara and Shaji N Karun’s Swaham.
T V Chandran with films like Susannah, Danny and Padam Onnu Oru Vilapam is a strong presence in Malayalam cinema. R Sarath’s Sayahnam and Stithi, Murali Nair’s Maranasimhasanam, Pattiyude Divasam and Arimpara, Satish Menon’s Bhavam Rajiv Vijayaraghavan’s Margam and Ashok R Nath’s Sabhalam are notable films that came out during the recent years. After a long absence of eight years, Adoor Gopalakrishnan is back with his Nizhalkkuthu in 2003.
Film Society Movement in Kerala
Rat-Trap (Elippathayam, 1982)
The Film Society Movement, which started in 1960s and gained momentum during the 1970s, brought in a new consciousness about cinema as an art form and stood for a different kind of cinema, which was termed as ‘parallel’, ‘newwave’ or ‘art’ cinema. Contrary to other parts of India, this movement was never an urban phenomenon, but something that cut across all terrains and sections of society. At a point of time, the great classics of World Cinema reached even the rural Kerala and discussions on them were held at the layman’s level.
The ‘Chitralekha Film Society’ formed under the leadership of Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Kulathoor Bhaskaran Nair in 1965 at Trivandrum, was the first Film Society in Kerala, though even before this there was an attempt at Trissur to form a Film Club, namely the Trissur Film Club in 1955. ‘Chitralekha’ also did work towards formation of Film Societies in Schools and Colleges and also succeed in setting up a film studio of its own. Soon Film Societies were formed at other parts of Kerala.
The Naxalbari agitations, student revolt in Paris, Vietnam war and the hippie movement formed the general ambience of the 1970s. This agitated environment combined with Malayalam literary scene, which was already vibrant with the new ‘modernist’ ideas became the foundation for the spread of Film Societies all over Kerala during the 1970s. More that a hundred Film Societies sprouted all over Kerala, of which some of them have completed more than 25 year now. Even today, Kerala has the largest number of Film Societies in India and still trying to create awareness about cinema as a serious art form.
Among the Film Societies of Kerala, the ‘Odessa’ experiment, started by John Abraham, stands apart from all the experiments in various ways. It never had a formal / legal structure or any political backing. Its attempt was to attack the problem comprehensively at all levels – exhibition, distribution and production, by ensuring people’s participation in all its activities. But with the untimely demise of John Abraham, ‘Odessa’ movement started waning.
Malayalam Mainstream Cinema
Amma Ariyan (1986)
Popular cinema of Malayalam rarely tried to adopt the language of cinema till the 1980s. Delivering highly dramatic dialogues and singing and dancing in a set that resembled a stage were the widely accepted format of Malayalam commercial cinema.
Joshi, whose earlier films like Moorkhan (1980), Raktham (1981) and Sambhavam (1981) were all made in the same old format pioneered this change of form of Malayalam commercial cinema with his later films like New Delhi (1987), Nair Saab (1989) and Pathram (1999). With Joshi, Malayalam cinema too entered into an era of technically superior films.
Priyadarshan who started with slapstick comedies like Poochakkoru Mookkuthi (1982) slowly transformed his form to a more serious one. Sentimental stories with a coating of humour became his trademark. His collaboration with Mohanlal created some of the all time hits of Kerala like Thalavattam (1986), Chitram (1988), Kilukkam (1991) and Kaalapani (1995).
Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal (1986)
Fazil created a narrative style of his own, and created super hits without the help of superstars. He introduced many newcomers to Malayalam cinema, most of them later became stars. His first film Manjil Virinja Pookkal (1980) itself established him as one of the most noted director of commercial Malayalam Cinema. This film also saw the birth of a greater and later superstar, Mohanlal. Films like Ente Mammattikkuttyammkku (1983), Nookketha Doorathu Kannum Nattu (1983), Ente Sooryaputhrikku (1991) and Manichitrathazhu (1993) were all trend-setting films.
I.V. Sasi started with Ultsavam (1975), a small-budget film with no big stars. Since his film form has undergone several transformations and succeeded in almost all of them. His Avalude Raavukal (1979) was a milestone in the history of popular cinema in Kerala. But when many soft-porn movies started arriving on this format, I V Sasi started with star-studded films like Angadi (1980). A series of big-budget films came from him after the huge success of Angadi. While his films like Trishna (1981), Raagam, Anubandham and Aalkkuttathil Thiniye (1984) with screenplay of M T Vasudevan Nair where artistically superior, films like Ee Nadu (1982), Vartha and Aavanazhi (1986) with screenplays of T.Damodaran were made with a political flavour. I V Sasi’s film 1921 (1988), a historical, stands apart.
Balachandra Menon is a cinema-journalist turned director, who has made several popularly acclaimed films like Ishtamanu Pakshe.. (1980), Karyam Nisaram (1983), Prashnam Gurutharam (1983) and April 18 (1984). These films are mostly humorous films with down to earth characters. With Achuvettante Veedu (1987) he tried to take a new path and Samantharangal (1997) was critically acclaimed and won him the Nation award for best actor.
Films of Satyan Antikadu have won popular acclaim even while making socially relevant films. Whenever Satyan Antikadu paired up with Sreenivasan as the scriptwriter, Malayalam cinema received films with social relevance and down to earth characters like T P Balagopalan M A, Gandhinagar Second Street, Sanmanasullavarkku Samadhanam and Naadoodikkattu.
Kamal started with Mizhineerppookkal (1986) and is one of the biggest presence in Malayalam popular cinema with almost all his films becoming commercial successes.
Piravi (aka Birth, 1988)
Some of the other directors who have guaranteed commercial success are Rajasenan, Vinayan, Bhadran, Anil Babu, Thambi Kannanthanam and T S Suresh Babu.
With Prem Nazir leaving the limelight of Malayalam cinema, the concept of superstar-centred cinema also disappeared for a short while. But 1980s saw birth of new superstars, and the entire film industry revolved around these stars. Ignoring the films with more than life characters, which made them the superstars they are today, Mammootty and Mohanlal are two great actors, who have proven their ability whenever they have got chance. Mammootty excelled in his verity roles of Yavanika, Yathra", Thaniyavarthanam, Vidheyan, Mathilukal and Oru Vadakkan Veeragaatha. Mohanlal with his natural and original style excelled in films like Kireedam, Vaastuhara, Vaanaprastham, Kalapaani and Bharatham. The new superstar of Malayalam, Dileep specialises is comedy films. Malayalam cinema has also received some of the best actors of Indian cinema like Gopi, Nadumudi Venu, Thilakan and Murali.
Producer Appachan of ‘Navodaya Productions’ is distinguished as a pioneer of technical experiments in Malayalam cinema. He is the producer of the first cinemascope film of Malayalam cinema Thacholi Ambu (1978), first 70 mm film Padayottam (1982) and India’s first 3-D film My Dear Kuttychathan (1984).
The first Indian film shot and exhibited in digital format, Moonnamathoral gets released in 2006.
Vaanaprastham (aka Pilgrimage, 1999)
Nizhalkkuthu (aka Shadow Kill, 2002)
Even though the new millennium started with Malayalam cinema facing threats never seen before, it seems to have over come them within few years. When, the emergence of cable television along with other factors threatened the very existence of commercial cinema, soft-porno films, often termed ‘Shakeela films’- Shakeela being the name of the actress who filled the silver screen during those period- filled up the cinema halls and became commercial successes. Malayalam cinema managed a comeback with several meaningful commercials and the ‘Shakeela films’ slowly disappeared.
Apart from Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Nizhalkkuthu (2003) it was T V Chandran with his various films who filled up the Parallel Cinema arena. Films of newcomers and non-resident filmmakers like Murali Nair, Satish Menon, Liji Pullapilly etc. were also shown and widely discussed. Other new directors who emerged during the last few years was Rajiv Vijayaraghavan and Sharath.
Commercial success of film like Kamal’s Perumazhakalam and Blessy’s Kazhcha has given a new birth to the middle-path stream of Malayalam cinema. New directors like Pradip Nair (Oridam), M D Sukumaran (Ullam) and Albert (Kanne Madanguga) emerged with their socially relevant films.Malayalam Directors
I. V. Sasi
J. C. Daniel (“Father of Malayalam cinema”)
K. S. Sethumadhavan
M. T. Vasudevan Nair
P. N. Menon
K. R. Mohanan
K. G. George
P. G. Viswambharan
- Akku Akbar
- Rosshan Andrrews
- Anjali Menon
- Sathyan Anthikad
- Alberrt Antoni
- G. Aravinda
- P. A. Backer
- M. S. Banesh
- P. Bhaskaran
- P. Chandrakumar
- Cochin Haneefa
- Johny Antony
- Lal Jose
- Dennis Joseph
- K. Madhu
- Shaji Kailas
- Madhu Kaithapram
- Nagavally R. S. Kurup
- A. K. Lohithadas
- Balu Mahendra
- Balachandra Menon
- Venu Nagavally
- N. Sankaran Nair
- Amal Neerad
- P. T. Kunju Muhammed
- Renji Panicker
- N. N. Pisharody
- V. K. Prakash
- Niddhish Puuzhakkal
- Rafi Mecartin
- Raghunath Paleri
- A. B. Raj
- T. K. Rajeev Kumar
- Anwar Rasheed
- Chintha Ravi
- P. Anil
- A. K. Sajan
- Ranjith Sankar
- R. Sarath
- M. G. Sasi
- J. Sasikumar
- K. S. Sethumadhavan
- Shajoon Kariyal
- M. Night Shyamalan
- P. Subramaniam
- Saji Surendran
- Thampi Kannanthanam
- Sreekumaran Thampi
- Viji Thampi
- B. Unnikrishnan
- Suresh Unnithan
- A. Vincent
- V. M. Vinu