Whither Malayalam Cinema?

'In the eighties, a “Malayalam film” screened in the north would have carried two contrasting kinds of stigma. It could be high art (Aravindan, Adoor, John Abraham; always spoken of in awe, mostly from a safe distance). Or a dubious sort of porn, playing morning shows in halls where the seats would clatter and bite. Either philosophy or filth—that’s what everyone thought. Films that occupied the middle of the spectrum were the secret that never got out. Unbeknownst to the rest of the country, for two decades, Kerala made perhaps the best mainstream films in India. Commercial cinema had hit a strange barren patch up north, lifeless for no apparent reason, like a marathoner hitting the wall—Hindi turned infantile, Bangla went into intensive care (continues to be there). Tamil went hip—it got a spritz of MTV and technical savvy, and earned Japanese fans. But Malayalam witnessed a silent efflorescence, across popular genres. A range of stories and story-types, scripts full of nerve and sinew, naturalistic acting. Credible, rooted and real—and very entertaining. In the high tide of that phase, novelist-scriptwriter M.T. Vasudevan Nair, director T. Hariharan and superstar Mammootty had teamed up for the lush period epic Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha, a revisionist take on a balladic villain, just one of a fistful of Malayalam ‘hits’ that made it to the 1990 IFFI Panorama. Now, two decades later, the troika has put together the costliest Malayalam film yet— a full house Sunday matinee in the carpeted hush of PVR Ambience, Gurgaon, worlds away from those morning shows.'

- Sunil Menon, 'Pazhassi Raja.'


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