By Venkat Ramanan:
It has been almost five years since the heralding of the so called term “new generation Malayalam cinema“. Malayalam cinema long known for its art-house and parallel films, by the beginning of the 21st century faced a decline in its quality. Even established directors struggled as their films failed commercially. This further increased the gap between art-house and mainstream films.
The early 2000s also witnessed a rise in “masala film” formula, similar to the ones made in Tamil and in Bollywood. By early 2010 a new breed of films made their way. Films like ‘Kerala Cafe’, ‘Nayakan’, ‘Malarvadi Arts Club’ brought in fresh perspectives and were different from the existing mainstream films but failed to have a good run at the box office.
But with the release of the film “Traffic“, one of the first commercially hit ‘new-gen’ movies, what followed was a new wave of films. Aided with lower costs of digital film making, this new wave allowed filmmakers to push for greater variety of content and to tap into the rising popularity of social media for film promotions. There has been a mixed response to this change happening in Malayalam cinema.
Some of the visible characteristics identifiable with new-gen Malayalam cinema are:
• It has been an era of stardom making way for better narratives. Films are no longer carried on the back of a star vehicle.
• The films and filmmakers reflect the era of globalization and its cultural effects. Finding balance between the globalized culture and regional culture.
• Narratives and characters tend to avoid clichés. They often make bold statements on societal and cultural issues.
• Above all this movement has not been without the audience who are appreciating these films and adding to their commercial success.
This movement noted to have started by early 2010, has seen many films being released over the past five years and here are a few of them:
22 Female Kottayam 
The film as the title suggests, is the story of a woman, 22 years of age, hailing from Kottayam. Director Aashiq Abu is at his best and boldest, as he gives a hard-hitting drama of rape, revenge and a penis getting lopped off. Along with bold performances by the cast, this film stands as path breaking.
The film revolves around the events that happen in a picturesque Kuttanadan village following the arrival of a young priest Vincent Vattolli. A feel-good, jovial musical experience which is technically and visually brilliant. The picturesque village, well crafted scenes, and soulful performances by the cast completely absorb the viewer.
Ayalum Njanum Thammil (Between You and Me) 
Ayalum Njanum Thammil is a candid and honest story between a senior doctor and a junior doctor, through which a picture of the medical profession is drawn. The film gently switches between past and present and poignantly captures the story of the life of a doctor, aided with mood-stirring cinematography making it a great watch.
Bangalore Days 
Bangalore Days is a refreshing tale of three cousins, who get back together in Bangalore. After the national-award winning Ustad Hotel, Anjali Menon returns as director in this beautifully crafted film with an ensemble cast. The film captures the struggles, emotions of the protagonists with subtle elegance and makes it a movie that you can watch again and again.
Da Thadiya (Hey Fatso) 
The film title literally meaning Hey Fatso, on one level is a well-written drama and at the same time pokes at the societal stereotypes and prejudices. How often do you find yourself watching a movie, pinning hopes on an obese person as the protagonist to overcome the negatives and find closure, this well-crafted and heartedly presented film achieves that.
Drishayam (The Sight) 
Drishyam could be stated as a crime-thriller masterpiece of 21st century Malayalam cinema. It has a brilliant script, backed by legendary actor Mohanlal in one of his best performances. It is a thrilling tale of how far a man is willing to go to protect his family. Also one of the highest grossing Malayalam films of all time. This landmark film is a must see, before it eventually gets remade around the country.
Left Right Left 
Interlinked story of three men. This is a bold film on the political affairs of the state, at the heart of it is the theme that a man is part DNA, part unknown and part what he sees and goes through as a child, which reverberates through the film and its character arcs.
This film is a slow paced thriller that remains true to its genre. A killer is on the loose and a cop has to chase his haunting past as well as the killer. This is a slow paced film that takes its time and director Jeethu Joseph skillfully keeps us drawn into it with its enigmatic charm.
Mumbai Police 
This is a crime-thriller which revolves around a cop who loses his memory in an accident. Just before the accident, he had solved a high profile murder case. Now he has to trace it back. The film has one of the most shocking ends Malayalam cinema has seen till date. This is a must watch.
Neram (Time) 
Fast paced, with comedy, romance and one hell of a chase against time. The film revolves around the notion of good time and bad time. Neram, along with mood-setting cinematography and background music, provides a few good laughs and packs an entertaining ride.
Njaan (Me) 
Njaan could be easily stated the highbrow film of this lot. It is a haunting character exploration of a person known as K.T.N Kottoor. The film has features of post-modernist cinema with meta narrative of a play. The film lacks conventional closure, with the characters within at times questioning the meta narrative. A great watch for those who are into cinema of this genre.
Picket 43 
This film is a part of the long military themed filmography of director Major Ravi. In the past, he has often made star-centric action films. This film however can be viewed as the director chipping in with the contemporary cinema. He gives us a tale of timeless friendship across the border with the story of Haveldar Ravindran. Prithviraj gives a memorable performance along with Javed Jaffrey. The film captures subtle emotions and friendship against the bigger narrative of India-Pakistan, at all times remaining realistic and multilingual with Malayalam, Hindi and bit of Tamil.
Thattathin Marayathu (Behind the Veil) 
It is a romantic musical written and directed by Vineeth Sreenivasan. The film is the love story of Vinod Nair and Aisha, belonging to Hinduism and Islam respectively. It is a refreshing tale of a time tested archetype of a Hindu boy falling for a Muslim girl. The music, composed by Shaan Rahman adds to the innocence this film tries to portray.
Ustad Hotel 
This film revolves around the backdrop of a small restaurant known as Ustad hotel. Scripted by Anjali Menon and directed by Anwar Rasheed, it achieves a perfect combination of modernity and rootedness in its characters as well as its tropes. The film won three National Awards including the Best Popular Film. It is filled with memorable characters, soulful music and is a well-wrapped treat for the audience.
So grab a tub of popcorn and explore a whole new film industry!