Malayalam cinema has through the ages won appreciation from both critics & masses alike due to their lack of formulaic content and focus on good substance & creativity, rather than relying on candy floss or glam factors alone. This is also evident from the array of hit Malayalam movies which have been rehashed in Bollywood with varying success like Hera Pheri, Chup Chup Ke, Garam Masala, Bhool Bhulaiya etc. & recently the Ajay Devgan-Tabu starer- Dhrishyam. Did you know that the first 3D Film produced in India, “My Dear Kuttichathan” (1984), was also made in Malayalam? It has also given rise to internationally acclaimed award-winning filmmakers like Adoor Gopalakrishnan who are considered masters of their game. But they were more of the ‘parallel cinema’ genre catering mostly to the niche ‘Arty’ audience. Today, however, the fine line dividing Art & Commercial movies is blurring and we find some fine cinema being produced which make good commercial sense too by raking in the moolah at the all-important Box-office!

So what has changed in the last few years in the Malayalam Film Industry, you may ask? Well, Malayalam Cinema has gone contemporary and is on a roll right now! The influx of a fresh, young, talented breed of passionate filmmakers and actors has infused the much-needed fresh blood into it. Where the last few decades of popular Malayalam movies were dominated by the 2 stalwarts of the industry –viz Mammootty & Mohanlal and their ilk, today they have given way to a new generation of young actors who are not afraid to experiment with off-beat storylines and grey characters. Filmmakers too are stepping out of the conventional, time-tested narratives and breaking the moulds of what a successful formula film should look like.
Here is a selection of some such recent movies from God’s own country which have made an eternal place for themselves in cinema-lovers’ hearts :

Ustad Hotel is a 2012heart-warming drama directed by Anwar Rasheed & written by Anjali Menon. It revolves around a guy, Faizal’s (Dulquer Salman – Mammootty’s son) desire to become a chef in the face of strong disapproval from his rich father, who wanted his only son to take on his Hotel Management biz. But Faizal who was brought up by his 4 sisters has other plans. After completing his studies from Switzerland when Faizal reveals he has studied to become a chef, his dad is livid. Post an unpleasant confrontation with his dad, he decides to stay with his grandfather, Kareem in Kozhikode-Kerala by helping his grandfather run his little eatery called ‘Ustad Hotel’. It is here that Faizal experiences the ground realities of life, as he learns from his grandfather that no work is too small. The camaraderie & bonding between the grandson & his grandfather forms the highlight of this movie. The script effortlessly meanders through its multiple layers touching on the importance of humanitarian values more than financials. His grandfather’s words, “Anyone can fill a stomach, but only a good cook can fill the heart as well” stay with him long after he passes away, and Faizal decides to stay back in India to run his Hotel after him. This is one movie which serves up a deliciously poignant tale, warming up the cockles of one’s hearts, radiating feel-goodness and one which you wouldn’t want to miss!

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This 2014 release aptly titled “How Old Are You?” by Director Roshan Andrews has the gifted actress, Manju Warrier (returning to the big screen after a sabbatical of 14 yrs.) playing an unlikely protagonist in the form of a middle-aged married woman, who’s also a mother to an opinionated teen and who rediscovers her passion in Life by stepping out of her comfort zone. The film explores how it is often not our physical age but how old we perceive ourselves to be, that determines how we pursue our dreams & whether we go on to achieve them. The crux of this movie revolves around a very relevant & introspective question – “Who decides the Expiry date of a woman’s dream?” And while at it, it also manages to make a strong case for naturally grown organic veggies! To imagine a similar premise in a Bollywood potboiler is unthinkable even today for the simple reason that a Hindi movie having a middle-aged, non-glamorous female character as the central character would not even be considered commercially bankable!

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Another endearing movie with an unusual central character & an off-beat theme is the 2013 film “101 Chodyangal” (101 Questions) by first time director Sidhartha Siva which earned both him & the child artiste playing the pivotal role, 10-year-old Minon, National Awards. The story revolves around a poor boy who is given an unusual task by his teacher- to come up with 101 Questions, for each of which he would be rewarded with 1 Re. by the teacher, who would also then attempt to answer the child’s query to his satisfaction. The naturally curious child goes about his quest with unbridled zeal, coming up with questions on wide-ranging subjects -from simple day-to-day joys & pains of his childhood to questioning the profound meaning of Life itself. For the same reason, don’t mistake this for a simple Children’s movie ‘cos it raises some pertinent questions which even adults would struggle to grasp. It is, in short, an ode to the wondrous child within each of us.

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We all love the underdog, don’t we? One such character, who is a perennial loser – career-wise, as well as, in love is played by Nivin Pauly, the current heartthrob of Mallu girls all over, in the curiously titled 2014 movie “1983” directed by Abrid Shine, which revolves around sports. Any cricket lover would instantly relate to the title as THE year Kapil Dev & team lifted the World Cup to India! So here we have this young man who’s obsessed with playing Cricket to a fault but due to circumstances is unable to achieve his dreams as a cricketer. Years later & well past his prime, on noticing his son’s penchant for cricket he makes it his life’s mission to fulfil his son’s wish & his own dream to become a successful cricketer, through his son. This is executed in a light-hearted, simplistic manner, without the usual heavy-duty drama accompanying such movies with Sports at its core, which only adds to its appeal.

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It would, of course, not be practically possible to list all of the recent Malayalam movies which tick the boxes for popular, as well as, critical appreciation. However, some other notable movies which deserve a mention here, especially for pulling the young audiences back to the theatres are-:
Om Shanti Oshana (2014, by Jude Anthony Joseph) although essentially a romantic movie, is at its core the delightful story of a young girl narrated in her own words. It takes us on a tumultuous but humorous journey of her life- right from her birth through her difficult, pre-pubescent teens till the moment when puberty strikes & she discovers “love” or rather decides its time she “fall in love”, more so to avoid the pitfalls of arranged marriage and what she imagines to be a bleak, bland & boring future thereafter! It refreshingly turns your regular boy-chase-girl routine on its head; here its the ‘distressed damsel’ who pursues the object of her affection with single-minded, unwavering dedication, even in the face of various hilarious trials & tribulations which test the limits of her love; in the process serving the viewers with a deliciously bitter-sweet treat which is bound to take us all back to our adolescent years! The engrossing performance of the talented Nazriya Nazim, who plays the central role and who is a sheer delight to watch, deserves special mention here. She carries this movie ably on her dainty shoulders with her histrionics keeping the viewers riveted to her every move- convincingly transforming from an awkward, tomboyish schoolgirl to a charming young lady as the film runs its course.

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Bangalore Days (2014 rom-com drama written & directed by Anjali Menon) is a young, vibrant Multi-starer but skillfully manages to avoid the minefields that most multi-starers succumb to- that of trying to give sufficient footage & screen time to each of the stars, in the process losing the plot! 3 of the current youth-heartthrobs (Nazriya, Nivin Pauly & Dulquer Salman) play the lead roles of 3 cousins exploring the fun, adventures & travails of living independently in the urbane lanes of Bangalore together, away from home. Although each of them has very different attitudes & expectations from life, they unflinchingly offer support to the other’s life choices whenever they need it. They are brilliantly supported by Faahadh Fazil & Parvati Menon both of whose characters have interesting multi-dimensions to them- Faahadh plays the seemingly introverted Corporate guy who marries Nazriya, but who has a rebellious hidden past, while Paravati is the confident RJ whose bright, ever-positive outlook on Life causes Dulquer to fall in love with her, only to, later on, realise that she is a Paraplegic confined to a wheelchair. Nitya Menon also has a short & sweet cameo as Faahadh’s late girlfriend. The story takes the viewer on a rollercoaster of myriad emotions for a good 3 hours- heartwarming at times and thrilling at other times, plunging us into the many challenging upheavals each of these characters face in their personal & professional lives, whilst achieving their dreams. But it never loses its sense of humour along the way, thus ensuring the movie retains its zingy peppiness throughout. It can, therefore, be called a rare Malayalam Blockbuster with all its essential elements!

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Premam (2015 release directed by Alphonse Puthren) is the latest typical coming-of-age movie treated in an ‘atypical’ manner to dish out an engrossing, adorable affair. The storyline is fairly simplistic like its tagline that reads ‘nothing extraordinary in it’ and deals with the heartaches & infatuations a young man, George (Nivin Pauly again), goes through growing up while scouting for the elusive “true love”. The film traces his life & heart’s journey over a period of 2 decades, via his 3 crushes–
First, a pretty girl from his school who is basically sought after by most of the boys from his neighbourhood but who is in a relationship with another guy, thus leading to his first heartbreak. His second crush is his young & sassy college professor, a Tamilian (wonderful debut by newcomer Sai Pallavi) for whom he falls hook, line & sinker, and who also seems to reciprocate his feelings but in a tragic turn of events she loses her memory in an accident and can barely recognise him or even recall her present, leave alone the relationship they shared. This leaves him devastated for a very long time. Eventually, with time & maturity, he mellows down & gets over this traumatic loss. He sets up his own business and immerses himself into it completely & that is where he runs into his final lady love who eventually ends up with the love of his life. This movie reflects the Director’s competence to raise a mediocre plot to a groundbreaking level, purely based on its content detailing & treatment! The movie has been made with a perfect blend of comical elements which keep the tempo of the film light & entertaining.This film went on to become the highest grossing Malayalam movie at the worldwide box office! Some of its characters & punch lines have acquired cult status amongst the masses & this movie has been remade in other South Indian languages like Telugu.

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These were some delightful coming-of-age movies which even those grown up on a staple diet of Hollywood fare, who would normally turn up their noses at the regional cinema, couldn’t successfully resist! They form an instant connect with today’s young guns by striking a chord within them.

And finally, it really doesn’t matter if you don’t speak or even understand the language, for today most of the new releases come equipped with English Sub-titles. So that means just about anyone who loves good cinema can sit back, popcorn in hand and enjoy the celluloid magic unfolding on screen!

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