Great movies are born from great writing. Since movies were born, literature and movies have maintained a warm relationship. Classic epics have been adapted into world-class movies. Kerala too has been blessed with extraordinary writers since time immemorial and great books have been adapted into great movies.
Could any Malayali ever forget Padmarajan? A key proponent of the middle-stream Malayalam cinema, along with contemporaries like K G George and Bharathan, Padmarajan made impressive works from his own stories. Who would forget Jayakrishnan and Clara in Thoovanathumbikal? This 1987 classic was adapted from his story Udakappola. Aparan, the debut film of Jayaram was based on a short story by Padmarajan. His short story ‘Orma‘ was the inspiration behind the Blessy movie Thanmathra. K G George’s excellent political satire Panchavadi Palam was an adaptation of a story by Veloor Krishnankutty.
New Age Malayalam Cinema
Contemporary Malayalam cinema has been witnessing lately a shifting paradigm in their writing and narrative styles. A whole new bunch of excellent writers and film-makers with sheer craft have begun to indulge in the film-making process in Kerala’s cinematic imagination. Let’s take a look at a few of them. Be sure to add them to your reading lists.
1. Jallikkattu (2019)
Lijo Jose Pellissery has been seen as the boldest new face in Malayalam cinema. Within a short span of years, he has garnered much appreciation for his versatility over experimenting with narrative styles all the while providing a world-class cinematic experience to the viewers. His new movie Jallikkattu is all set to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The movie is the cinematic adaptation of the story Maoist penned by S Hareesh who was in recent controversies regarding his novel Meesha. The film stars Antony Varghese, Chemban Vinod and Vinayakan in pivotal roles.
The story Maoist is set in a remote village and the frenzy caused by two buffaloes running wild forms the crux of the story. The story is added in the short story collection titled Appan published by DC Books. The movie is co-written by Hareesh and R Jayakumar. At TIFF, the movie will be screened in the Contemporary World Cinema section. Moothon, a film by Geethu Mohandas is also set to premiere at TIFF 2019.
Aedan: The Garden of Desire
The 2018 movie Aedan: The Garden of Desire directed by debutant Sanju Surendran was also adapted from Hareesh’s three short stories – Niryatharayi, Manthrikavaal, Chapathile Kolapathakam. The three shorts intertwine the themes of death, desire and human deceit. They involve real-life incidents that are beautifully transformed into a surrealistic chronicle, which shows sheer potential of Hareesh’s writing.
2. Ee Ma Yau (2018)
Lijo’s best work so far has been Ee Ma Yau which has won the Best Director and Best Actor (Chemban Vinod Jose) awards at the 49th International Film Festival of India. The movie has been an adaptation of the novel Chaavunilam by the scriptwriter for the movie P F Mathews in 1996. The movie evokes interpretations on different planes and carries the story between life and death so delicately. The film had Chemban Vinod and Vinayakan playing the pivotal roles.
Chaavunilam touches upon the lives of the marginalised coastal community in Chellanam area and revolves around a funeral in a Latin Catholic household in the region. It explores the intricacies of a human mind and chronicles the event of a death in the most honest way possible. The novel paints a raw picture of the lives in the dark corners of Kochi which has not been touched upon by any writer before.
3. Porinju Mariam Jose (2019)
The latest flick from the craftsman Joshy has garnered some controversy before release about the originality of the script. Allegations have arisen that the movie is loosely based on the story Vilapurangal by Lizzy Joy. The character Mariam is the central character of the novel and through her unfolds the tale of a land less talked about, the people, their anxieties, and their aspirations. The story paints a novel picture of Thrissur’s history, it’s myths and the story of people from the lower social strata who are generally deprived of any identity in the popular streams. It is quite astonishing how a woman writer tells such a story with such rawness and intensity. Her daring attempt to portray such a wide canvas of life through Mariam is marvellous.
The scripting for the movie is done by Abhilash N. Chandran and stars Joju George, Chemban Vinod and Nyla Usha in the leading roles.
4. Aadujeevitham (2020)
Najeeb, the central character of Benyamin’s 2008 novel has garnered much attention for over a decade now. A film adaptation of the novel, Prithviraj donning the role of Najeeb will hit the big screen in 2020. The film is directed by the much-acclaimed Blessy who astonished us with films like Kazhcha, Thanmathra, Bhramaram. The screenplay is also handled by Blessy.
The novel presents the story of Najeeb who survives a harsh life in the Middle East by herding goats, toiling day by day under the cruel employer who tortured him. It reflects on the plight of the migrant labourers who left Kerala hoping for a better life in the Gulf.
5. Akam (2011)
The 1967 novel Yakshi by Malayattoor Ramakrishnan was adapted into a movie of the same title by K S Sethumadhavan in 1968. It was Thoppil Bhasi who penned the script for this adaptation. The movie starred Sathyan and Sharada. This movie garnered much critical acclaim and to this day is considered a fine example of psychological thrillers in Malayalam cinema.
Later in 2011, Akam, starring Fahadh Faasil, was made based on the same novel. The movie was directed by Shalini Usha Nair. The novel is a psychological tale of a young guy who is in constant dilemma about the identity of a woman accompanying him after he met with an accident and got disfigured. He doubts her to be Yakshi, a ghost and it is this confusion between what is real or not that keeps the reader glued to the story. Akam was well-crafted into an engaging psychological thriller. Unlike the earlier rendition, this movie was placed in a contemporary urban setting.
6. Thottappan (2019)
Francis Noronha has become a contemporary figure who narrates the lives of those pushed to outer lanes in society. He narrates these lives from the dark alleys of Kerala’s public sphere with an unusual flavour never tasted before. His book Asaranarude Suvisesham tells the tale of those disempowered people with such rawness. His stories bring the reader into stark confrontation with the real lives which are left unaddressed from the public space.
The movie Thottappan directed by Shanavas K Bavukutty was inspired by the short story of the same title. The movie had Vinayakan playing the central figure. The story had different levels to it, a human bond between a girl and her godfather being the crux. The adaptation of the story to the larger canvas had to explore the central figure of “Thottappan” with all the intricacies of the human nature woven together. The script for the movie was done by P S Rafeeque.
7. Prathi Poovankozhi
Unni R has been a key figure in Malayalam cinema for about a decade now and he has been part of both critically and commercially acclaimed movies. He has won Kerala State Film Award for Best Screenplay for Charlie (2015). Lately, his debut novel Prathi Poovankozhi has been announced to be adapted into big screen by Rosshan Andrews. The movie will star Manju Warrier in the main role.
Prathi Poovankozhi is a political satire set in the writer’s hometown Kottayam. The novel tries to criticise the current political and social situation of the country in a typical Unni R way, which is slightly absurdist and satirical. Unni R has also previously mesmerised us with his shorts that satirically criticise the different notions of sexuality, morality, religion or gender prevalent in our society. The novel again reflects on the insanity growing in the collective conscious in the name of nationalism and so on. It could be a reminder on the issues plaguing our current society and what could go wrong in the future if unattended. The movie will also be scripted by Unni R.
Few of the previous movies adapted from his stories include Leela directed by Renjith, Ozhivudivasathe Kali directed by Sanal Kumar Sasidharan. Leela also had Kottayam as its backdrop and Unni R has become a favourite among movie buffs since Charlie. Ozhivudivasathe Kali won the state award for best film as well.
His short story Oru Bhayangara Kamukan is slated to be directed by Lal Jose with Dulquer Salmaan in the lead.
The list goes on. Even when literature and cinema have occupied a diverse appeal in the public space, Malayalam cinema has always been blessed with collaborations with veteran writers that gave world-class films. Veterans like Thakazhi, Vaikkom Muhammad Basheer and M T Vasudevan Nair have adorned the cine-space as well. Thazkazhi’s epic Chemmeen adapted into cinema by Ramu Kariat won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in 1965.