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.
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.
Set in a remote village, the narrative of Maoist revolves around the chaos caused by two buffaloes running wild, forming the central theme. It is part of the short story collection “Appan,” published by DC Books, and co-written by Hareesh and R Jayakumar. The film will be showcased in TIFF’s Contemporary World Cinema section. Additionally, Geethu Mohandas’s film, “Moothon,” is all set to premiere at TIFF 2019.
Aedan: The Garden of Desire
Debutant director Sanju Surendran adapted Hareesh’s three short stories – Niryatharayi, Manthrikavaal, Chapathile Kolapathakam – for the 2018 movie “Aedan: The Garden of Desire.” These shorts intricately weave together themes of death, desire, and human deceit, transforming real-life incidents into a surrealistic chronicle. This adaptation showcases the sheer potential of Hareesh’s writing.
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 vividly depicts the unexplored, gritty lives in the obscure corners of Kochi, a subject untouched by previous writers.
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 narrative presents a unique portrayal of Thrissur’s history, delving into its myths and documenting the lives of people from the lower social strata. Typically overlooked in popular narratives, they are often deprived of any distinct identity. 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.
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.
Malayattoor Ramakrishnan’s 1967 novel “Yakshi” underwent a cinematic transformation in 1968 when K S Sethumadhavan adapted it into a movie with the same title. The script for this adaptation was penned by Thoppil Bhasi. Starring Sathyan and Sharada, the film received widespread critical acclaim and continues to be regarded as an exemplary work in the realm of psychological thrillers within Malayalam cinema.
Malayattoor Ramakrishnan’s Yakshi
In 2011, a film adaptation titled “Akam,” featuring Fahadh Faasil, was directed by Shalini Usha Nair, based on the same novel. The psychological tale revolves around a young man in constant identity dilemma after an accident. He suspects the woman with him to be a Yakshi, a ghost, creating a gripping narrative that blurs the lines between reality and illusion. “Akam” skillfully transformed the novel into a compelling psychological thriller, setting it apart with a contemporary urban backdrop.
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 compellingly confront readers with real lives often overlooked in the public space.
Shanavas K Bavukutty directed the movie “Thottappan,” drawing inspiration from the short story with the same title. Vinayakan played the central figure in this adaptation, which delved into various levels. At its core, it explored the human bond between a girl and her godfather. Adapting the story to a larger canvas required a nuanced exploration of the central figure, “Thottappan,” delving into the intricacies of human nature. P S Rafeeque crafted the script for the film.
For nearly a decade, Unni R has played a crucial role in Malayalam cinema, contributing to both critically acclaimed and commercially successful films. His screenplay for “Charlie” (2015) earned him the Kerala State Film Award. Recently, the announcement of Rosshan Andrews adapting his debut novel, “Prathi Poovankozhi,” for the big screen has created buzz. The main role in the movie will be portrayed by Manju Warrier.
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.
The list goes on. While literature and cinema hold diverse appeal in the public space, Malayalam cinema consistently benefits from collaborations with veteran writers. 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.
Completed PG in Master of Communication and Journalism, University of Kerala. Aspiring to pursue PhD in film studies soon.