Promising directorial debuts in Malayalam cinema (2000-2020)

Maheshinte Prathikaaram

Post the cable tv, major changes happened to the film industry of Kerala. Out of those, the most depressing of all is the establishment of star-structure which ultimately suppressed cinema, the art form. But apart from this, one of the major reasons for Telugu-esque masala’s flourishing in Kerala was untimely deaths of prominent and prolific filmmakers at that time. This includes, Padmarajan (1991), G Aravindan (1991) and Bharathan (1998). The three were among the greatest content creators. But however, the terrible late 90’s and early 2000’s phase had an end by 2010. A newer generation started to inherit the Industry with fresh narratives, innovative themes and modern aesthetics.

Honourable Mentions

  • B Ajithkumar (Eeda 2018): For attempting an unapologetic Romeo Juliet romance in the backdrop of Kannur’s scathing party politics
  • Abrid Shine (1983 movie 2014): For imbuing nostalgic nuances and elevating a template underdog story to a remarkable slice-of-life account
  • Martin Prakkat (Best Actor 2010): For a glorious star-centric entertainer that has both brains and brawns
  • Anjali Menon (Manjadikuru 2008): For debuting with a charming children-starrer that (also) know the roots
  • Madhu C Narayanan (Kumbalangi Nights 2019): For giving a sensational crowd pleaser with a low-key comic caper energy.

10. Sachy (Anarkali 2015) / Mahesh Narayanan (Take Off 2017)

Two directorial debuts (writer-turned-director and editor-turned-director) that reassured Mainstream Malayalam Cinema’s economical prospects. Late Sachy’s romance-drama Anarkali (2015) and Mahesh Narayanan’s survival-drama Take Off (2017) are no masterpieces. But both the directors put fourths a larger vision on the dynamics between ‘scales’ and ‘ambitions’. These two films stand testimony that big-canvas is not necessarily subsidiary to big-budget and wider ambitions are derived as a result of innovative and creative writing/filmmaking. If Anarkali purely inherits the writing ambitions―widening a simple love story to a melodramatic epic, Take Off does a masterclass in cost-effective finesse.

9. Sanal Kumar Sasidharan: Oraalppokkam (2014)

Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s crowd-funded debut feature, Oralpokkam has noticeable shortcomings, majorly the climax and it’s pretentious jump into surrealism―attempting at an epiphanic conclusion. But despite all of that, through the film Sanal has managed to incorporate an individualistic signature in using the film medium―visual, aural and psychological―with some level of precision that no other indie filmmaker has recently displayed. When gently looking at his career so far (from Oraalppokkam to Chola), it’s admirable that Sanal has proved himself all the way―on how to blend both real and surreal, mythical and contemporary using eloquent cinematic language.

8. Alphonse Puthren (Neram 2013) / Sameer Thahir (Chaappa Kurishu 2011)

Two instant classics in modern-day filmmaking. Sameer Thahir and Alphonse Puthren spearheaded the digital renaissance and underlined the entitlement of a newer generation, who has ambition, determination and piercing creativity. Both the directors took cues from world cinema and adapted the narratives to local suburban/urban milieus of Kerala. Sameer’s film while having a piercing social commentary on the class-divide also plays with the ideas of Malayalee morality, sensuality and intimacy. It was also for the first time in Mainstream Malayalam Cinema a filmmaker depicted non-gimmicky eroticism on screen. Alphonse Puthren’s Neram on the other hand can be called as a definitive modern day slapstick comedy.

Mammootty in Big B

7. Anwar Rasheed (Rajamanikyam 2005) / Amal Neerad (Big B 2007)

At a time when commercial Malayalam Cinema was at a peak crisis―ignited by the Ranjith brand mass-entertainers and the outdated Renji Panicker style masala―Anwar Rasheed made his earth shattering directorial debut with Rajamanikyam, a one of it’s kind masala entertainer from the language. A film that masterfully makes use of elevation templates, star value and masala sentiments without any crass ex-factor templates. While on the other hand, Amal Neerad’s Big B paved the way for european style action genre in Malayalam. Both these films rewrote the quintessential mass-hero image of that time, taking deviant cross-roads w.r.t Mammootty’s characterisation.

6. Sanju Surendran: Aedan; Garden of Desire (2018)

Sanju Surendran uses the embedded narrative in this real-to-surreal cross over, at times evoking a piercing insight on the human psyche and it’s manual scavenger for death. Aedan the garden of desire, terrifically intertwines both death and desire as fellow concurrent themes to three stories―the first; a Seventh Seal esque card game of death, the second; an unpredictable noir and the third; a sensual road movie. Through the three stories Surendran puzzles an introspection into the multi-faceted human psyche where there’s a second layer beneath each emotion; in the three cases here, manifestation of greed, envy and lust. The visual language of the film is juxtaposed between the bright scenic beauty and the cold dreadful nights―to show both the masqueraded and the subliminal.

5. Salim Ahamed: Adaminte Makan Abu (2011)

Salim Ahamed hasn’t yet managed to exceed his brilliant directorial debut, the oscar entry from India that year, till this date. The neo-new wave started with genre films and western influenced narratives, like Traffic, Cocktail, Chappa Kurishu, Amen― but before Malayalam reached the stature of present day a.k.a culturally rooted modern cinema, Salim Ahamed pulled off this beautifully sublime muslim narrative soaked with faith and spirituality. The secular compassion portrayed in the film might sound far-fetched or as overt preaching, but Ahamed has managed to effectively tell a story of atonement and what it takes, in its purest and earnest form. In the film, he uses cinematic metaphors, visual imaginary, natural lighting and close up shots to convey the story with depth and profoundness.

4. Blessy (Kaazhcha 2004) / Rosshan Andrrews (Udayananu Tharam 2005)

Passion for Cinema is the common interest that binds both Blessy and Rosshan Andrrews. It’s the passion that’s reflective in their debut directorials. With Kaazhcha, Blessy gave the tragic-melodrama a magical rebirth through unapologetic and uncompromising craftsmanship. Whereas Rosshan Andrrews’ Udayananu Tharam marked the debut of a filmmaker who’s in well-knowledge of the language and grammar of cinema. In the film one can see utmost conviction in each regard, blocking, staging, lensing or framing. A rarity at a time when there were mostly symmetric shots and static takes.

Sudani From Nigeria

3. Zakariya: Sudani From Nigeria (2018)

Zakariya Mohammed’s unassuming directorial debut is a mighty addition to positive representation of muslims in Malayalam Cinema and the film, in addition with breaking muslim stereotypes largely we get to see on celluloid, also goes one step further. Because Zakariya has no intention to limelight political integrities and false pretensions of any sort. Unlike Adaminte Makan Abu, here we have a flawed protagonist, dysfunctional human relationships and grey emotions. The film gives a dignified and moving outlook of the muslim life in countryside Malappuram, without any gimmickry or inhibitions to show it’s characters in good light. Zakariya’s story-telling is universal, fathoming a spectrum of emotions from maternity, humanity and compassion to volatile themes of, refugee crisis and alienation, without being fussy.

2. Rajeev Ravi: Annayum Rasoolum (2013)

Realism, a basic mode of expression in art, for years remained as an ‛alien’ silent-cat to the Malayalam audience. This is when Rajeev Ravi’s seminal directorial debut, Annayum Rasoolum, came out with a homespun grammar of “stylized realism” where the melodrama is subtle. Reminding the kind of cinematic expression Sidney Lumet introduced in 12 Angry Men and the kind, which Asghar Farhadi is mastering through the course of his career. Ravi’s filmmaking is all about capturing momentary nuances and furnishing performative poetry. Annayum Rasoolum, although a minimal star-crossed romance, is also a discreet take on globalization―Fort Kochi, the place, the people and the culture forms an important ally in the film, along with its development. However, in essence, Ravi has managed to occupy a composed melancholic mood all through the film foreshadowing an inevitable tragedy. The excellence in his craftsmanship is in simulating this poignant cinematic experience with unfussy demeanour.

Fahad Fazil and Aparna Balamurali in Maheshinte Prathikaaram

1. Dileesh Pothan: Maheshinte Prathikaaram (2016)

Easily the most pioneering directorial debut of a filmmaker marked in Malayalam celluloid since the last three decades. Pothen’s filmmaking style―flirting with molecule level details, imbuing vibrance; one of it’s kind and stamping touches of sensationalism, is from the KG George school. But Pothen is also singularly distinctive in his approach, which is a delectable medley of native roots (classy old-school) and modern kerala. In Maheshinte Prathikaram, Pothen charts a butterfly effect idiom through remarkable attention for detail and sensational film language, using every medium―song, sky, rain, space, place and drama with consummated precision.

Share with:

About the Author

Arjun Anand
CA Student who's enthusiastic about films.

Be the first to comment on "Promising directorial debuts in Malayalam cinema (2000-2020)"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.