A crash course in Malayalam New Wave cinema, Part 2 – 2012 & 2013, the wave grows stronger

This is a continuation of my previous post where I talked about my discovery of Malayalam New Wave cinema in the past year and my chronological journey through key films which have signposted its emergence since 2011.

2012

One of the breakout directors from 2011 returned and a new talent emerged enjoying success both as a director and as a scriptwriter:-

Aashiq Abu returned a year after Salt N’ Pepper with the revenge-thriller 22 Female Kottayam, starring Rima Kallingal (whom he eventually married). Featuring Fahadh Faasil yet again, this was a rare Indian film where a woman takes matters into her own hands and wreaks deadly revenge on the men who betrayed and raped her. In addition to compelling performances from the actors, the movie featured a killer rock soundtrack, including the opening track Chillane.

Amazingly, Aashiq Abu was back with another film by year end, the offbeat romantic comedy, Da Thadiya (Hey Fatty), the story of an obese young man who decides to lose weight in order to win the affections of his childhood sweetheart. This film was a box office hit as well, his third in a row.

Manjadikuru (Lucky Red Seeds), directed by debutante director Anjali Menon, had been doing the rounds of festivals since 2008. It got its wide release in theatres in 2012 and struck a chord with its nostalgic coming-of-age story of an extended family assembling from around the world to mourn the demise of the family patriarch. Featuring a marvelous ensemble cast of character actors, the true stars of the film were the four child actors.

Dulquer Salmaan (left) and veteran actor Thilakan in Anwar Rasheed’s Ustad Hotel (screenplay by Anjali Menon)

Ustad Hotel brought Anjali Menon into the news again two months later, this time as a script writer for a coming-of-age drama of a different sort. The crowd-pleaser, directed by Anwar Rasheed told the story of a young Switzerland-trained chef (played by Mammootty’s son Dulquer Salmaan) who learns about love, humility and heartland cooking from his estranged grandfather. The movie was a huge box office hit and established Dulquer Salmaan as the next young heartthrob in only his second film. In 2014, Anwar Rasheed acted as producer for Anjali Menon’s second directorial effort, Bangalore Days which became one of the highest grossing Malayalam films of all time, starring Dulquer Salmaan and Fahadh Faasil.

2013

Two established filmmakers Rosshan Andrrews and Jeethu Joseph showed that they could get big stars to act in non-formulaic films too. Sameer Thahir proved that his debut hit in 2011 Chaappa Kurish was no fluke. And two new directors – Rajeev Ravi and Anil Radhakrishnan Menon – made impactful debuts. Let’s look at these films in chronological order of their releases in 2013:-

Rajeev Ravi, who had been Anurag Kashyap’s cinematographer for several years and had just finished his magnum opus Gangs of Wasseypur, came out with his debut directorial effort, the ‘Romeo & Juliet’ type story, Annayum Rasoolum. I liked the movie for its measured pacing (a facet of all his films) and overall storytelling, but I didn’t at all feel comfortable watching the lead character Rasool (Fahadh Faasil – him again!) stalking this young woman Anna (played by model/singer Andrea Jeremiah) every day from home to workplace and back, and pretty much coercing her into a doomed relationship. Nevertheless, it was a powerful film with great acting performances from an ensemble cast including Sunny Wayne and Soubin Shahir as Rasool’s friends and Shane Nigam as Anna’s sociopath brother. However, it didn’t do particularly well at the box office. Rajeev Ravi’s subsequent two films Njan Steve Lopez (2014) and Kammatti Paadam (2016) have also been critically well received. However, I still have ‘problems’ with his characters – the sheer stupidity and obstinacy of the Steve Lopez character and the Kammatti Paadam subplot in which the two protagonists decide which one of them is the best husband for the woman they both love.

Rosshan Andrrews had released his first film in 2005 and now was ready with his fifth effort Mumbai Police, starring established young actor Prithviraj Sukumaran. The film was a well-plotted and tightly paced thriller about a cop who loses his memory just after he has solved a murder and now has to solve it all over again. In the process, he discovers that he wasn’t a particularly nice guy when he was ‘normal’. The movie made headlines because it featured a big star playing a gay character for perhaps the first time in Malayalam cinema (or even Indian cinema for that matter) and was a big commercial hit. The following year Rosshan Andrrews was back with another interesting effort, the female empowerment dramedy How Old Are You?, which brought back actress Manju Warrier to the big screen after a 14-year hiatus.

Sunny Wayne (extreme left) and Dulquer Salmaan (extreme right) hit the road in Neelakasham Pachakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi (Blue Skies, Green Waters, Red Earth)

Sameer Thahir who had made such an impactful debut in 2011 with Chaappa Kurish returned in 2013 with the biker movie Neelakasham Pachakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi (Blue Skies, Green Waters, Red Earth), which has achieved cult status since its release. Supposedly influenced by Walter Salles’ The Motorcycle Diaries, the film starred the two young heartthrobs of Malayalam cinema – Dulquer Salmaan and Sunny Wayne (and their cool motorbikes). This is a wonderful film about two young men who ride from Kerala all the way to the North-East and meet several interesting people along the way. Bengali acting veteran Dhritiman Chatterjee appears in a small but significant role. The film marked the debut of cinematographer Gireesh Gangadharan who has since gone on to do some astonishing magic with the camera in the last couple of years with the gangster movies Angamaly Diaries and Swathanthryam Ardharathriyil.

Fahadh Faasil was once again on screen by September in director Anil Radhakrishnan Menon’s debut film North 24 Kaadam, one of eleven different films he acted in that year! This time he played Harikrishnan, a software programmer suffering from OCD, who inadvertently ends up on a harrowing road trip with an elderly man and a young woman. This movie is essentially an acting showcase for Fahadh Faasil, supported by the ever-watchable veteran Nedumudi Venu and talented young actress Swathi Reddy, as well as a hilarious performance by character actor Chemban Vinod Jose (more about him later). Realists may point out that Harikrishnan gets ‘cured’ of his OCD a bit too conveniently towards the end of the movie, but it’s easy to forgive such lapses in characterization when one is entertained by such engaging performances.

Drishyam, the Mohanlal blockbuster from director-screenwriter Jeethu Joseph closed off the year and brought in 2014 with a bang. This was Jeethu Joseph’s fifth movie and no one could have predicted what a monster hit it would be. Featuring incredible wide-angle cinematography shot in the picturesque Western Ghats by Sujith Vasudev, taut pacing and fantastic performances from the two child actresses, the movie was unstoppable at the box office. It was subsequently remade into four languages. I am not sure if this can be considered as part of the Malayalam New Wave, because it was very much a mainstream film featuring the biggest star in the industry and from an established director and production team. But coming as it did at the end of a year full of interesting films, it certainly strengthened the growing belief that Malayalam films had shifted into a higher gear.

In the third part of this series, I will write about the community of talented writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, musicians and actors who have created this wave in the past 7-8 years.

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