A crash course in Malayalam New Wave cinema, Part 4 – the actors

In the concluding part of my four-part series on Malayalam New Wave cinema, I turn finally to the most obvious contributors, the faces on the screen.

These films are still male-centric and there are a handful of male actors who have appeared repeatedly in the most notable films. While there is no doubt as to the talent and charisma of these actors, it’s interesting that a number of them come with a ‘film family pedigree’:-

  • Fahadh Faasil who seems to be the face of the Malayalam New Wave, is the son of famed writer-director Fazil. I think of him as Kerala’s version of Nawazuddin Siddiqui, the go-to actor to play anti-heroes or off-beat characters. Fahadh is now also producing films under the banner of Fahadh Faasil & Friends, the latest being 2018’s Varathan (an unofficial remake of Straw Dogs) and 2019’s Kumbalangi Nights.
Fahadh Faasil
  • Dulquer Salman (Ustad Hotel, Bangalore Days, Neelakasham…) is the son of superstar Mammotty.
  • Prithviraj Sukumaran (City of God, Mumbai Police) and Indrajith (City of God) are the sons of Sukumaran, a lead actor from the 70s and 80s.
  • Vineeth Sreenivasan is the son of character actor and scriptwriter Sreenivasan.

But there is also a new breed of actors who have emerged on the strength of their screen presence and acting prowess alone. Pretty much all of them started their careers in 2012 at the leading edge of the New Wave movement (I just realized that three of the four listed below made their initial breakthrough in Annayum Rasoolum):-

  • Soubin Shahir had a notable supporting role in 2013’s Annayum Rasoolum, was hilarious as Crispin in Maheshinte Prathikaram, frightening as Sameera’s brother from Dubai in Mayaanadhi and finally graduated to the lead role of the well-meaning but conflicted football team manager in Sudani from Nigeria. Meanwhile, he has also had time to write and direct his first film, Parava.
Soubin Shahir (left) as the hilarious Crispin in Maheshinte Prathikaram
  • Shane Nigam was the nutcase brother in Annayum Rasoolum and has now graduated to headlining movies like Kismath, Eeda and Kumbalangi Nights.
  • Sunny Wayne had an empathetic supporting role as Fahadh Faasil’s friend in Annayum Rasoolum, then moved up to co-lead with Dulquer Salmaan the following year in Neelakasham Pachakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi. Since then, he has appeared in over 20 movies, usually in co-lead or supporting roles.
  • Tovino Thomas has garnered acclaim for his performances in the 2015 biopic Ennu Ninte Moideen, the 2016 drama Guppy and my favourite, the 2017 romance thriller Mayaanadhi (in which he plays an irritatingly childlike but endearing petty criminal).
Tovino Thomas

Among the actresses, there haven’t been one or two dominant actresses as there have been among the male actors. That could be because many of the female characters appear to have been written as ‘foils’ for their male protagonists. There have been of course, some strong characters such as the ones played by:-

  • Rima Kallingal as the nurse Tessa Abraham in Aashiq Abu’s 22 Female Kottayam
  • Shweta Menon as dubbing artiste and foodie Maya Krishnan in Aashiq Abu’s Salt n’ Pepper
  • Manju Warrier as the housewife turned entrepreneur Nirupama in Rosshan Andrrews’ How Old Are You?
  • Nazriya Nazim as Divya in Anjali Menon’s Bangalore Days (now married to her co-star from the film, Fahadh Faasil)
  • Aishwarya Lekshmi as struggling actress Aparna in Aashiq Abu’s Mayaanadhi and as Priya Paul, the wife dealing with a home invasion in Amal Neerad’s Varathan.
Aishwarya Lekshmi, who has acted in Aashiq Abu’s Mayaanadhi (2017) and Amal Neerad’s Varathan (2018)

Others to make an impression have been Ramya Nambeeshan (Chaappa Kurish and Traffic), Aparna Balamurali (Maheshinte Prathikaram) and Padmapriya (who abruptly steals the show in the last act of Ayobinta Pusthakam).

So that’s been my highly enjoyable journey through the past 6-7 years of films from my home state of Kerala.

In the coming year, I am looking forward to Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Jallikattu, Amal Neerad’s crime thriller Bilal (a sequel to his debut film Big B) starring Mammootty and son Dulquer Salmaan, Salim Ahmed’s drama …And the Oscar Goes To starring Tovino Thomas and Aashiq Abu’s real-life dramatic thriller Virus (an ensemble cast including Fahadh Faasil, Tovino Thomas, Soubin Shahir, Dileesh Pothan, Indrajith Sukumaran, Rahman, etc.)

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