Monday, 27 October, 2008

Spring Returns to Malayalam Cinema

Malayalam Cinema which was in a free fall for the last 13 years, saw a refreshing change this Onam season. In the absence of superstar films, Kerala was witness to a by now rare phenomenon of four middle-of-the-road films releasing in theatres simultaneously. Arriving with hardly any publicity or hype, the four films, Thalappavu, Thirakkatha, Gulmohar and Rathrimazha, managed to combine good production values, fresh storylines, scintillating performances and excellent cinematic craft to bring class audiences back to theatres. Though these films failed to enthuse the masses like commercial potboilers succeed in doing, the average collections registered will go a long way in encouraging producers to invest in more of such quality ventures.

Thirakatha, starring Prithviraj, National Award winning actress Priyamani and Anoop Menon is a take-off on the life of the late actress Srividya and centering around her failed love affair with Kamal Hassan. It brilliantly explores the lives of film personalities through their failures, success, fame and oblivion. With Thirakatha, Renjith, one of Malayalam cinema’s best writers, salvages his fading reputation thanks to a string of big budget disasters, and comes up with a script that is in equal measure a stinging critique of the superstar-centric industry that Malayalam cinema has become.

Perhaps the best film of the year, Thalappavu is inspired from the true story of a police constable confessing to the murder of legendary Naxal leader Varghese, at the behest of his superior officers. The story told in flashbacks uses the stream of consciousness technique to bring back memories of Varghese to the contrite police constable whose life goes downhill, from the moment he pulls the trigger. The character of Varghese, is played brilliantly by Prithviraj, who invests such sincere dignity and fiery splendour to the role, that he does deserving justice to the first ever portrayal of the revolutionary leader on celluloid. Lal, in a career best performance essays the role of the suffering constable with pathos and restraint. Thalappavu succeeds in raising several pertinent questions of the day which need to be seen in conjunction with the rise of Maoists movements in several parts of India.

With Gulmohar, Jayaraj, one of Malayalam cinema’s greats returns to his roots, and emphatically ends loose talk by film aficionados that he had lost steam after several disastrous attempts to gain a foothold in commercial cinema. The film tells the story of a middle-aged school teacher, who was the member of a left radical student group that broke up, failing to achieve its objectives. Circumstances force the teacher, today a husband, father and responsible citizen to fall back on revolutionary action. Jayaraj’s masterstroke was to compel writer-director Renjith, to debut in front of the camera for the protagonist’s role. Renjith exceeds all expectations and satisfies every requirement of a complex role - graduating from a tough, manly and intense youth to the slouching, tender and mild mannered teacher.

The favourable response to these films promises middle-of-the-road cinema a new lease of life. Offbeat films have struggled to find releasing centres with the closure of several theatres across the state. But multiplexes are coming up soon, ensuring adequate screens for art films too. Cable TV which gained popularity at cinema’s expense has today lost its sheen. With companies like Adlabs and Pyramid Sairmira venturing into film production, the infusion of capital and corporate culture might just be the tonic needed to revive Malayalam cinema from its slumber. A generation of directors, writers, actors and other technicians are slowly being phased out and a new guard is emerging. Meanwhile Keralites wait in hope of a return to the golden age of Malayalam Cinema, a period which lasted 10 years between 1985 and 1995, when the state had an embarrassment of riches with Padmarajan, Mohanlal, Mammootty, MT Vasudevan Nair, Bharathan and Lohitadas to name just a few of the legends who were at the peak of their creative prowess.

P.S - Feature written for course work.