It was a pleasant surprise to see an article in Economic Times-Ahmedabad edition which amassed certain forgotten facts about Malayalam cinema. Though I still wonder why did they chose to publish it now..
Article points out how Malayalam cinema in 80s cleverly transformed into a single stream by marrying both ‘art’ and ‘popular’ cinemas into one form, even while Bollywood industry continued to distinguish them in terms of ‘intelligence’ and popularity’.
In the decade beginning 1986, Malayalam cinema gave the debate between ‘intelligent’ and ‘popular’ cinema a decent burial by cleverly marrying the two. Credit for this, of course, goes to directors like P Padmarajan, Bharathan, Sathyan Anthikad, Priyadarshan and Sibi Malayil who, in the company of writers like Sreenivasan and Lohithadas, helmed a series of movies that bridged the gap between intelligent and popular. By the end of the 80s, there was hardly any talk of art cinema — even among college students with Leftist leanings and high-brow aspirations.
Being an ardent movie buff and having watched numerous movies in Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam, I can confidently say that malayalam movies from 1980 – 1995 were the all time best of Indian cinema. There was a unique concoction of intelligent, sensible, witty, satiric and emotional film making. But lack of new talent and experimentation is deteriorating the quality of malayalam cinema nowadays. Now, its the tamil and telugu cinemas which are taking the lead. Hindi cinemas are still stuck in ‘mediocre’ movies, but occasionally comes up few sparkling gems.
Coming back to ET article, it gives a very good narration of best malayalam cinemas..
In Anthikad’s Gandhinagar 2nd Street, Mohanlal plays a jobless Malayali youth who masquerades as a Nepali watchman in a posh neighbourhood. In Sanmanasullavarkku Samadhanam, he’s again an everyday Joe who desperately wants his ancestral house rid of stubborn tenants. And in Varavelpu, Mohanlal plays a Gulf returnee whose dream of settling in Kerala and running a private bus service turns sour in the face of trade union problems — a stark indictment of the state’s callous attitude towards entrepreneurship. In Malayil’s Thaniyavartanam, Mammooty is a school teacher who progressively goes mad — under the social glare of having inherited his uncle’s madness. And in Bharathan’s Amaram, Mammooty is a common fisherman — though there’s not a pretence anywhere in the movie at being ‘arty’.
Sreenivasan’s Vadakku Nooki Yanthram and Paavam Paavam Rajkumaran stood out in the marquee, Jayaram’s Mazhavil Kaavadi ran to packed houses. Political satires like Panchavadi Palam and Sandesham went on to become big hits.
The biggest proof of how Malayalam cinema successfully married the two opposite and opposing forces is the commercial success of Sibi Malayil’s Bharatham: the movie won Mohanlal a National Film Award for Best Actor; it won Yesudas a National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer; and it won a string of Kerala State Film awards as well.
May be when more and more malayalam movies are subtitled, it would definitely have a much bigger audience who enjoys and appreciate ‘Good Cinemas’. Let’s hope for the same, and until then be satisfied with these occasional memoirs.