Year Ender (Malayalam and Tamil Films)
This article is about some of my favorite Malayalam and Tamil Films that I have seen this year. There has been a big boom of Tamil and Malayalam films in the last few years thanks to the various OTT platforms. This year has also seen some wonderful films from both the industries particularly Malayalam.
First up are the Malayalam films.
1 and 2 Puzhu and Malayankunju: Both these movies are a stinging critique of two upper class men struggling to come to terms with today’s changing world. Puzhu is a gripping psychological study of a police officer called Kuttan (LegendaryactorMamooty). Kuttan is a widower who stays with his son Kichu in a posh apartment. He is an unlikeable character in many ways. He has an overbearing nature that suffocates his son.
Kuttan also suffers from a paranoia that someone is trying to kill him. This paranoia gets further accentuated with the arrival of his sister and her husband. Parvathy plays Kuttan’s sister Bharati. Kuttan has a problematic equation with Bharati as her husband comes from a lower caste.
The biggest strength of Puzhu lies in how the director handled the complex character of Kuttan. He doesn’t waste any time in establishing how unlikeable Kuttan is. There are no redeeming qualities thrust upon Mamooty’s Kuttanfor the sakeof it.
At the same time Kuttan also has his vulnerable moments. The best examples of these moments are the scenes where the father tries to reconnect with his son Kichu and when the son starts openly rebelling against the father. There are also some much needed lighter bits when Mamooty keeps visiting a suspect whenever he escapes an attempt on his life.
With Puzhu Mamooty showed once again why he is considered as a legend. He generates hatred with the mere twitch of his eyes. It wouldn’t be wrong to say Mamooty lived the role of Kuttan.
FahadhFaasil’sMalayankunju looked at caste through the lens of a survival drama. In this film Fahadh played an electrician Anikuttan. He has a severe dislike for anyone who comes from the lower caste community. The reason for this attitude is connected to his father’s suicide. In fact even an infant cry disturbs him.
Things take a turn for the bad when monsoon strikes followed by heavy rains. A landslide occurs and Anikuttan gets trapped.
The most interesting aspect of Malayankunju is how the director juxtaposed the aspects of Anikuttan fighting for survival along with that of the crying infant. In fact the cry that disturbs Anikuttan the most becomes a source of strength in those dire circumstances.
Malayankunju is a film that expertly balances the thrills of a survival drama along with the positive changes that happen in our protagonist.
The technical department led by Jothish Shankar and Mahesh Narayan is truly a marvel. The production design coupled with the cinematography play a major part in the audiences being engaged.
FahadhFaasil is someone who has always chosen complex parts and Malayankunju is no different. He effortlessly dwelled into the psyche of Anilkuttan and makes you root for him.
3.Bhootakalam: Rahul Srinivasan’s Bhootakalam has the typical tropes of a horror film. The creaking of the door, the dark atmosphere etc. However Bhootakalam is much more than just a film with jump scares.
The director uses the horror angle to talk about mental health and a flawed education system among other things. There is a clinically depressed mother Asha played by Revathy. She has a troubled equation with her son Vinu (Shane Nigam). Asha had raised Vinu all by herself after the death of his father when Vinu was seven years old. Asha cannot bear to see her son leaving for an outstation job. This naturally leads to many tussles between the mother and son. Both of them live in urban Kerala.
The major area where Bhootakalam scores is the way the director gradually builds up the tension. It is not that there is no love between the mother and son; however both of them are haunted by a troubled past that has only escalated further.
There is a lot of inner resentment and bitterness that has grown over the years. All this comes out in the form of arguments that feel so real. Another noteworthy character in Bhootakalam is the grandmother. This grandmother appears for a brief part but her presence can be felt throughout.
Both Revathy and Shane live their parts, particularly Revathy. The senior actress does a solid job in conveying the misery of a woman who has led a compromised life all throughout and now all those compromises are affecting her child. There is an important scene where she implores her son not to repeat her mistakes.
4. Pada: Pada directed by Kamal KM is a gripping hostage drama based on a real life incident. The incident had taken place in 1966 but the issue is relevant even today.
Four men played by Joju George, DileeshPothan etc hold a collector hostage for over 10 hours. Their aim is to make government withdraw the new bill that will alienate adivasis from their rights. So these people lock themselves in with the collector and start negotiating with the chief secretary played by Prakash Raj. It goes without saying that they have some ammunition also with them.
The biggest strength of Pada is the drama that unfolds as the hostage drama progresses. Through the character of the collector the director makes some important points. He perfectly conveys the difficulties of those who want to help the adivasis even within the administration. This comes out well in a scene where the collector talks about how he had helped the tribals in a land issue. But the four are quick to add that he was not able to finish the program successfully. At 125 minutes Pada is a crisply narrated tale. The performances of all the actors were in perfect sync with each other.
5. Salute: Films about the inner workings of the police department aren’t particularly new. But Salute directed by Roshan Mathews is worth a watch because of the tight script and Dulqer Salman’s performance.
The plot of Salute revolves around a family of police officers. Dulqer Salman plays sub inspector Aravind. His biggest inspiration is his elder brother Ajay played by Manoj. But things take a turn when an innocent auto driver Murali is falsely implicated in a double murder case by Manoj. The upcoming elections complicate matters for Murali. At the beginning of the film, it is shown that Aravind has taken leave; however, he soon decides to fight for Murali which makes them stand on opposite sides.
Salute works best when the focus is on the brothers. Both of them are constantly trying to outdo each other. What makes this more interesting is the fact that they are living under the same roof.
The film moves at a slow pace which is intentional and in this case apt. Another major strength of Salute is how Aravind is never shown to be invincible. He is as vulnerable as anyone else.
There are only two areas where the film stumbled. One is the last stretch and the other is the casting of Diana Penty. The film could have done away with the obligatory romantic track.
1.SaaniKaayidham: The story of SaaniKaayidham is basically influenced by Shekhar Kapoor’s Bandit Queen and also Quentin Tarantino’s films. Caste and violence on women is taken from the first; the revenge saga is reminiscent of the violence shown in Quentin Tarantino’s films. The violence is gruesome with multiple scenes of the villains being stabbed and tortured.
However, SaaniKaayidham is still an important watch on several counts. First and foremost are the performances of Keerthy Suresh and Selvaraghavan. They play half siblings who faced trauma beyond measure due to an unjust tragic event. Arun Matheswaran’s direction is more sure footed when he focuses on the dynamics between these two.
In the beginning there is a strained relation between them but once they get together the dynamics slowly change. There is an undercurrent of emotions that come to surface. This entire process was well depicted by the director.
The film also addresses the pertinent topic of how it is always the woman who becomes the soft target when the fight is between men. Though Poni (Keerthy Suresh) works in the police department it doesn’t stop the upper caste men from raping her. Their ‘justification’ for that is her husband challenged them. SaaniKaayidham is both engaging and problematic in equal measures.
2. O2: O2 directed by GK Viknesh is not just your regular thriller/drama set in a single location. O2 is a film which is above all a strong cautionary tale for humankind. In this film the director smartly juxtaposed the concept of two maternal mothers. One being Mother Nature and the other Nayanthara who plays a widowed mother Parvathy.
The film’s theme is clear from the opening scene itself where the chicks are being killed due to deforestation by human beings. From here we move to Parvathy’s son Veera. Veera is heavily dependent on oxygen cylinder for breathing. From the beginning the condition of Veera symbolizes the depletion of natural resources. Hope comes in the form of a corrective surgery. Parvathy decides to go ahead with it.
Soon mother and son are on the bus to Kochi. Here they are joined by several other characters like a corrupt cop, an ex- MLA etc. In a horrible turn of events they get trapped within the bus.
Films of this genre need a certain expertise and GK Viknesh proved that he is more than just a capable director. He makes you feel the wrath of nature. Audiences are always on the edge to find out what will happen next. The director is also successful in establishing the parallel between both the maternal figures – The Mother Earth and Parvathy. Parvathy is someone who can be unapologetically selfish, self serving and also violent. Nayanthara portrayed all these shades with the finesse that we have come to expect of her.
There are a couple of loose ends in 02 but the film is largely gripping; it is a thriller that ignites your thinking.
3.KadaisiVivasayi:As the title suggests Kadaisi Vivasayi talks about the last farmer in a village. Real life farmer Nallandi played the role of Mayandi. Unfortunately Nallandi died soon after the release of the film.
Mayandi is a farmer who doesn’t depend on technology or any other technological developments. In fact the youngsters in the village are surprised by the lifestyle that Mayandi leads. The supporting cast comprises several unknown faces.
The only known faces in the film are Vijay Sethupati and Yogesh Babu. Both of them appear in extended cameos.
It takes some time to buy into the world of Mayandi. In fact his simplicity is a little difficult to digest. But thanks to director Manikandan audiences are slowly drawn into his world.
The best thing about Kadaisi is that it never gets into the zone of moral lecturing. Nothing melodramatic happens in the village; still normalcy itself makes it melodramatic and at times scary. The inherent message of Kadaisi is to embrace the farmers with love and not pity.
The rural atmosphere has also been brilliantly captured by the director. Manikandan who also handled the cinematography does a wonderful job in capturing the scenic beauty of the village.
Manikandan’s direction is good but the script could have been better. The addition of Vijay Sethupati and Yogesh Babu doesn’t add much. The director tries to add elements of spirituality through the nomadic character of Vijay Sethupati but it doesn’t add much to the film. The less said about Yogesh Babu the better.
Kadaisi is a film that ultimately belongs to the late Nallandi. His real life experience of being a farmer reflects quite a lot in his performance.