Some of the best Malayalam and Tamil films 2023
January 9, 2024
2023 can be easily called as the year of Mammootty both critically and commercially. The legendary actor had three releases this year and all of them are so distinct from each other. The Malayalam film industry did not see a lot of commercial successes this year but for Mammootty, who is 70 now, 2023 will always be hugely memorable.
It all began with Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam (Like an Afternoon dream). The film belongs to the genre of surrealism where a Malayali man enters into a Tamil village and starts behaving like a Tamilian. Though it looked absurd on the surface the audiences thoroughly enjoyed these unexplained situations. This is majorly thanks to Lijo Jose Pollissery’s direction coupled with Mammootty’s performance.
Next up was the police procedural Kannur Squad. The film was based on a real-life accident where a bunch of police officers had to head north in order to catch and bring back some criminals. More than the story what made the film gripping was the direction of Roby Varghese Raj and also the star power of Mammootty. The actor had some powerful mass dialogues coupled with well choreographed action sequences. However, Mammootty saved the best for the year end with Jeo Baby’s marital drama Kaathal – The Core. The homosexual angle was dealt with utmost sensitivity without falling into the trap of mainstream clichés. Jeo Baby also did a brilliant job in exploring the predicament of Jyothika’s character.
Among the other Malayalam actors Tovino Thomas found both critical acclaim and commercial success with the film 2018. It was a survival drama based on the Kerala floods that had devastated the state in 2018. The film had an ensemble cast with everyone doing justice to their parts.
Regarding Tamil Film Industry Siddharth struck gold with his production Chithha. Chithha is a hard-hitting drama about the bond between Eeswaran (Siddarth) and his niece Sundari (Sahasra Sree). While Eeswaran is like a father figure to Sundari, he absolutely adores her. The backdrop of Chithha is the killings of young girls by a pedophilic serial killer. Chithha is not a movie that is easy on the eyes, it has some highly disturbing visuals but this film is a must watch particularly for those who like intense dramas based on an important social topic.
Now let’s take a deep dive into the best of Malayalam and Tamil in 2023
1 Kaathal – The Core
In the last few years many movies and web series have depicted homosexuality in different angles. What makes this Mammootty and Jyothika starrer refreshing is the utmost humanness with which Jeo Baby presented the situation. The life of Mathew Devassy (Mammootty) takes a drastic turn when his wife Omana (Jyothika) files divorce after twenty years of marriage.
Kaathal – The Core unfolds in a very leisurely manner. This is a movie that needs to be watched with some patience as the story takes time to kick in. But once the plot and the conflicts are established there is no looking back.
A very strong aspect of Kaathal – The Core is how Jeo Baby has dealt with the relationship of Mathew and Omana. Omana has no personal animosity towards Mathew despite not having a fulfilling relationship with him. She understands his sexual orientation and not only wants to have a life of her own but also wants Mathew to make peace with his sexuality. There is an inherent decency in the way both the characters have been written and that is what makes this marital drama refreshing.
The courtroom portions also have some impactful dialogues and scenes. Mammootty undoubtedly deserves all the accolades that came his way. It is not just about accepting a path breaking role but the veteran actor also did a brilliant job in showcasing different emotions. Jyothika also stood tall with her graceful performance. On many occasions she lets her subtle expressions do the talking. Another actor worth mentioning here is R.S Panicker as Mathews’s dad Devassy. There is a heartbreaking scene between him and Mammootty when the latter apologises for forcing his son to get married in spite of knowing his son’s feelings.
2. Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam
In this film Mammootty played a man called James returning with his family from a pilgrimage. He has a peevish personality in terms of easily getting irritated and always being doubtful about people even if they do some good to him. On the way back from the pilgrimage James tells the driver to stop the vehicle at a certain place when others are in deep sleep. He walks straight into a Tamil Village and starts behaving like a Tamilian man called Sundaram. Everyone is puzzled but they wait patiently to understand who the man is because he was behaving exactly like the missing Sundaram. This leads to many amusing situations with both his old and new families.
Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam is one of those films where audiences can interpret the story in different ways because director Lijo Jose Pellissery does not give any explanation for the behavior of James. There is no particular medical condition that you can pin point and as a result the audiences are constantly playing a guessing game. This is a major plus for the film.
Cinematographer Theni Eshwar also did a brilliant job in capturing the beauty and the quirks of the village through his lens. There is surrealness to the frames. What also made the transformation of James into Sundaram a smooth process was Mammootty’s incredible performance.
3. Kannur Squad
Roby Varghese Raj’s Kannur Squad is a solid police procedural that engages the viewers in spite of some generic mainstream elements. The film is based on the real-life incidents that happened in Kannur between 2007 and 2013.
Roby Varghese struck a perfect balance between the commercial tropes and the grittiness needed for the subject. Mammootty in this film is ASI George who leads a special investigative team.
Kannur Squad takes a little time to get going but gathers momentum soon when the plot moves into a thriller mode. What also works for the Kannur Squad are the back stories of the team members. They have been well written and add a certain weight. An interesting aspect of Kannur Squad is that one of the officers is facing serious corruption charges but is still on the investigative team. Certain rifts happen in the team at a crucial juncture because of this.
A particular stretch that has to be mentioned here is the one involving the Tikri village in U.P. The action sequences in the dark were brilliantly shot. As viewers there is a certain tension that we feel about the safety of these police officers.
The role of a police officer is not new for Mammootty but the veteran actor shined bright as the determined squad leader. There are some delightful massy moments also involving Mammootty which the actor pulled off with great panache.
Jude Anthany Joseph’s 2018 is a well-made survival drama that engrosses the viewers throughout. The film is set in the village of Aruvikkulam. The first half an hour is devoted to establishing the lives of the villagers. Tovino Thomas plays a former army soldier. He drops out of army as he feared death. Among the other cast members there is Lal and Narain (Mathachan and Winston) respectively. They make a living through fishing.
For a survival drama like this it is imperative that the technical department puts its best foot forward. Thankfully the atmospherics of 2018 are solid. The VFX team in particular deserves appreciation as they successfully created a chilling atmosphere. Cinematographer Akhil George’s work is also A class.
Apart from extracting solid performances Jude Anthany Joseph also did a wonderful job in showing the unity between villagers in times of crisis across caste, religion and politics.
One area where 2018 could have been better is showcasing the role of the government and the media during those tough times. While the performances were brilliant all round Tovino Thomas deserves a particular mention for how he portrayed the different shades. His character transitions from fearing death to becoming a brave man who fights against all odds.
Rajeev Ravi’s Thuramukham is a hard-hitting tale of the workers movement in Kochi. The film is based on the real-life incidents that happened in Mattancherry area. Apart from the exploitation of the workers Rajeev Ravi also showed how the headmen and the bosses pit the poor against each other.
What makes Thuramukham even more compelling is how the director integrated a family drama into this narrative. Mymood (Joju George) is a worker who is forced to leave Mattancherry because he raised his voice against the work site supervisor ‘moopan’. Moopans are part of a nexus that ensure the ‘Chappa system’ prevailing in the harbor. As a result of his leaving his wife Umma is forced to bring up their three children on her own. While the elder son Moidu becomes the leader of a gang working for the cruel contractors, the second son Hamsa joins the union fighting against the Chappa system.
In spite of the lengthy running time and the leisurely pace Thuramukham is a must watch for how Rajeev Ravi has documented the struggles of poor and oppressed in the format of a commercial pot boiler. He brings to life an important chapter in history that is forgotten. The cinematography and the music are in perfect sync with the rustic nature of the film. The director has done a good job in capturing the spirit of those who fought for labour rights.
The performance of the actors across the board also adds a lot of power with specific mention to Nivin Pauly and Poorna Indrajith.
Now to the best of Tamil films in 2023
1. Chithha (Uncle)
S.U. Arun Kumar’s Chithha is a powerful film on many levels. On one hand it is a solid emotional drama about a strong bond between a doting uncle Eeswaran and his niece Sundari (Sahasra Shree). S.U Arun does not waste any time in establishing how Eeswaran is a father like figure to Sundari. He bathes her and also combs her hair. On the other hand the film also offers a fresh perspective on how to help a sexual assault victim. It is not just only getting angry and swearing to take revenge.
The film also touches upon how men and women react differently to a crisis and what kind of approach they adopt. Nimisha Sajayan plays Sakthi. She and Eeswaran had a misunderstanding in the past but in the present they end up falling in love all over again. Their romance has some fine moments of tenderness that acts as a soothing balm to this otherwise grim story. However, Nimisha’s role is not pertained to just being a love interest. There are scenes where she asks some important questions and nudges Eeswaran to not get swept away in his aggressiveness. Chithha is for most part is a disturbing yet gripping watch but there are some scenes which needed trimming. These portions include the scenes of Sundari and the kidnapper. The very thought of a little girl being held captive by a serial rapist is hair-raising thought in itself.
Farhana headlined by Aishwarya Rajesh and directed by Nelson Venkatesan is a gripping thriller about human psyche. In Farhana Aishwarya Rajesh played a middle-class housewife who joins a bank call center. Her husband and father in law run a shoe shop but the money isn’t sufficient for Farhana to manage the household. Farhana is initially reluctant to go for the interview but she gets through the exam with distinction marks.
In order to earn more money she shifts from the bank call center to a friendship chat center. Initially the lewd talks from the male callers disturb Farhana but soon she comes across a caller who talks to her in a sympathetic and sweet manner. She feels overwhelmed as she is not used to this kind of affection. But soon the story takes a dark turn.
A big strength of Farhana is how the title character has been written and performed. Farhana starts off as shy and under-confident but soon the character undergoes many changes and Aishwarya Rajesh did a brilliant job in showcasing the various nuances. The thriller elements were also very well done. The backdrop of this mystery man and how he ends up being a tormentor has some chilling moments. Similarly, how Farhana uses technology to get even with her tormentor gives a lot of high. In the second half the screenplay does become loose with some unconvincing scenes involving the husband but there is no denying that this thriller/drama packed a huge punch.
3. Por Thozhil (The Art of War)
Por Thozhil is a gripping whodunnit about two policemen whose working methods are very different from each other. On one hand there is Prakash (Ashok Selvan) who is heavily bookish. His way of doing an investigation is majorly inspired from the crime novels that he has read. Loganathan (R. Sarathkumar) is blunt and has little patience for the bookish ways of Prakash. Naturally they do not get along well but during the course of an investigation they end up forming a bond while coming across some shocking revelations.
In most psycho thrillers the theme of a disturbed childhood plays a key role. This one also touches upon a similar theme but the gripping execution of Vignesh Raja makes sure that the audiences don’t feel a sense of de javu.
Late Sarath Babu’s role is a major highlight of Por Thozhil. His character has been well designed and the actor has done a terrific job in evoking fear. As far as the two main policemen are concerned both R. Sarathkumar and Ashok Selvan have done a wonderful job. Jakes Bejoy’s background score coupled with Kaliselvan’s cinematography elevate the drama further.