2016 wasn’t a great year for Malayalam cinema. Like Tamil cinema, it had quite a few promising projects which either turned out average or disappointing. In 2016, Malayalam filmmakers played a safe game with family dramas. Of course, they are great, among other Indian filmmakers, when it comes to making restrained inter-generational dramas. But, even the critically-acclaimed Malayalam films of 2016 had some dull cinematic moments. These films missed vitality or distinct energy.
From, Kammatipaadam to Guppy, Malayalam films certainly entertained in 2016. Alas, they may not be remembered five years or a decade down the line.
Here’s my selection of 8 Malayalam films released this year that were slightly better than the rest:
8. Jacobinte Swargarajyam
Vineeth Srinivasan’s Jacob’s Kingdom of Heaven is a finely wrapped family drama that stays in the middle ground between good and bad. Unlike Tamil or Telugu family entertainers, Malayalam filmmakers show great restraint in handling dramatic situations. Srinivasan excels on that front.
Yet, there’s something unconvincing (the logical gaps are glaring) or lacking in the script. Jacobinte Swargarajyam depicts the crisis faced by a Malayali family based in Dubai. The family stands together through a string of unfortunate events. Director Srinivisan’s realization of the characters was fine. Nivin Pauly and Lakshmi Ramakrishnan give stand-out performances.
My main issue was the glorification of life in Dubai. I have no problem with a film celebrating capitalism through the perspective of hard-working individuals. But, this film is more of an unabashed idealization than a mere celebration.
Oppam (aka Together) brings back the great director-actor duo Priyadarshan-Mohanlal. But, to my dismay, Oppam turned out an overstretched, average thriller. The film showcases the cat-and-mouse game between a visually impaired protagonist (Jayaraman) and a psychopathic murderer.
The narrative reminded me of the above average Memories and the very average Grandmaster. The presence of a visually-impaired hero provides enough room for thrills. And, Mohanlal delivers an exceptional performance as usual. Considering Priyadarshan’s recent flops, Oppam is among his better directed films.
But, the script isn’t challenging or original, as Priyadarshan claimed it to be. I read that Kamal Haasan might do a Tamil remake. I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen.
Kammatipaadam’s first few minutes are sublime. Even though the events that unfold in these moments are mundane, it has a good visual design (especially the ‘Para Para’ song). Still, the 3-hour crime/drama didn’t feel like the ‘complex, trendsetting’ Malayalam cinema. Rajeev Ravi’s film tracks the history of violence in and around Ernakulam, a city whose lush green fields are slowly replaced with high-rise buildings. This bloody history is told through the perspective of youngsters Krishnan and his childhood friend Ganga. Kammatipaadan is well made with a brilliant performance from Vinayakan (as Ganga). But, the film doesn’t have many invigorating moments.
The visuals look stylish. Yet there are only few occasions that really grab your attention. The film was hailed for being pro-Dalit, although I found the Dalit reference to be very trivial. The Dalit issue was better approached in the Tamil political drama Madras. All in all, Kammatipaadam is worth watching. But it isn’t a masterpiece or a trendsetter.
‘Lackluster’ is the word that springs to mind when you think of Sameer Thahir’s Kali (aka Rage). It’s a romance/thriller with Dulquer Salmaan playing an angry young man Siddarth. And Premam-fame Sai Pallavi plays Siddarth’s beloved wife Anjali. The first half is full of light-hearted romance (tracing Siddarth and Anjali’s love story). Thahir also sets up the young guy’s anger management issues, which play a big role in the second half. Salmaan and Sai Pallavi, the reasons I watched this film, are excellent in their roles.
But, Thahir doesn’t come close to the brilliance and energy of his previous film Neelakasham Pachakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi.
After all the cranky elements in the first half, he does a lot better in the gritty second half. The atmospheric tension is well crafted. It all leads to a good, raging climax. It’s definitely worth watching, if you’re fans of the two central actors.