Eight tall men walk into a shopping mall through the main entrance. At first glance, you would think they have vandalism in their minds, but if you look closely, you will realize all of them are sporting an unusually similar look. Wearing stark black shirts with sleeves rolled up elegantly through mid-arm over white mundus (waist cloths) with black border lining, and sporting fake Ray-Ban aviators with deadpan expressions on heavily bearded faces – you know they are all succeeding in imitating the loverboy of a protagonist of the 2015 smash hit Malayalam film, Premam. This is my review of a film that I have watched countless times since it opened on 30 May 2015 to a boisterous reception.
This particular trend of imitating Nivin Pauly’s character from the film had spread like a wildfire in the nooks and corners of Kerala. While that sounds justified as far as the southern Indian state is considered, what should one deduce from a phenomenon where a budding Engineer like me who was born and brought up in the island city of Mumbai and who has always been repulsed by the very idea of visiting Kerala starts experiencing a fondness for everything Malayalam?
The Premam Effect
You may call it “the Premam effect” similar to “the Narasimham effect” which engulfed Malayalis all over the globe (and chiefly in Gulf countries) in 2000 when Malayalam film superstar Mohanlal hypnotized his audience with his charming moves and a piercing moustache in the film with the same name. Honestly, the film is a big fat 7 (out of 10) for me as I watched it first day first show with my mother in a Mumbai theatre (Cinepolis). The hall was houseful, which is an unusual occurrence when it comes to Malayalam films in Mumbai theatres. Just to put that into perspective, the time when I watched the critically acclaimed 2014 film North 24 Kaatham by debutante Anil Radhakrishnan Menon in a Navi Mumbai theatre (INOX), there were a total of 8 people in the hall, including the two redundant ushers.
I have been reviewing Malayalam films since 2012, but the sheer magical experience that I shared with my fellow audience that day has left me in awe. And now whenever the beautifully sung love-song ‘Malare’ by Vijay Yesudas plays on TV, I lapse into a state of total entrance.
Three months after I watched the film and three weeks after the apprehension of those little lover pirates who shared a preview copy of the film over the web, the so-called “Premam effect” has not winded down. It is chiefly because of the elements used by maverick director Alphonse Putharen in his second feature (after Neram (2013)); the pure native elements of a Kerala district that any malayali can relate with.
Premam Review: A Dose of New Wave
The protagonist’s journey from being a teenager who is head over heels in love with his petite classmate to his fascination with the beautiful guest lecturer in college to finally end up in the arms of an unsuspecting dame is captured in the most appropriate and stylistic way. This is absolutely how real life love stories occur, and if you were to ask any shuffling adolescent at the Kaladi junction or at the Kochi pier or at Lulu Mall to describe about their love life, you will now most obviously be shot with the title of the film as an answer, which translates to “love” in the English language.
The unofficial political activism rampant in the by-lanes of colleges, teacher-student love affairs, and unsolicited hotheadedness are all marks of the modern adolescent who will take to Facebook to ask that girl out rather than asking her in person. What Premam manages to capture is the intricate details of such a person’s daily life – how it affects his life partially, and how friendship plays a significant role in it.
That is why when I was talking to an old friend of mine about why I now want to often visit Kerala as opposed to my random, infrequent visits, and get more exposed to Malayalam cinema, understand Santosh Pandit’s psychology and philosophy (if any), get married to a girl who is a born-Malayali and in whose arms I would lay and watch the film Premam again for the umpteenth time, he replied, “This is exactly what I have been thinking of lately. The effect is huge.” And this friend was also born and brought up in Mumbai.
Moreover, if a Malayali who was born somewhere outside Kerala and is not much exposed to the essence of Malayali soil, “the Premam effect” will make sure that he starts respecting his roots. There are a lot of people who talk negative about being a Malayali, and smirk at the thought of being counted among them. However, even the most righteous prig will stop and wonder how charming his roots are once he watches it. The film’s photography will make him weak, the songs will make him swoon, and the Kerala exoticism will eventually break him into submission.
In future, when someone asks me what my story is, to keep it dramatic and filmy, I know I would answer that my adolescent life can be divided into two parts – pre-Premam and post-Premam. That is the solid effect of the film which is arguably one of the best Malayalam films of 2015 and one of the best Indian films of the decade so far.
With his shirt sleeves folded back mid-arm to just cover the tattoo of four roadway arrows on his right hand that perhaps show his love for machines and travelling, he sits for the interview with absolute grace. No one else is in the frame – not even the interviewer – as he answers questions about his career and his then most recent film, CIA: Comrade in America (2017) which stars his close friend Dulquer Salmaan. He has never played the lead in a film yet, and now even when he is at the center of a frame, he only exudes humility. Hinting at the secret to his rise in Malayalam cinema. This is the story of actor Soubin Shahir and his unmatched charm that has enhanced the appeal of comedy in Malayalam films since 2013.
Born and brought up in a household where one parent was a film production controller, it was a mix of passion and predilection towards cinema since childhood that made Shahir decide that that was going to be his bread and butter. With a dream of directing a film, at around the age of 18 he entered the industry with raw energy, mild support, and a twinkle in his eye.
More Than 17 Years in Cinema
For someone who has just started watching Malayalam movies, Soubin Shahir may seem like any other comedy actor. Who enters the industry with a breakthrough role after flourishing in a less glittery industry like that of theater or mimicry, enjoys their period, and then slowly fades into oblivion. Much like comedian Bijukuttan who broke into the Tinseltown after appearing in an Asianet weekly skit called Five Star Thattukada in the mid-2000s, enjoyed his halcyon days from 2008 to 2010, and then struggled for many years before reappearing in smaller roles. Shahir’s case is slightly different. He never wanted to be an actor. He is, in fact, afraid of it.
Soubin Shahir began his career as an assistant director, first associating with director Fazil in late 2001 for the 2002 box office bomb Kaiyethum Doorath starring his friend and future frequent collaborator Fahadh Faasil. While he also played a tiny role in the film, no one noticed his presence – neither in front of the camera nor behind. Everyone associated with the film dispersed to think things through while Shahir continued assisting directors. At the time, the Malayalam film industry faced a huge slump, only to be revived by the rise of the new wave in the early 2010s. More than 13 years later, he would be a part of this wave and play a key role with his co-star to create the best Malayalam movie of 2016.
Although his fear of acting was aggravated by the 2002 debacle, his discomfiture didn’t prevent Rajeev Ravi from trying something out.
It was in cinematographer Ravi’s directorial debut Annayum Rasoolum (2013) that Shahir first played a considerable character. A shady guy who does odd jobs to earn a living, watching it today in retrospect clearly shows his rookie acting. The film was, therefore and however, more known for its raw style and a raunchy sequence involving Fahadh Faasil and Andrea Jeremiah.
A few more films happened in the next two years before he landed the breakthrough in 2015 when Alphonse Puthren asked him to play a college professor.
Comedy films in Malayalam work largely because of the dialogues and their delivery. While Shahir’s role in writing is minimal to non-existent, he samples one-liners and improvisation to create an impact.
His first memorable dialogue was actually a ‘dubbing filler’, the boon and bane of Malayalam cinema. It is a two-word remark that Shahir’s character – a super extra – blurts out at the speed of light when the protagonist walks by in the segment Kullante Bharya in the anthology film 5 Sundarikal (2013). Like a typical Kerala loverboy, the character asks “Facebook-il indo?“, meaning “Are you on Facebook?” which summarizes the basic theme of the short. Shahir cannot be seen while he is uttering it, but it was enough to make the crowd chuckle.
To have freedom and confidence to experiment with this type of jest in films intended for a mainstream audience is a privilege. Which Shahir credits to his friendship. He is close friends, and even spent few years living with, Amal Neerad, who helmed Kullante Bharya, Iyobinte Pusthakam (2014), and CIA: Comrade in America.
More quotable dialogues and appearances came when Puthren released Premam in May 2015. Originally sought as an actor to play a professor who teaches a serious subject, it was decided three days before the shoot that Shahir would play a PT master (physical trainer) instead. And he smashed it.
One iconic scene that really got the Malayalam film viewers talking was the scene involving Renji Panicker. While most of the talking is being done by Panicker and Maniyanpilla Raju in that scene, what people also remember is Shahir’s timely whistling just after the former finishes his high-octane retort. It’s a classic Malayalam film scene with the background score borrowed from Shaji Kailas’s 1994 hit crime thriller Commissioner and composed by Rajamani.
Premam was an influential film and helped enhance and start the careers of a lot of yesteryear actors. Shahir’s was just one of them. But there’s an important reason why PT master Shivan and his performance clicked with the audience. Premam was entirely directed and edited by Puthren himself, which meant that he had seen all the shots. And it was his decision to add Shahir’s expressive face as he blows air into his whistle, making the scene all the more appealing. Had it been another conventional film crew, Shahir would have to wait for Crispin, the Photoshop expert, to arrive to get his stars aligned…
Soubin Shahir has himself revealed to Manorama in the interview how most of his comedy should be credited to the writers who ask him to say the words exactly how they want it to be and the editors who add it in the final reel. He has uttered a lot of funny remarks in a lot of films, but most of them have got lost in the editing room. Premam, thankfully, was not one of them.
Soubin Shahir, the Performer
Malayalam film comedy is largely characterized by slapstick and horseplay. When you think of comedy, for instance, of the golden era of Malayalam cinema, you think of Mazha Peyyunnu Maddalam Kottunnu (1986) or Aram + Aram = Kinnaram (1985). Although jest had a big role to play in them, horseplay was the primary driver of laughter. And the difference between jest and horseplay is in the quality of the comedy. A type of forceful infestation of dialogues in the script so that viewers don’t get bored of all the peripheral drama was the key substance in these films. Today, the type has changed to situational comedy and character-based improvisation. Of which Soubin Shahir is a pioneer.
So, when a man comes in who can say things in a comical way without putting much effort and without being in the focus of a frame, people indeed take notice and giggle. Because the Malayali audience largely go to the movies to laugh and be entertained. In that regard, Shahir is a kingly performer. For instance, again take the example of Premam, where Vinay Forrt plays a meatier role than Shahir. Yet, it is Shahir’s idiosyncratic character that is more striking even though comedy is equally supplied by both. Dialogues like “Simple aayitolla step enikya arriyilla, Sir” (“I don’t know simple dance steps”), delivered as part of a conversation are what contributed to his breakthrough.
When an actor can showcase his portrayals as effortless, it automatically makes them a better performer. Shahir, who thinks acting is easier than direction, has had to take several takes in films such as Premam and Maheshinte Prathikaaram (2016). His dubbing routines have been tiresome as it is difficult to clone an accent when one has spoken another for more than 30 years. If one looks at a few sequences in Maheshinte Prathikaaram, the Crispin character flushes with embarrassment. Shahir says that those are natural expressions, a result of being embarrassed in front of the whole crew.
The mark of an experienced actor is said to be their ability to stay in a character. Shahir, on the other hand, rushes at his job. He is afraid and shy of acting, evident in some of his sequences, and works harder in the dubbing room instead.
The Rising Parameter
Effortless comedy almost never goes unnoticed, but what waters the plant is the writing. Comedy is only as good as the writing, and Soubin Shahir’s rise in Malayalam cinema should be credited to the writers who write his films.
Syam Pushkaran wrote Maheshinte Prathikaaram, and it was his idea to add the ‘kummattikka juice’ song. Although the song, “Juice juice juice, kummattikka juice! Mammootty-ikya ishtapetta kummattikka juice!” is a Kochi export whose variation young kids use to sing in the 80s and 90s, it became popular only when the trailer of the film was uploaded on YouTube on 11 January 2016, less than a month before the film’s release – enough for people to take notice, sing along, and wait for the scene when watching the full product later. In the interview, he also jokes that after the film’s release he even felt like he was the brand ambassador of ‘kummattikka juice’ (watermelon juice).
While Premam triggered Shahir’s rise, it was the Crispin character that really swayed the boat. People who knew him began to use the film’s references while talking to him. There’s even an incident where Mammootty himself used the reference to congratulate Shahir.
In CIA: Comrade In America, Shahir plays Joemon, a close friend of Salmaan’s character Ajjippaan. While the comedy is intact here, how it is different from his previous movies is in the writing. There’s a scene where Ajjippaan highlights the presence and importance of family members and close friends in his life. When a hero says something like that, the audience subconsciously think about these characters and the actors who play them. So, Salmaan’s fans automatically become their fans. And that’s where Shahir actually rises in and out of the screen.
Soubin Shahir is every man’s comedian. He is close friends with most of the veterans he has worked with, and that definitely improves his appeal. Being in the industry for more than 17 years definitely has its benefits, but Shahir maintains that he has never requested a chance in a film. His focus always has been direction. And in September 2017, it happened. His name appeared beside ‘direction’ on the credits roll.
Using the Director’s Megaphone
Most debut directors prefer to take a foolproof approach to directing, using a safe story to start their career. Shahir depended on his personal experience and imagination and aimed for the sky, literally. His debut feature film, Parava, opened on 21 September 2017 to critical acclaim. Narrating the story of two streetwise friends from the rough lanes of Mattancherry, Kochi, Parava focused on the unusual competition of pigeon flying. A very rare combination of novelty and charm, the film was based on real-life events that Shahir had experienced as a child loafing around in Kochi with his friends while his other friends paid attention to their teachers at school.
A below-average student, Soubin Shahir was mostly caught up in sports and theater in his teenage, never satisfying his teachers or parents when it came to studies. Following a hard yet successful try at a Bachelor’s degree, supported by his father who sensed talent for mimicry and mono-acting in his son, Shahir entered the Malayalam ‘padam’ business. (Interestingly, it is only after a while that Shahir and his elder brother understood that all the props that their father used to bring home were from the film sets he worked in and not from Dubai.)
From an assistant director who helmed rainy sequences in films in 2002, it definitely has been a long road to the director’s chair. The connections and exposure that Shahir amassed through the decade and a half of his career so far trickled down to Parava’s craft. Critics mostly used superlatives to describe the film, with Lensmen reviewing it as a “compelling emotional tale.”
Even while working on his dream, Shahir was occupied with acting work in films such as Martin Prakkat’s Charlie (2015), Sameer Thahir’s Kali (2016), Rajeev Ravi’s Kammatipaadam (2016), and Khalid Rahman’s Anuraga Karikkin Vellam (2016). These would help him cement his position as a rising comedian, with the media even comparing him with Aju Varghese and other contemporaries like Salim Kumar and Suraj Venjaramoodu.
Glory After Parava
Parava flew as Shahir dreamed, but he was only starting up. The next logical step was to work on another project. But, instead of direction, which most audience still do not associate him with, he pumped up his acting credits. Playing small roles in films – with an average of 3 films a year since 2013 – improved the confidence in Shahir, who likes to think of himself as a better director than actor.
Five years after his actual debut, long-time friend and producer-director Thahir and cinematographer Shyju Khalid would cast him in Sudani from Nigeria, his first film in a starring role. The closest he came to acting in a lead role previously was in Aneesh Upasana’s 2016 dull comedy, Popcorn, opposite his bestie Srinda.
Sudani from Nigeria, which also stars Nigerian actor Samuel Abiola Robinson, opened to critical and commercial success. According to critics’ aggregated score, it quickly surpassed some of the biggest hits of 2018 so far including Venu’s Carbon, Prajesh Sen’s Captain, and Kamal’s Kamala Surayya biopic Aami. Social media scrambled to praise Shahir’s and Robinson’s performances, writer-director Zakariya’s warm take on the power of kindness and harmony, and the overall feel of the film. If Popcorn can be considered a one-off affair that didn’t work out, then Sudani from Nigeria definitely reinforced Shahir’s talent as an actor.
Malayalam cinema hardly pays attention to films that have new or lesser-known actors in the lead. Zakariya’s debut uses a mixture and still hits gold. Only inferring the rise of Soubin Shahir, a refined Malayalam actor and director, who is about to take the industry by storm. Or, maybe, already has.
Sudani from Nigeria opened in Kerala on 23 March 2018.
(All images, including the featured one, copyright of Soubin Shahir and associated photographers, sourced from Facebook.)
Last night I was watching Aadupuliyattam (2016), and I knew I would be writing this today. It narrates the story of a young man who lives a luxurious life with his wife and daughter. He is some kind of an affluent humanitarian with an eventful past which has now come back to haunt him and his dear family. Basically Sathyajith, played by Malayalam actor Jayaram, is a compulsive sinner who committed a heinous crime for money during his youth. Which is still not the biggest problem I have with the film. My issue is with a supporting character – one of his close friends – dying as collateral damage for Sathyajith’s sins.
I understand when horror comedies deviate into a territory where unintended humor makes the audience laugh, but Aadupuliyattam fails in almost all cinematic departments. It qualifies as one of year 2016’s worst (Malayalam) films with zero entertainment quotient to offer (compare it with the year’s best here).
Jayaram’s worst films can be listed and talked about like an essay: the recent debacles – Pattabhiraman (2019), Marconi Mathai (2019), My Great Grandfather (2019), Daivame Kaithozham K. Kumar Akanam (2018), Achayans (2017), Satya (2017), Thinkal Muthal Velli Vare (2015), Ulsaha Committee (2014) – and the back-to-back flops in 2012 – Madirsasi and Njanum Ente Familiyum – the list is crowded and endless. And I haven’t even counted over a dozen turkeys he acted in between 2010 and 2014.
Jayaram, the Hit-Maker
What we can gather from this inexhaustible list of flop films above is that the actor has not produced a single watchable film since the 2011 multi-starrer Makeup Man (dir. Shafi), which mainly relied on his and the writer’s ability to generate slapstick. Half a decade later and after acting in more than thirty-three odd films, Jayaram Subramaniam – better known by his stage name Jayaram – has still not been able to match his 1990s’ success.
Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal, the classic 1999 Malayalam film by Anthikad-Lohitadas duo is one of the all-time greatest dramas to come out of Malayalam film industry, but still, critics won’t and cannot fully credit the actor for its success, because most still consider veteran actor Thilakan to be its star (even though Jayaram is top billed in the opening and ending credits). But, for the sake of an argument and considering him as the “other” actor who propelled the film into a blockbuster, let’s assume it as his film.
On the heel of that film’s success, he then gave back-to-back hits throughout the 1990s such as Sandesham (1991), Kadinjool Kalyanam (1991), Georgekutty C/O Georgekutty (1991), Meleparambil Aanveedu (1993), Thooval Kottaram (1996), Kaliveedu (1996), Sneham (1998), and Summer in Bethlahem (1998) to name a few.
A string of cherishable film awards also followed him, starting with a Filmfare acting honour for Thooval Kottaram in 1996, which also earned him a Kerala State Film Award. Then came other few new-wave features like Friends (1999), Njangal Santhushtaranu (1999), Theerthadanam (2001), and Yathrakarude Sradhakku (2002). But, his entry into the 2000s millennium also marked the beginning of his slump, with films like Vakkalathu Narayanankutty (2001), Sharja To Sharja (2001) and Daivathinte Makan (2000) bombing at the box office. People had begun to talk.
The Beginning of a Slump
After Y2K, while the general movie-going audience shifted their attention to other life-changing elements like the internet and personal computers, the effect and perception of films as a source of entertainment slowly started to falter. This not only affected the Malayalam film industry, but also challenged filmmakers in the neighbouring Bollywood and other industries around the globe. Which is why ‘best films lists’ around the web currently cherish the 80s, 90s, and then the 2010s, sometimes altogether skipping the 2000s decade. Of course, there were a very few exceptions, but majority feature film releases in the 10-year span were box office disasters.
Even in the case of Jayaram, Malayalam films like Njan Salperu Ramankutty (2004), Mayilattam (2004), Sarkar Dada (2005), Anchil Oral Arjunan (2007), and Parthan Kanda Paralokam (2008) failed at the box office so gloriously that directors and writers started approaching other actors. But, by then, the ‘new generation wave’ had already reached the Kerala coast and would quickly encapsulate the industry. The rise of Soubin Shahir from a small-time comedian to a top-billed actor and a successful director is a small example, a testament to that evolution. So is the rise of new-gen romantic comedies like Premam which released in 2015 and partly set the stage for more realistic cinema, something that has recently found even more traction with films like Kumbalangi Nights (2019),Kumbalangi Nights was ranked number one on my list of the best Malayalam films of the first half of 2019.Ee.Ma.Yau (2018),Ee.Ma.Yau was ranked number one on my year-end list of 2018. and Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (2017) getting made and finding viewership as well as continued fondling from critics and award juries alike. Unfortunately for Jayaram, it looks like he didn’t get the memo as he continued to join hands with directors that brought him failure. Even though he tested the waters in the more friendly Tamil film industry, he couldn’t really replicate his 1990s’ success even there.
But it wouldn’t be fair if we skip the fact that the neighbouring Tamil Nadu gave him some success in the early 2000s decade while he struggled in Mollywood, helping him win two Tamil Nadu State Film Awards for his work in K S Ravikumar’s Thenali (2000).
His slump, however, was not going to just disappear.
Flop Movies of Jayaram: Cause and Effect
It is not entirely Jayaram’s fault that the films he acts in gets panned by both critics and the audience. Let’s take the case of the 2015 mega-blunder, Thinkal Muthal Velli Vare. It was primarily a launchpad for singer Rimi Tomy who was finally going to live her dream of acting in a motion picture. Of course, the script would have to be cheesy, similar to that of the talk show named “Onnum Onnum Moonu” that she hosts on Malayalam TV channel Mazhavil Manorama. The script was written by – wait for it – none other than Kannan Thamarakkulam – the same person who directed Aadupuliyattam and, more recently, Pattabhiraman (2019).
As is a usual and understandable thing that no established actor wants to be paired with a newcomer despite of their popularity and/or creativity in another field, the makers must have felt a need for casting a known face rather than going for two fresh faces. I don’t know how Jayaram fell for Thamarakkulam’s offer, but it must have been either the package or out of friendship, and I am inclined to believe it was the latter. Anyway, the film made it to the screens and we had to sit through two hours of slipshod comedy. The amount of cringeworthy sequences that the film has would put a turkey like late director Diphan’s Satya to shame. But, the primary reason why the film failed is that for a comedy film it lacked adequate amount of comedy. Jayaram suiting up as Mickey Mouse and running around is definitely not funny.
A Lack of Bankable Actresses
Rimi Tomy’s debut film also shines light into another fact behind Jayaram’s fall in the film industry. Leading ladies say no to him. They just don’t want to act with him, unless they themselves are trying to land roles. A close look at his last 14 releases gives us the following result. He has been paired with (the actress has to play a character who is either a love interest or has considerable screen space to be considered):
An average movie-goer in Kerala will not recognize half of the actresses mentioned in this list, yet they were the lead actresses in his films. Most of them are only a few films old, and as stated before, are only trying to make a name for themselves in the industry. The point here is not to measure their film success rate but to expose that Jayaram is not being entertained by bankable actresses. Nor is he being cast by successful filmmakers. (Although the former is a discussion for another time because Malayalam film industry hardly pays attention to actresses. This feature article being about a male actor is an irony. Plus, other than Parvathy Thiruvothu, Manju Warrier, KPAC Lalitha, Lena, and Rajisha Vijayan there’s hardly anybody who has maintained a consistent filmography in the 2010s decade for even a comparison.)
Consider these directors and their films: Thamarakkulam with his back-to-back flops; slapstick king Shajoon Kariyal; Benny Thomas; king of 90s Sibi Malayail; and one-hit wonder Akku Akbar. Those who directed him in the 90s are either no longer with us or are not making films anymore while the good ones who are doing it right now are not interested in him.
Staying Above Water
Despite this slump in his filmography, he did manage to stay afloat with a handful of rare quality films like Manassinakkare (2003), Veruthe Oru Bharya (2008), and Swapna Sanchari (2011), some of which also bagged him one or two awards. And thanks to his sporadic presence in the Tamil film industry, the Indian government decided to help him improve his spirits by honouring him with the Padma Shri in 2011. A very well-deserved honour for a mimicry artist-turned-actor with so much talent and influence, but even that did not help him land better roles in the decade that started with mega-blockbusters for his contemporaries.
To keep his finances up during this slump, he had to make do with endorsement deals for brands such Ramraj, Vayodha, and Kalyan Sarees. As of October 2019, he is still an ambassador for the last one.
Filmography in the 2010s Decade
An acquaintance collectively appropriates Jayaram’s last few characters to the comical identity of a joker. Take Sir C. P. (2015) or Onnum Mindathe (2014); both dramas testing a social theme but advertised as comedies, probably just because they credit Jayaram as an actor. The only watchable film of the lot in the last half decade is the 2014 comedy drama Mylanchi Monchulla Veedu, which again worked because of the ensemble cast and sufficient support from youngster Asif Ali. Two other examples would be Tamil actor Samuthirakani’s debut Malayalam directorial feature Aakashamittayi (2017) and fellow mimicry artist Ramesh Pisharody’s Panchavarnathatha (2018).
Early in 2014, Jayaram also did veteran filmmaker and Cannes’ Golden Palm nominee Shaji Karun’s tragedy Swapaanam. The film was written and executed badly using a hollow story, which again the actor should have thought twice before accepting. I am sure money is not the issue here, but a serious lack of better offers (and better script-choosing ability on his part) from filmmakers who are evidently vying for young and successful talent is playing against him. But, if that was really the case, then how does one comment about Mammootty’s enthusiastic bout? He does a fair share of films each year and sometimes comes up with really good ones (Pathemari (2015) and Unda (2019)) occasionally. Same is the case with Mohanlal, although, matter-of-factly he hasn’t had a qualitative hit since 2013’s Drishyam. The 2019 film Ittymani may be considered a comeback, but let’s be a bit more critical.
The craze before the release of Jayaram’s Aadupuliyattam was regarding his salt-and-pepper look. For his fans, I agree with the craze, but it does not aid a bit in increasing the appeal of the film. Jayaram fooling around in his gray beard is the same as him fooling around in a beard dyed black. Experimenting with one’s looks for a film with a hollow story and lackadaisical execution only pleases the die-hard fan, but it does not guarantee box office success or critical acclaim. Sure the members of the All Kerala Jayaram Fans Cultural and Welfare Association will check out all his future films and voluntarily fill the seats the starting week, but that is not what one should do with art. A film should ignite a sense of feeling in a person when he’s least expecting it. And none of Jayaram’s films in this decade, or the previous, have even remotely succeeded in doing that.
Jayaram is a talented classical percussionist (a video of one of his recent concerts is embedded below) and actor, no doubt about that, but after watching Aadupuliyattam, I couldn’t resist writing this feature.
For someone who braved the industry when it was just starting up, I respect him for giving the world some great dramas and comedies, for being an influential career-starter for a lot of newcomers including his son Kalidas Jayaram who is dangerously treading up the same territory lately,Post his Malayalam film debut as an adult actor in Abrid Shine’s Poomaram (2018), Kalidas has not acted in a single successful film. And he’s done at least two new films in 2019 alone, all confirmed flops. for being an animal (pachyderm) lover, for collaborating with some of the greatest minds in Mollywood.
I hope that his current slump is only a phase. Here’s wishing him good luck for his future endeavors. TN.
Update: Copyedited; added more data to reflect the subject’s career progression; added and removed a few links. (15 January 2019)
Update #2: Copyedited; added new film titles; changed images. (26 September 2019)
Kumbalangi Nights was ranked number one on my list of the best Malayalam films of the first half of 2019.
Ee.Ma.Yau was ranked number one on my year-end list of 2018.
Post his Malayalam film debut as an adult actor in Abrid Shine’s Poomaram (2018), Kalidas has not acted in a single successful film. And he’s done at least two new films in 2019 alone, all confirmed flops.
Comedy is one of my favorite genres and that is why the 1987 hit Malayalam comedy film Nadodikattu is one of my favorite films ever. So when I watched a couple videos that poke fun at typical events in the lives of Malayali expatriates in a foreign country, no wonder I cracked up. The videos talk about both the monotony and speciality of life, with added flavor of comedy and slapstick.
Created by We Are A Sambavam, a small Singapore-based group of self-learned Malayalis with a passion for the cinematic arts and everything photographic, Singappooram is (as of now) a four-part partially related Malayalam web-series comically narrating the events taking place in the lives of a married couple and travelling Malayali families. SJ is a man who likes to enjoy his life by entertaining himself watching funny Malayalam classic films or by refusing to eat that tomato rice prepared for the millionth time by his wife. The four episodes essentially chronicle the events happening in their extended matrimonial life – from the wife’s TV show addiction to the husband’s ex-girlfriend, Mary, turning up in Singapore.
The humor is excellent, especially in episodes 3 and 4, aptly titled Theppu Petti and Thallu Jeevitham respectively, where the couple evince the stereotypical attitude of being a Malayali couple in a foreign country. They boast about the way they lead their luxurious life; while on the contrary, things are not as hunky-dory as they seem. Then there is Ikru Mon, the wife’s distance cousin, who helps SJ show off in front of Mary in return for a plate of Biriyani. The dialogues delivered by these characters during these scenes are terrific, and if you are a person well-versed with Malayalam slangs and Malayalam cinema, then Singappooram is going to be a treat. Of course, you may lapse into depression later because it gets over too soon. Overall, it is a well-acted, well-edited, and massively entertaining short series, which is arguably the first Malayalam comedy web series to adorn YouTube.
With an amazing soundtrack that samples popular and funny songs like ‘Oothappam Veno Penne Bonda Veno,’ the sequences are hilarious and totally relatable. However, it does go over the top in few instances which might turn you off if you are in a bad mood. But still, sticking to watching and completing the series (which will take hardly half an hour) may be a worthy experience because it is both funny and creative at the same time, giving us a taste of good old Malayalam comedy that today’s films fail to provide.
Experiencing the humor created by these artists is definitely better than watching Deepthi IPS dilly dally around with her stupid co-actors in the ridiculously overblown and enormously idiotic Television serial, Parasparam, or watching actor Mukesh laugh to Ramesh Pisharadi’s half-assed jokes in the reality show, Badai Bungalow.
Conceived by Sooraj and his lovely team of We Are A Sambavam, you can watch the online series on YouTube here (do select the episodes in their right order):