Earlier in 2020 before the Covid-19 outbreak paralysed all my travel plans, I was fortunate to attend the 12th edition of the Bengaluru International Film Festival (BIFFES). I managed to attend the festival for two days and watch a total of five films. It was a fairly exciting experience for someone like me who – in my first solo trip – took a bus from Mumbai to Bengaluru just to attend the fest which is perhaps Karnataka’s biggest cinema extravaganza. Yes, I’m a film enthusiast. And this was an important trip for me because I was also in need of a break after a certain kind of failure in February.
It was my first time at the festival, so I thought I would take the free time during this lockdown to jot down some of my thoughts about BIFFES. Essentially, these might answer some of your questions if you plan to attend it in the following years. The biggest one being: is Bengaluru film festival worth going to? The short answer is yes.
My Experience at the Bengaluru Film Festival
The first day, after alighting at the Navrang Theatre junction, I walked to my hotel and checked in. I took a shower, and without grabbing breakfast, went straight to Orion Mall where PVR was hosting the film festival across 11 of its screens.
I observed the following things when I entered the film fest scene:
You don’t have to book seats. Unlike the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) – where you have to reserve your seats online on BookMyShow for each show – here your festival registration is sufficient. You follow the schedule for the day and directly enter or join the queue outside the hall where your chosen film is going to be screened. As simple as that. And because there is no seat reservation required, there is only one queue per auditorium
Eleven screens in a single venue is like a dream come true in a film festival organisation.Out of these, at the BIFFES, 2-3 are reserved for jury screenings. Much like how it is for the CannesThe Cannes film festival takes place entirely at a single large venue – the Palace of Festivals and Conferences – which has a total area of 3,80,000 square feet containing, among other rooms and offices, 18 film screening auditoriums the largest of which (Auditorium Louis Lumière) can seat 2,300 people. (https://en.palaisdesfestivals.com/meeting-space-and-lay-out) it is one of BIFFES’ biggest advantage over MAMI MFF where venues are scattered across places that are 10-30 kilometres apart from each other. Here, I didn’t have to spend time travelling between venues, something that a lot of people complain about other film festivals in India like the IFFI in Goa (and something that I frequently observed at the EUFF in 2019). In the 12th edition, BIFFES also had three more venues: the legendary Navrang Theatre at Rajajinagar, Dr. Rajkumar Bhavana at Chamarajpet, and Suchitra Film Society (the farthest from South Bengaluru)
The queues are bearable. Because I had planned my trip for the weekend, I was expecting huge crowds at the venue. Also since Orion Mall was the largest of the four venues, I was also expecting serpentine queues outside each screen. To my surprise, I found the queues much more bearable than how things are at other Indian film festivals. Even for popular films like Elia Suleiman’s It Must Be Heaven, I was able to get inside the hall despite joining the queue just 10 minutes before the show. (Of course, again, this is relative to Mumbai standards)
Cafeteria food is affordable. PVR in Mumbai usually robs you and turns you half richer by the end of a film festival, but not in Bengaluru. And if the regular low prizes of food and confectioneries are not enough, the fest ran a 50% flat off on everything for festival delegates in its 12th edition. This was especially useful because Orion Mall – being the only major mall in South Bengaluru – was crowded on both the days I attended the festival. The food court? Even more so
Each film is introduced in both Kannada and English before the screening. I liked this small feature which formally gave out a bit more information about the film being screened; its language and country of origin, director, and running time
Post-screening Q&As are rare. This was disappointing to learn because one of the pros of attending a film festival is that you can meet and/or listen to a film’s cast and crew to get more insights about their creations. Out of the five films I caught, Q&A was suggested only for one film (Geetha J’s Run Kalyani) but a majority people walked out soon after the credits began to roll. So, it didn’t happen
VIP culture is absent or restricted. This is another great feature of the Bengaluru film festival where all delegates are treated equally unless you are part of a film’s crew (which is fair). I was able to sit on any row that I wanted and no usher was present to tell me otherwise.
If you’re curious, I watched and reviewed the following five films:
Psychobitch (dir. Martin Lund)
Biriyaani (dir. Sajin Baabu)
It Must Be Heaven (dir. Elia Suleiman)
Run Kalyani (dir. Geetha J)
Market (dir. Pradip Kurbah)
Here are some pictures that would further help summarise the film fest.
Overall, I had a fun time at the 12th edition of the Bengaluru film festival. So much that I have plans to go back in 2021 provided travel restrictions ease by then. But before that, the question that comes to my mind is: will film festivals exist in this new normal? Screen has some guesses. TN.
Out of these, at the BIFFES, 2-3 are reserved for jury screenings.
The Cannes film festival takes place entirely at a single large venue – the Palace of Festivals and Conferences – which has a total area of 3,80,000 square feet containing, among other rooms and offices, 18 film screening auditoriums the largest of which (Auditorium Louis Lumière) can seat 2,300 people. (https://en.palaisdesfestivals.com/meeting-space-and-lay-out)
2019 has been rather a weak year for Malayalam cinema. We had some terrible films come out this year, some of which were discussed and bludgeoned to death on Reddit. But there is no denying that we also had some fabulous poster designs that promoted these very films – both good and bad – through their various, often unnecessary, stages of publicity.
From two first-look posters to a trailer release countdown poster to character posters to a final official poster featuring the cast as a crowd, we had everything this year. And here I am picking the best of the lot, out of all the publicity designs (including every single version) made for over 150 films that released between January and December 2019. Fan-made posters were not considered but I should admit some of them were really good.
The advent of computerised designing tools and filmmakers’ willingness to question the status quo have given rise to these charming designs. And it is important to give credit where it’s due. A film poster is a work of both the designers and the film’s crew, but here I am going to focus only on the art. The art of promoting a film through an image.
Best Malayalam Movie Posters of 2019
Here are ten of the best Malayalam film posters that adorned social media posts and flex billboards in and around Kerala in 2019. In random order; poster files sourced from official channels with proper credits given wherever needed.
Dirt is the main character in this earthy poster design for Lijo Jose Pellissery’s loud survival crime drama Jallikkattu (that quickly became a sleeper hit post its October release) that has traces of the colour of blood to describe the Tamil-origin spectacle as well as the deadly mess that it leaves behind. Hand-illustrated (using clay) by Oldmonks, one of the most prolific and skilled design agencies currently working in Malayalam cinema, this first-look poster released back in 2018 earned the Malayalam indie a lot of attention even before it circuited across festivals around the world and grabbed awards. So much that I would like to note it as one of the chief examples of how a poster can ignite interest for a film even when the viewers have no clue about the cast or the plot. Film Companion ended up featuring it in its 2018 list of the best Indian film posters.
Another fine example of a publicity design actually having an impact on its target audience and piquing their interest is this first-look poster design by Thought Station. For a person who is not familiar with Malayalam cinema it is difficult to point out who the star is in this image. They might even say there’s no star in the picture. Unda by Khalid Rahman gave us a Mammootty that was different from his usual mass style (posters of such films often focus only on him and a few gundas flying in the background) and we embraced it.
It gives us a good hint about what to expect from the film. A police caper that seems funny but also seems serious (where is this group heading?). This is how first-look posters should be. And Thought Station nailed it. Don’t miss the bullet trails in the title typeface.
Pranaya Meenukalude Kadal
How do you describe a love story set on a shore and be obvious about it? You take a picture of the lead cast submerged in the water with fish around them and let the shades of blue do its job. That’s what Oldmonks did for Kamal’s Pranaya Meenukalude Kadal, a romantic drama. The shades work too well both against the darker background of the photo as well as an indication of what’s in store for us when the film hits the marquee.
Although, I will admit I haven’t yet figured out the inclusion of the shark beside the title, seen in most of the film’s posters.
When Helen‘s trailer was released, potential viewers got anxious as they complained that the story was entirely out there in under those two minutes. What would debutante director Mathukutty Xavier do to keep the audience hooked when they already know what’s going to happen to the protagonist in his survival thriller starring one of Malayalam cinema’s breakout actors of 2019, Anna Ben? I think Xavier must have wanted it that way, teasing his audience with just enough (or more) information and then pulling a fast one on them by supplying drama that is masterfully ambient, emotionally tugging, and superbly enacted. That sort of anticlimactic treatment is also seen in this para-minimalistic poster by one-man show Prathool NT that’s as captivating as the survivalism explored in the film.
Last year, I had given an extra nod to the poster of Rohith V S’s Iblis (2018) for featuring the names of the primary cast in it. In 2019, Helen and a couple others did it, which is a very welcome trend in Mollywood.
If we ignore the 50-year-anniversary stamp of the well-known soap brand and the dull font, we see delicate, wiry stems of water lily with bulb shoots and sprawling leaves embossed, engulfing the lead actors, Esther Anil and Shane Nigam, in their colourful attire, as they seem divided in their stance on a common topic yet unknown to the beholder. It’s enough to fire an interest in Shaji N Karun’s magical realism drama Olu where a young girl is trapped underwater and can communicate only sparingly. This Oldmonks poster gave vigour to the film’s campaign after its first look got dissolved in the cesspool of low quality content that is the internet.
The hue of electric green, cyan, and roguish pink in this poster featuring the ensemble cast is enough to terrorise you and also give you a very good idea as to what to expect in Aashiq Abu’s cloak-work fiction tale of the Nipah virus outbreak that spread in some parts of Kerala in 2018. This use of shades plus the dramatic faces (and portraits) of the cast helped Virus gain extra momentum in its publicity which it did not need at all.
For an outsider, this imagery is striking. Designed by Popkon.
I don’t think any other poster on this curated list comes close to how Thottappan‘s boldly signifies a relationship between the two main characters of the film. Of course, that one for Pranaya Meenukalude Kadal is based on a similar trope, but everything comes together here: the brown shade, the title with a suffix that is the Malayalam word for ‘father’, and that pose where the kid’s foot is on the man’s chin. Does this count as spoilers?
Designed by Oldmonks, this first-look poster for Shanavas K Bavakutty’s crime drama got much love when it premiered back in 2018. My only pet peeve here, though, is the lack of space between the periods used inside the director’s name.
Android Kunjappan Version 5.25
There’s more than three elements that make this poster for Ratheesh B Poduval’s technology-is-evil reminder Android Kunjappan Version 5.25 stand apart from the usual trope that involves a gang posing for a photograph. How is a robot a part of this family? How are these people related, especially the people who are not under the robot’s vision and care? What’s the foreign connection? And what the hell is a cow doing in this picture? It makes you think, with Oldmonks giving one of their best work of 2019 and the crew giving us one of the best Malayalam films of the year. Go ahead, scan that QR code!
If Oldmonks used blue to signify an ocean in Pranaya Meenukalude Kadal, they used the shades of the colour of blood to show what Geethu Mohandas had built using her story about an unscrupulous, small-time yet bumptious goon from Mumbai. Almost all the posters, that involve Nivin Pauly in his bhai look, are smeared with the colour red, and that is enough to ignite an interest in people who otherwise don’t feel their throat go dry at the mention of Kamathipura.
The man at the centre also signifies another element that comes full circle when you complete watching Moothon, one of the best movies I watched at MAMI MFF 2019. Such little bits are also what makes a poster more delightful when you look back.
What more do you need to symbolise desperation for union garnished with lechery? Than Vinay Forrt in character with a peculiar form of pattern baldness staring at the camera looking like he will approach you right this moment and profess his love. This is another example of bull’s eye marketing and caching in on star power (Forrt’s similar character in the 2015 hit romantic comedyPremam had won hearts). Extra marks for those words in Malayalam script in the blackboard behind him.
For the seventh time here, designed by Oldmonks.
It is always fun to go back to these posters and select the best. And unlike last year, I won’t avoid mentioning the films that had equally good designs as part of their marketing strategy but just didn’t get included in the final list. These posters should also get some love when we look back. In no order, those are Ishq (Oldmonks), Allu Ramendran (Thought Station), Kumbalangi Nights (Oldmonks), Under World (Oldmonks), and Praana (Vinci Raj).
What do you think about these posters? Which one is your favourite?
…I will officiate the following rules and restrictions. Patrons will be required to follow this cinema theatre etiquette charter and will be automatically agreeing to them as part of the ticket purchase.
Network jammers will be installed with a power radius of 300 meters to prevent mobile communication of any form inside and around the auditoriums.According to the Indian Telegraph Act, the use of jammers by private establishments is illegal in the country. In special cases, an approval from the Cabinet Secretariat can be procured. Friendship with folks with political influence will then be put to use or the jammers will be installed and architecturally cloaked into invisibility during the construction of the theatre (Private entities can’t use jammers: Govt – Nivedita Mookerji, Business Standard, 17 July 2015) Patrons will be informed about this beforehand; heck even the tagline of the movie theatre will be: at Nair Talkies You Only Watch Movies
Show timings will be followed strictly. If a movie is scheduled to start at 8 PM, it will start at 8 PM. As in, the reel/copy supplied by the distributor will be switched ON, and lights will begin to dim
Auditorium doors will be closed ten minutes before the show timing. Latecomers will be sent back with a full refund (minus processing charges) or with a facility to reschedule their visit at no extra cost
Ushers will make sure patrons occupy their seats five minutes before the start of the show. Uncooperative persons will be shown the exit door without an alternative and without a refund
National anthem will not be played before a show; not even the 20-second shorter version or even if certain political outfits or moralists-activists threaten to vandalize my theatre or actually do itAccording to the Union home ministry of India, “state governments have conveyed that at present there are no protocols on playing national anthem at public places.” Further, the Supreme Court of India in its 9 January 2018 verdict stated that it is up to the cinema hall owners to decide if they want to play the anthem or not. (National anthem in cinemas likely to stay ‘optional’ – Rahul Tripathi, The Economic Times, 19 June 2019)I will decide not to play it.
No intervals regardless of the duration or type of the movie
Loo breaks will be discouraged and patrons will be strongly advised to make a visit before the start of the show. Emergency nature calls will be allowed but the names and Aadhaar card numbers of these people will be recorded in a database maintained and owned by the theatre. Three strikes will mean lifetime ban
There will be no canteen or cafeteria services but freestanding water fountains (mounted water dispensers) will be installed outside the auditorium entrance and exit gates and corridors
Complaints from patrons about other patrons (loud talking, snoring, obstructing the view, sexual activity) will be taken seriously and dealt in the same way as those taking loo breaks
Special couple seats will be designed (and located towards the end of the auditorium to keep prying eyes or the morality nazis from looking) to encourage platonic but silent and non-disruptive canoodling to heighten the movie-watching experience. Those involved in sexual acts will be warned but not banned because I understand and can confirm that sexual urge (i.e. the urge to procreate) is the second-most strongest human instinct (after that of survival)(It’s Normal! – page 112, Chapter 10 – Unsafe Sex (Sex and Illness), Dr. Mahinder Watsa, Penguin Books, 2015). Couples, regardless of their intentions, will be required to sit in these seats only unless all of the available ones are already occupied
People (kids) below the age of 13 years will not be allowed irrespective of the type of the film being screened. (If a child is turning 13 on the 20th of August he will be allowed to watch a movie in the theatre from the 20th)
No advertisements will be shown and instead movie trailers will be screened before a show. Trailers of Indian regional films will be preferably played over that of mainstream ones
Patrons will be mandated to enter the auditoriums freehand. They can choose to either safely dump their personal effects at the security or come directly without bringing anything other than their entry ticket (Film critics will be allowed to carry a pencil/pen and a paper). This essentially means mobile phones will not be allowed
All patrons will be frisked (by retired security professionals who have had at least three years of stint in airport security or in the immigration/customs department of India) before entering the building and the only things that will be allowed inside the auditoriums are listed below. Everything else will need to be dumped at the security and which can be collected after the show
the entry ticket
candies and toffees and mints not weighing more than 10 grams
3D glasses (depending upon the show)
Intoxication of any type will not be allowed inside the building; films without disclaimers will be encouraged
Patrons photographically caught littering will be permanently banned without preamble or the ability to contest it
Audio and video equalizers will be continuously moderated throughout a show. No show will run on preset or general settings of the entire auditorium, including that of the air conditioning, the humidifiers, and the ventilation
There will be no restrictions regarding clothes, footwear, and eyeglasses
All patrons will be mandated to sit through the entire end credits roll even when it’s not a Marvel movie so that they can sit and appreciate those behind the camera as well as cool down from the in-movie experience
The entire building will be friendly to all types of people above the age of 13 regardless of their physical capabilities or incapabilities
Theatre staff will be made up of people hired through a lenient recruitment process which will importantly not assess the candidates based on their sexual orientation, caste, religion, or the quality of their exposure to films. Freshers will be trained by me.
But since no one will come to this theatre due to the restrictions and it will be a loss-making enterprise altogether, there will be no such establishment opening till I suddenly become a billionaire with the ability to bankroll such an enterprise without additional capital support and political influence. TN.
According to the Indian Telegraph Act, the use of jammers by private establishments is illegal in the country. In special cases, an approval from the Cabinet Secretariat can be procured. Friendship with folks with political influence will then be put to use or the jammers will be installed and architecturally cloaked into invisibility during the construction of the theatre (Private entities can’t use jammers: Govt – Nivedita Mookerji, Business Standard, 17 July 2015)
According to the Union home ministry of India, “state governments have conveyed that at present there are no protocols on playing national anthem at public places.” Further, the Supreme Court of India in its 9 January 2018 verdict stated that it is up to the cinema hall owners to decide if they want to play the anthem or not. (National anthem in cinemas likely to stay ‘optional’ – Rahul Tripathi, The Economic Times, 19 June 2019)
I will decide not to play it.
(It’s Normal! – page 112, Chapter 10 – Unsafe Sex (Sex and Illness), Dr. Mahinder Watsa, Penguin Books, 2015)
It’s been nearly six months since the last edition of the Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) concluded and I am finding it difficult to wait out any longer for the next one. Especially with Cannes releasing its official poster for 2019 featuring a tribute to late French filmmaker Agnès Varda as well as folks on my Twitter already starting to build up on TIFF 2019. It was difficult enough to see critics reshare opinion pieces of their favorite and not-so-favorite movies they caught at Sundance this year. And then our own MAMI came out with a tweet that sent a tribute to the late legendary Indian filmmaker Mrinal Sen on 10 April, and I just couldn’t control. Yours truly is filled with misery these days.
But, thanks to cheap access to the Internet and theaters nearby, I have somehow managed to find a way to sustain the gap – which almost feels like an eternity – between the festival editions, October through October. The key, they say, is to stop thinking about it, but good luck doing that if you are an active social media user. And if you are someone who follows the film fraternity (for whatever reasons), you are bound to become miserable over the 12 months. More so if you are disturbed by the wave of low-quality movies that have come out of Bollywood in 2019 so far. Why Cheat India, Total Dhamaal, Mere Pyare Prime Minister, Junglee…
If you think you are in a similar situation, don’t worry. I have found a few ways to keep myself occupied till the week-long festival comes back, scheduled between 17 October and 24 October this year. If you can manage to find a buddy then nothing like it. Schedule a day and a time, grab a few packets of instant popcorn, and fire up your home theater to end your hectic days with doses of filmy smack. Here’s how…
Waiting Out the Next Edition of the Mumbai Film Festival
Since the 2018 edition was my most successful in terms of catching the movies that I actually wanted to, it has become even more difficult to exist and function knowing that October is so far away. I often think about my days at the festival and how I managed to watch both the opening and closing films for the first time in three years. Talking to a few acquaintances that I made in 2017 and 2018 made me realize that I am not the only one.
Here are a few things that I have been doing over the past few weeks to make for the cinematic hunger that has suddenly dominated me.
Watch and Complete Previous Editions
In 2018, there was a guy who watched 27 films in six days. This is like an unachievable record for me. Because there’s a limit of four movies per day (that you can book online against your MAMI ID), and this guy booked three extra films by standing in queues. That’s five movies back to back between 10AM and 10PM, each at least 150 minutes long. I would be doing better if I had that kind of commitment for anything in my life.
But that’s not the point. The point is that if you are like me – whose record is a measly 13 per festival – then you have a lot of films to go back to. You’ll have even more if you skipped any of the recent editions of the festival because there are upwards of at least a 100 titles that are screened per year.
I am personally going to try and catch all the pending movies of the 2018 edition. I also created an ambitious list on IMDb so I have a headstart here. If you are looking for inspiration, here is a list of lists –
Other than these, IMDb itself has a separate section of films that were nominated/awarded in the festival. Have a look at the lists for as back as 2013 here.
Catch Up on MCU or GoT
Now I know that not everyone is a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or TV shows like Game of Thrones, but if you are and if you have been putting them aside for long, now is the time to catch up.
The latest Avengers installment is scheduled to release in a week’s time. Which makes April the perfect time to complete the three phases of MCU that lead up to it. Same for GoT as its final season is currently running on HBO (Hotstar in India).
If none of these franchises interest you, there are numerous other shows and movies in various genres available for consumption. Obviously. So go to IMDb or Letterboxd and take a look.
MAMI Year Round Programme
This should have been on top of my list. Because it is MAMI’s own way of answering the hunger of cinephiles after they are done with the festival every year.
The Year Round Programme is a subset of the MFF where MAMI organizes screenings (often premieres) of new movies and web shows at their partner theater network (PVR) throughout the year in Mumbai and Delhi. Access is free; members only have to sign up separately for the programme (on their website), wait for email invitations of new screenings, register their interest (as soon as possible because of the limited number of seats), and then wait for the confirmation.
If you’re an early bird and/or first-timer, you have high chances of getting a seat. On the other hand, if you get a confirmed seat and don’t show up, it will be hard for you to show your loyalty to the sweet MAMI people again.
The Year Round Programme hosts a lot of cool movies and web shows as MAMI directly partners with the producers and distributors. For example, their last show in Mumbai was the Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo, in association with National Geographic. In the past, they have screened Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, Sonchiriya, Made in Heaven (Amazon Prime Video), Green Book, and Stranger Things (Netflix) to name a few.
It’s a great initiative by MAMI because it gives a form of community to the participants. And more importantly, a way to stop missing the festival.
Embrace the Academy Awards
Or any international awards for that matter. I like to keep a track of the Oscars – winning films, nods, snubs, long shots, everything – and then predict which ones will win when the night comes. Unfortunately, I have never been able to watch all movies let alone predict correctly. But I still have at two lists prepared and ready:
These will be enough for at least 2-3 months from now, depending upon the number of titles you have seen already.
If Oscars are not your thing, you can pick any of the major international awards like the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and Independent Spirit awards, or even Filmfare and Indian’s National Film awards. The idea is to continue watching films to keep the spirit high and constant. Heck, you may also consider the Razzies.
This might come as a surprise but let me at least make a case. The amount of information that is exchanged in this small Reddit community of Bollywood lovers is just breathtaking. All types of news, trailers, and trivia are discussed there every day by users from around the world.
They even have polls of new Bollywood releases, and unlike popular opinion, have constructive discussions that you can take part in. The community is also actively moderated, which means no spam, no advertisements. Just plain Bollywood worship.
This is not for me, but for people who are between the age of 18 and 25. If you are that young and still interested in cinema, the Young Critics Lab organized by MAMI every year will be a beautiful opportunity.
It is a short workshop for young students and professionals who want to get a little hands-on training about the basics of film criticism. The club’s favorite and National Award-winning critic Baradwaj Rangan conducts the workshop between July and October. He is sometimes supported by an international film critic. 2016 saw The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw come to Mumbai for the class while in 2017 (when I attended), TIME magazine’s Stephanie Zacharek made an appearance.
I wrote a detailed article about YCL last year which I think will be enough to push you to sign up if they host it this year. Keep your eyes and ears open in May/June when they usually announce it.
Lastly, and this is not very relevant here, there’s Sujay Kulkarni’s fantastic take on how to prepare for the festival. Writing for VICE, he captures the very essence of the festival – from ticket booking to finding obscure films outside of your watchlist to getting from one venue to another – in so less words.
Take a look as you revisit your own time at the festival last year… or five years ago. Whichever suits you.
There is no doubt that the MFF has transformed into a national phenomenon if not a global one. Last year the ticket price was INR 500 (approx. $7) which surely helped increase the footfall. And with so many new members looking forward to the 2019 edition, I’m sure it will be grander this time.
The MFF is now officially open for entries. If you are a creator, you need to sign up and submit as soon as possible. Check out the website for more details. If you are unsure if your film belongs to MFF, check out the rules and regulations here. And don’t forget to follow MAMI on Twitter becausethat’s where the action is.
Here’s to six more months of hope-filled anticipation. TN.
Although over 150 Malayalam films released in 2018, only a handful of those were deemed watchable by industry critics at large. Out of this handful, 15 titles were selected based on their cinematic brilliance and without considering their box office success.
This is a list of the 15 best Malayalam movies of 2018, as selected by eminent critics of the Kerala film industry.
The method of selection as well as other details about individual titles can be found over at my IMDb list here. My annual tradition of creating best-of lists/video was not possible because I could not catch all the films in 2018. (A punishment for not living in Kerala.)
Most of these are available on DVD or VOD. If none of these interest you or if you have already seen them, consider my personal favourites:
Ente Mezhuthiri Athazhangal (dir. Sooraj Thomas)
Uncle (dir. Gireesh Damodar)
Theevandi (dir. Fellini T P)
Kuttanpillayude Sivarathri (dir. Jean Markose)
Or, go for some of the underdogs of 2018:
Bhayaanakam (dir. Jayaraj)
Kaly (dir. Najeem Koya)
Joseph (dir. M Padmakumar)
Lilli (dir. Prasobh Vijayan)
Kammara Sambhavam (dir. Rathish Ambat)
Njan Prakashan (dir. Sathyan Anthikkad)
While you decide which film to catch this holiday season, also check out my list of the best posters of Malayalam cinema in 2018. A few of my other similar lists related to Malayalam films can be found here (best of 2017), here (best of 2016), and here (best of 2015). TN.
I always look forward to Indiewire film critic David Ehrlich’s annual countdown of the best of world cinema. For me, it acts as a starter to the month-long celebrations leading up the New Year, which mainly involves best-of lists about almost everything.
I just completed skimming through Kottke’s 2018 gift guide (helped me for my Secret Santa activities this year including Redditgifts), the New York Times’ list of best films of 2018, and Goodreads’ list of best books.
I know there are many more to come, but for now, let’s get overwhelmed by this 13-minute video extravaganza. The film at #1 is a surprise for me, but then I have not always agreed with Ehrlich’s lists. For me, it’s about getting a rush of creativity by just watching it – the visuals, the music, the vivid shots all sewn together like a masterwork. I have tried to mimic this a few times in the past. (This one for The Review Monk in 2016.)
I’m glad to have caught at least couple of these films at MAMI 2018 (which I’m yet to summarize, by the way), especially Roma and Widows. I also watched Burning, Madeline’s Madeline, and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. And that’s just only five.
Enough of me talking, now go and spend 13 minutes of your life watching this brilliant encapsulation of world cinema of this past year. And maybe wait for my own rendition of the best of Malayalam cinema. Maybe.
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)
Update #3: Copyedited. (3 October 2019)
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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.