Tag: kerala

10 Best Malayalam Film Posters of 2019

best malayalam film posters 2019

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.

Jallikkattu

Jallikkattu Malayalam film poster
Produced by Opus Penta and Chembosky Motion Pictures

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.

PS – Sadly, the designer who worked on the Jallikkattu poster, R Mahesh, passed away in September 2019.

Unda

Unda Malayalam film poster
Produced by Movie Mill and Gemini Studios

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

Pranaya Meenukalude Kadal film poster
Produced by Dani and Frames Inevitable

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.

Helen

Helen Malayalam film poster
Produced by Habit of Life and Big Bang Entertainments

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.

Olu

Olu Malayalam film poster
Produced by AVA and Urvasi Theatres

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.

Virus

Virus Malayalam movie poster
Produced by OPM

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.

Thottappan

Thottappan film poster
Produced by Pattam Cinema Company

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

Android Kunjappan poster
Produced by Moonshot Entertainments

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!

Moothon

The Elder One Malayalam film poster
Produced by Jar Pictures, Mini Studio, and Good Bad Films

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.

Thamaasha

Thamaasha Malayalam film poster
Produced by Happy Hours Entertainments

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 comedy Premam 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?

Check out my listicle for 2018 here. TN.

Observations During My May 2019 Kerala Visit

I took the courage to apply for a week-long leave at work so that I could spend some quiet time with my family at our heirloom house in an Ernakulam town in Kerala, India. These are what I saw there between 18 May and 25 May. My photography skills are obviously weak.

cinema ticket alley in kerala
The classic cinema ticket alley riddled with graffiti at Maria single-screen theater in Muvattupuzha
Velloorkunnam temple
Entrance of Velloorkunnam temple in Muvattupuzha
Types of cinema tickets
3 types of movie tickets from – a single screen (Maria) and multiplexes (PVR, Carnival)
Merriboy icecream
A south Indian specialty – Tender coconut ice cream from Merriboy
Rains in India fall first in Kerala
Sharjah Shake
The famous Sharjah Shake of Kerala
Kalady temple stupa
The popular temple stupa of Kalady
Coconut breaking in temples
The omnipresent coconut breaking trench at every other temple across south India
Muvattupuzha village
The view from my place in Muvattupuzha

The climate was not so pleasant yet I made a few observations that seem interesting:

  • People prefer train travel primarily because they can take their entire world with them as opposed to flights despite there being a higher limit of 150 kilograms[1]In AC first class including free allowance of 70 kilograms (erail.in) that no one follows
  • Most high-end hotels/restaurants in Kerala have a VIP lounge room that can be only accessed through the backdoor. This is frequented by politicians and friends of owners
  • Hiring a cab in Kerala costs you more because most drivers include return trip expenses in the final price. This is because distances more than 30 kilometers are considered intercity travel (for example, from Cochin International Airport to Kothamangalam)
  • It is very difficult to rent a private vehicle for self-drive in Kerala without a reference. This is because of the increasing use of such vehicles to engage in terrorism and other anti-social activities
  • Sewage and bad water treatment in Ernakulam and surrounding areas is not as fine and safe as you think it is. There is a peculiar stench everywhere in the city and even around Lulu Mall, aggravated by a poor drainage system
  • Single-screen theaters usually skip the national anthem (which is a welcome move if you ask me)
  • Most temples in Kerala do not allow you to enter if you are wearing “western clothes”. Additionally, men need to be in a veshti and not wearing anything on top as part of their traditional and cultural limitations
  • Public bus travel is akin to daredevilism; but they will stop in the middle of the road if you show a hand.

Have you observed any peculiar things when in Kerala? Let’s discuss. TN.

footnotes   [ + ]

1. In AC first class including free allowance of 70 kilograms (erail.in)

The Decline of Malayalam Actor Jayaram

Malayalam film actor jayaram

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.

Malayalam film actor jayaram
Padma Shri Jayaram Subramaniam / Commons

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),[1]Kumbalangi Nights was ranked number one on my list of the best Malayalam films of the first half of 2019. Ee.Ma.Yau (2018),[2]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).

The trailer of the 2015 film

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):

  • Athmeeya Rajan
  • Divya Pillai
  • Anna Rajan
  • Anusree
  • Iniya
  • Parvathy Nambiar
  • Sheelu Abraham
  • Ramya Krishnan
  • Honey Rose
  • Kanika
  • Priyamani
  • Isha Talwar
  • Meera Jasmine
  • Kadambari

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.

Trailer of Pattabhiraman (2019), his most recent release

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.

Possible Bounceback

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,[3]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.

Something to end on a high note; Jayaram’s pandi melam performance

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)

footnotes   [ + ]

1. Kumbalangi Nights was ranked number one on my list of the best Malayalam films of the first half of 2019.
2. Ee.Ma.Yau was ranked number one on my year-end list of 2018.
3. 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.