Tag: Malayalam Cinema

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.

The Chronology of Modern-Day Film Promotion

One of the main purposes of my active social media use is to be on top of news and promotions related to the Malayalam film industry. I follow most film folks on Facebook not because I like to comment “Sir oru like tharumo!” (Sir, can I get a like (on this comment) please?) but to keep track of new ventures, industry stories, and collaborations. And over the past few years, I have observed few things in online film promotion. Things that turn me off.

A Trend in Online Promotion of Films

There is a new trend of digital film promotion in Mollywood and other Indian film industries. Bollywood does it too, in fact, even more strongly than its contemporaries. Most top-lining films usually start off their online publicity with sending a press release, planting a news story, or having some of the crew share status updates about the new project on social media. At the same time, most production houses choose to create and launch standalone pages on various social media platforms, notably on Facebook.

Thamasha Malayalam movies Vinay Fortt
The “first-look” poster of Thamasha / © Happy Hours Entertainment

An example would be the recent announcement of an upcoming film titled Thamasha, produced by Happy Hours Entertainment, and starring Vinay Fortt in a role that looks like it is spun off from his comical character in the 2015 hit romantic comedy Premam. The announcement – which, as of 15 April, has engulfed a part of the Malayalam social media after it was shared and reshared by the people close with the cast and crew – came alongside a poster featuring Fortt. It’s a great announcement and one that achieves its intended goal: pique its audience’s interest. But the problem is that it may not be the first look poster even though the announcement says it is.

Unda malayalam movies 2019
The unofficial “first-look” poster of Unda / © Moviee Mill/Gemini Studios

Take the poster of another upcoming film, the Mammootty-starrer titled Unda (2019). This was released a few months ago when the filming was still underway. There were no major announcements and this poster somehow made an entrance into the social media, probably through its two Facebook pages (here: Unda The Movie and UNDATheFilm). The film’s IMDb page also sports this poster (because I added it and the film’s PR never bothered to take a gander). As someone who depends on the Internet to extract updates about new Malayalam films, I took this poster as the first look image. Because a first look (often abbreviated as FL by agencies who run the handles for these films for the sake of hashtagging convenience) does not have to reveal the first look of the main actors. It is not to be taken literally. Instead, a first-look publicity image should give out the unique vibe of that film, and this one by Unda actually did, again making me very interested in the project. Then, I don’t understand why there was a need for another first look (see further below).

All of this makes me wonder about the chronology of film promotion in this digital age. Here’s a list that I came up with recently, inspired by a comment by a Reddit user (u/nandusdas091) on r/Kerala, and exaggerated to stay true to the nature of this website.

Chronology of Digital Film Promotion

This focuses on the Malayalam film industry; a list of events that occur one after other in any modern-day promotional campaign for a film that has enough budget to produce and disseminate publicity materials.

  1. Rough first look or a media story planted in an unverifiable news site
  2. First look announcement (#firstlook #<title>loading #getready)
  3. First look (usually a hand of the lead star, a prop if it’s a sequel or a series instalment, or the title design)
  4. Motion poster announcement
  5. Motion poster
  6. Sneak peek
  7. Character posters #1 through #5 (of characters that have less than 5 minutes of screen time)
  8. Teaser announcement
  9. Promo teaser (also sometimes erroneously titled as prologue teaser), or
  10. Teaser (without any characters)
  11. First song (lyrical)
  12. Screenshot of the teaser video trending on YouTube
  13. Character posters #6 through #30 (the last one is usually of the lead actor or of a character that should have been kept secret)
  14. Promo poster featuring an inflated number of views that the teaser received in the last 24 hours
  15. Reshares of mentions in the media and by other actors not involved in the project
  16. Audio launch announcement/trailer
  17. Posters containing random birthday wishes for the cast/crew
  18. Teaser reaction videos (disseminated through unofficial, partner networks containing wannabe YouTubers)
  19. Audio launch at an Ernakulam 5-star banquet hall (usually owned by one of the crew members) with the highlight being a life-sized disc held by everyone excluding the music producer
  20. First video song
  21. Trailer announcement
  22. Teaser to the trailer
  23. Trailer launch at a Trivandrum 5-star banquet hall
  24. Trailer appended to major film releases of that weekend
  25. Trailer on social media by a popular actor not involved in the project (a day after it appears on the big screen)
  26. Screenshot of the trailer video trending on YouTube
  27. Trailer reaction videos
  28. Poster featuring an inflated number of views the trailer received in less than two hours
  29. Random stills posted by top cast and crew (with at least half a dozen hashtags)
  30. Poster containing greetings for an eligible festival or public holiday
  31. Cast and crew interview videos
  32. Poster featuring some unknown and useless record broken by the trailer
  33. Poster featuring a list of achievements by the teaser, the trailer, and the audio jukebox
  34. Final official poster with the ensemble cast appearing on it
  35. Film success trailer (two days after release)
  36. Film success celebration photos (at another Ernakulam hotel three days after release)
  37. Making-of videos to get some boost in the revenue of the production company’s YouTube channel
  38. Posters featuring inflated box office numbers
  39. Item dance video (optional)

Current State of Affairs

Here’s a peak example of what I’m talking about: a Facebook status update posted by the FB page of Unda, Khalid Rahman’s second directorial. It is true that I was triggered to write this article upon seeing this update on my feed. But I have been observing this digital film publicity chronology for some time now to validate the need for such an article.

Unda Malayalam movie 2019
A status update by the Facebook page of Unda

Every film – and not just Malayalam-language features – that is projected to at least foot its making cost is following this trend. And going by the volume of engagement on the above post from a page that has upwards of 5600 followers (at the time of publishing), it’s working.

But as a consumer of cinema who is at the receiving end of these brazen, tasteless promotions, it turns me off hugely. You may suggest that I start unfollowing these pages of films and film personalities and production houses, but then what about the downside? It’s a catch-22 situation all right and I can alternatively choose to change the settings on Facebook to receive only highlights. But if I did that, who exactly are they trying to attract and engage?

If everyone thought like me, the engagement would automatically go down, save for the pages of those films with actors who have fan associations so big and powerful the title of these associations are known in Kerala and neighbouring states by their acronyms (e.g.: Prithviraj Sukumaran’s POFFACTIO). It would not really work.

The Risk of Overpromotion

They say any publicity is good publicity, but that’s not true anymore. Look what happened to a recent upcoming biopic of a politician. It had all the right ingredients, and also received a mass of negative press because of its association with a political party, but it was still stalled for release because it would potentially violate the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) which is in motion till the end of 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Overpromotion – which is quickly influencing the Kerala film industry – does not always work. It can act as cannibalization after a certain point, turning off the discerning audience to the point where he stops caring. After a while, the promotions will stop having an effect on its target audience as people will shun the digital campaigns and consider movies based on star value, interest, and word of mouth. (The last one is still one of the biggest factors in global cinema, with examples from Bollywood like Stree (2018), Tumbbad (2018), and Andhadhun (2018) loud and clear.)

I do not agree with executing a 39-point marketing strategy on social media because it is dumb. It can act as a deterrent more than it can as a magnet. Of course, an active official profile on Facebook or Twitter would do good to educate the audience about an upcoming project, especially to act as a standalone profile for when someone searches for it to find more information if the film is not yet live on Wikipedia and IMDb, that is. But going overboard with it can sometimes be risky and cost-ineffective.

It may be a tactic used by social media management agencies (who usually work remotely) to bill their clients extra (for all the man hours), but we must look at the bigger picture and see where exactly this type of promotions is going. Is it some kind of a groundbreaking marketing strategy that demands a deeper study? No. Is it a novel approach? No, everyone does it and has been doing it for some time now. Is it effective? Maybe. In 2019 so far, films like Lucifer, Oru Adaar Love, and Madhura Raja succeeded in pulling it off and getting the seats filled, notwithstanding their consequent critical or box office successes. But there are others – like 9, Praana, and June – that deployed similar but largely ineffective campaigns.

Bringing It a Few Notches Down

Same goes for films that think out of the box, do something unusual, and still fail without even getting credit for trying. A case in point: When Rohith VS’s Iblis (2018) launched an online game as part of its promotions, it did not aid much in attracting any more audience than it would have without the game. Its Facebook page had over 20,000 followers and yet the game-related posts received measly engagement, and Asif Ali is still an actor with some fan following. It fared comparatively well with its series of posters, one of the best we saw in 2018.

The splash screen of the game titled World of Iblis / © nologomedia

Which is why it is important to also attribute the success of such granular marketing campaigns to a film’s star value. In fact, this star value has more to do than the stunts themselves. You don’t see such campaigns being run for films that feature an actor who doesn’t have an official fan association. Think of the marketing tactics by the PR team of a film starring Mohanlal and then compare it with another having lesser-known actors like Sreenath Bhasi, Shane Nigam, and Soubin Shahir. Even though the quality of a film eventually decides its success rate, such viral social media promotions help the producers mint more money during the deciding first weekend. And it is evident that it is working. Which is not the right way to do business.

Then there are films like Premam that make do with a few characterless posters and a song to market itself and break some actual records. TN.

Update: Updated information about the two different Facebook pages for Unda. (15 April 2019)

Best of Malayalam Cinema in 2018 (Critics’ Choice)

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.

Ee Ma Yau poster
Ee. Ma. Yau is the best Malayalam film of 2018

This is a list of the 15 best Malayalam movies of 2018, as selected by eminent critics of the Kerala film industry.

  1. Ee. Ma. Yau (dir. Lijo Jose Pellissery)
  2. Sudani from Nigeria (dir. Zakariya)
  3. Sexy Durga (dir. Sanal Kumar Sasidharan)
  4. Varathan (dir. Amal Neerad)
  5. Kayamkulam Kochunni (dir. Rosshan Andrrews)
  6. Koode (dir. Anjali Menon)
  7. Carbon (dir. Venu)
  8. Eeda (dir. Ajithkumar)
  9. Aami (dir. Kamal)
  10. Swathanthryam Ardharathriyil (dir. Tinu Pappachan)
  11. Njan Marykutty (dir. Ranjith Sankar)
  12. Aalorukkam (dir. V C Abhilash)
  13. Padayottam (dir. Rafeek Ibrahim)
  14. Poomaram (dir. Abrid Shine)
  15. Maradona (dir. Vishnu Narayn)
Varathan Malayalam film poster
Varathan has polarizing reviews but still came in at #4

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.)

Carbon film poster
Carbon stars Fahadh Faasil and Mamata Mohandas in the lead

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.

Best Posters of Malayalam Cinema in 2018

I am a sucker for posters. They are one of my favourite design objects to look at. As an Engineering student, I used to design posters for my college’s annual cultural events and would spend a good time working on them. Because I used to heavily depend on stock images while grabbing ideas off the internet, I understand how difficult it is to design them. And when it comes to films, it is often out of just an idea. First-look posters have to attract a film’s target audience while depending on that tiny idea sitting only in the director’s head. That is why talking about their beauty and appreciating the best ones as well as their creators are important.

Here is a list of posters that were created for Malayalam films that released in 2018. In no specific order; and images sourced from IMP Awards, IMDb, or the film’s respective Facebook pages, with proper credits attributed wherever expected.


These are the best Malayalam posters of 2018:

Carbon film poster
Produced by Poetry Film House

Designed by Oldmonks, the posters for Venu’s adventure drama film Carbon perfectly encapsulates the hidden meaning behind the title as well as the central character’s selfish odyssey. Note the elongated hexagonal outline of the poster as well as the geometrical shapes in the title font and then read the tagline.


Ee Ma Yau poster
Produced by RGK Cinema

I am not a fan of posters that are not vertical (portrait) in shape, yet I cannot resist raving about this poster designed by Oldmonks for Lijo Jose Pellissery’s sombre drama Ee.Ma.Yau. In the film, the titular character dreams of being sent to the Gods on a gigantic coffin with pomp and circumstance. And with this striking first-look poster, we exactly know how big (“breaching a coastline” big), while giving you a bad taste of death and horror along the way.


Dakini Malayalam film poster
Produced by Universal Cinema and Urvasi Theatres

Rahul Riji Nair’s zany crime comedy drama Dakini certainly switched ON the hype through its series of vibrant posters designed by digital artist Prathool N T. I love the title font so much that I just cannot decide between it and the poster’s magnificent colour scheme. Nowhere has a team of four grandmas looked old, lovable, and wicked at the same time. But I don’t think I can forgive the makers for the missing Oxford comma. (Just kidding!)

Trivia – What is surprising to me is that the artist also developed the publicity designs for Rosshan Andrrews’s period crime drama Kayamkulam Kochunni. Which are better than the ones designed by Thought Station that went live.


Lilli Malayalam film poster
Produced by E4 Entertainment

Prasobh Vijayan’s crime drama Lilli ran a pretty successful campaign before its release, thanks to ample help from Oldmonks who only raised the bar if we compare this with their first two designs on this list. Giving the central and titular character a bouquet of lilies to hold, a crown of thorns to wear, and an aura, and then framing her as a character in a High Renaissance painting makes me want to print it (frescoed, if possible) and gift it to a friend so that he can expand his own Sistine Chapel collection of movie posters.


Varathan Malayalam film poster
Produced by Fahadh Faasil and Friends

The neon colour scheme, especially in the title font, made me spit out my coffee the first time I saw the Oldmonks-designed first poster of Amal Neerad’s uppity crime drama Varathan. And then I stopped having coffee for some time because with each poster coming out (even the character ones), I was getting this strange, negative vibe – something bad is going to happen to the lead characters that will unshape their relationship. That is exactly what the film wanted to convey. And it is.


Padayottam Malayalam movie poster
Produced by Weekend Blockbusters

Another poster designed by Prathool N T, the rusty, neon-induced shades added more fun and expectations to Rafeek Ibrahim’s gritty crime comedy Padayottam. It is when you realize that the character (played by Biju Menon) you see in the poster is not as terrifying as he seems to be in the film is what makes this more interesting. (Like an anti-promotion stunt, if you will.) Posters so colourful like these for films like these make me secure my faith in Malayalam cinema.


Ranam Malayalam film poster
Produced by Yes Cinema

With Nirmal Sahadev’s crime drama Ranam (also known as Detroit Crossing), Oldmonks add some Western touch to their design (and rightly so), which makes this poster featuring the ensemble cast look like that of a potential Hollywood blockbuster. Do note the neonized font for the title in Malayalam text.


Iblis Malayalam film poster
Produced by Ichais Productions

Designed by nologomedia, this charming poster for Rohith V S’s fantasy love story Iblis has not only a beautiful, BEAUTIFUL title font but also fantastical factors etched into each and every one of its pixels, which gives you every bit of a hint about what to expect. Iblis is also the third film on this list so far to feature its actors’ names on the posters, which surely is a welcome move by Malayalam cinema at large if you ask me.


Neerali Malayalam film poster
Produced by Moonshot Entertainments

Oldmonks give Ajoy Varma’s slipshod survival drama Neerali (or Nieraali) a more direct reference to its title (which means Octopus) than the director himself gave to the film. The immensely likable designs with a heavy dose of honey yellow scattered across the posters, and an intelligent hue spectrum on specifically the one above, made me go gaga.


Thobama Malayalam film poster
Produced by Radical Cinemas and Thekkepat Films

Designed by 24AM, the poster design for Mohsin Kassim’s ode to romance Thobama gives out a peculiarly oldies vibe (of a time) when you used to hang out with your colleagues on the madhil and whistle at the beauties of your college (which, at the moment, is a type of eve-teasing). It’s supposed to be nonchalant and nostalgic and it very well is, with some amazing use of the watercolour effect.

Trivia – 24AM rose to instant popularity when their butterfly logo on the posters for Alphonse Putharen’s Premam went viral.


Aabhaasam Malayalam film poster
Produced by Spire Productions and Collective Phase One

Designed by artist Pavi Sankar, the posters for Jubith Namradath’s social satire Aabhaasam are as raunchy and vivid as the film’s characters and the central theme. There would be no one person who will look at this piece of art and not want to consider consuming the full content. I remember the publicity team had also released a slightly risque-y poster on social media once the film was certified by the CBFC after much controversy. And it was equally awe-inspiring. Just bravo!


Eeda Malayalam film poster
Produced by Delta Studio and Collective Phase One

One of the best Malayalam movies of 2018, B Ajithkumar’s powerful romance story narrated against a political backdrop Eeda really took the rawness and realism of its theme to a higher level with this poster. Not only does it adopt the “put the ensemble” route – like Dakini, Ranam, and Aabhaasam – but also takes its title font so seriously that it evokes memories of a certain political theory popular in Kannur (and Kerala, in general) where the film is set. It is designed by Oldmonks.


Aami Malayalam film poster
Produced by Reel and Real Cinema

Last on this list is – for the eighth time – an Oldmonks design where they give a subtle nod to the film’s primary subject (legendary writer Kamala Surayya) and her ink-y writings that not only wreaked havoc in her own life but also kicked up a furore in the sensitive literary, political, and religious spheres. What better use of the smudge tool than on a poster for a film that talks about how a person is oppressed by the society because of their outspoken writing. This is for Kamal’s hard-hitting biopic Aami.


These are the 13 best posters that helped Malayalam cinema go the extra mile in its promotions in 2018. I wanted to list more posters (considering around a hundred fifty films released this year) and write about their designers to give them more exposure but I feel doing that would take the focus off from these pieces of remarkable creative art. TN.


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Argument Against the Item Song in Kayamkulam Kochunni

I watched Rosshan Andrrews’s Kayamkulam Kochunni last day and I liked it. You can read my review here.

But there is one thing that I did not like: an item song titled ‘Nrithageethikalennum’ featuring Canadian model Nora Fatehi. The song itself is all right and adds to the masala and setting of the film, but the problem I have is with its sheer existence and the picturization. It has been categorically made to appeal to the male gaze, both in and out of the screen.

Even as the Indian film industry scrambles to think through and look at doing away with it, here we are using it to do what it has always been used to: drive more men into the theaters. I know that you may have your doubts with this article – coming from a male himself – but I am going to make my points anyway.

The Argument

I understand why director Andrrews may have resorted to putting an item number into his magnum opus, which is now the most expensive Malayalam film (INR 45 crores). He (and his producer Gokulam Gopalan) wants his money back and more. And for that people need to be barge in in the initial weeks. For those uninterested in history, flesh show compensates. At least that’s what I like to believe. It’s like falling to another low in box office business.

I also understand that the item number is a storyboard requirement. The makers want to show how cabaret was a common source of entertainment for English officers. And by showing that, also describe their sexist and condescending nature, mostly against Indians. I get it.

But what I don’t get is why. If showing what the British Raj enjoyed watching in the late 1800s in India was so important for the narrative, then why not also show other aspects of their lifestyle? Why does it have to be an isolated topic – an entire song that goes on for 4 minutes with a woman dancing and seducing? Finally, why make the central character validate it? I would understand if that was part of character development, but in this Malayalam film, it isn’t. Showing that the character was interested in cabaret has absolutely no impact on the rest of the story.

Lastly, the way the item number has been choreographed also points to the ultimate intention of the makers. If you observe the video song closely, the camera focuses on those body parts of Miss Fatehi that are devoid of habiliments or those that are naturally bound to evoke the feeling of sexual desire in a person (mostly male).

Cinematic Liberty and Style

I am convinced that the item number in Kayamkulam Kochunni (2018) was only placed to appeal to those who fancy it. And that’s a majority in a sex-starved country like India.

I am also convinced that this is what filmmakers consider as a catalyst to ensure box office success. But, I think it is high time that filmmakers – mostly in southern India – respect the current culture and social landscape and push the concept of item numbers into oblivion. The film industry is currently experiencing one of the most significant movements in a long time – the #MeTooIndia movement – and it is probably also the right time to shed elements that have dictated Indian cinema for ages. Item number, being one, and the idea of not passing the Bechdel test, being the next target.

It is up to each filmmaker to decide whether they want to add an item song in their film or not. The day when they don’t even think about it is when we will move towards being an industry that is culturally and socially sensitive. Otherwise, all this courageous activism is going to bite the dust in a few months, manhandled and subdued by the oppressive.


PS – I still remember the time I edited an article for The Review Monk during the 2015 edition of MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. I was summarizing an interview of a panel of women in Bollywood and had misheard the term “male gaze” as “male gays”. The lovely Ruhi Sinha corrected me later that day and here I am today. I hadn’t heard the term before that. How childish of me.

Premam Review: How the 2015 Malayalam Film Affected Me

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.

Premam review

A poster of Premam designed by Thought Station / © Anwar Rasheed Entertainment

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.

Have you watched it yet?

Top Malayalam Movies of 2017

Top Malayalam movies of 2017

The first few months of a new year is always a great time to consider, watch, and evaluate the best of cinema. While you get your life back on track, relax by binge-watching the best films that people enjoyed in 2017. These are the top Malayalam movies of 2017.

Although the international awards season is behind us, it’s wise for Malayali film fanatics like you and me to review the best titles that graced the theaters back in our land in the past year. So that when the topic of cinema comes in, you don’t sit like you don’t know who Tovino Thomas is.

Without further ado, here are the 10 best Malayalam movies that both audience and critics enjoyed in 2017. In a countdown list mode to make it look more dramatic.

10 Top Malayalam Movies of 2017

Out of a list of the 132 odd Malayalam films that released in the calendar year 2017, a measly 25 titles were deemed “watchable” by the cinema-going public and critics. I have listed only the top 10 based on critic ratings and reviews and without considering the inflated box office numbers that production houses circulate on social media.

These are the 10 top Malayalam movies of 2017, according to critics and my personal ratings.

10. EZRA

One of the best horror films to come out of Malayalam cinema is also one of the most well-received titles of the year. Ezra, directed by debutante Jay K, was 2017’s first release of Prithviraj Sukumaran who was gasping for a success since Ennu Ninte Moideen (2015).

Sukumaran plays a troubled nuclear energy specialist who is convinced that his wife, played by the charming Priya Anand, is possessed by an evil spirit. It not only involves the interesting concept of “Dybbuk box” but also has a powerful score that is eerie enough to scare you. Sukumaran acts in his trademark style (something he continued to do in Adam Joan later in 2017) and leads the film written with sufficient amounts of horror and thrills to be called a hit Malayalam movie of 2017.

Ezra is shot beautifully and the crew deserves applause for carving the almost perfect horror film, a genre that is hardly ever visited by Malayalam filmmakers.

Don’t forget to check out the chart-topping songs from the film – “Lailakame” and the surreal “Thambiran” produced by Rahul Raj and Sushin Shyam respectively.

Ezra is available on DVD.

9. KAADU POOKKUNNA NERAM

Not many people know that Dr. Biju is a director who uses his films to shed limelight on stark social issues. Neither do people know that the Malayalam parallel cinema, also known as the indie film movement, is still strong as before. And Kaadu Pookkunna Neram is one such example that made those who watched it go ga-ga.

While India sent Amit Masurkar’s mediocre drama about Naxalism, “Newton”, to the Oscars (which consequently lost the race obviously), the fabulous Kaadu Pookkunna Neram spiraled into oblivion. Because it did not run for more than a few weeks and because the makers failed to promote it in a better way; it did not even come under the radar of writers who make lists like this.

Starring Rima Kallingal and Indrajith Sukumaran – two of the most underrated actors in Malayalam cinema – the film talks about a policeman’s journey into the woods in search and for possible apprehension of a Naxalite group. A very simple and straightforward film, it reeks of minimalism and must be seen to understand how the nasty movement actually affects people in the interiors of Kerala.

And while you are here, let me also convince you to check out Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s controversial and therefore multiple award-winning feature film, Sexy Durga, which opened on 23 March 2018.

Kaadu Pookkunna Neram is not available on DVD/VOD.

8. GODHA

Director Basil Joseph’s second directorial venture after the comical Kunjiramayanam (2015) was by some looked at as a powerful ode to feminism. While that may or may not be true, Godha is surely as good as Malayalam entertainment can get. Starring the lovely Wamiqa Gabbi, Tovino Thomas (now you know who), and Renji Panicker, it told the story of an aspiring wrestler who finds her way from Punjab into Kerala to realize her dreams.

A quick uplifting watch, Godha takes you to a fictitious village known for wrestling and home-grown wrestlers and tries to break down few stereotypes on the way. With some great performances by the stars and occasional shoots of comedy, it was one of the best-reviewed films of 2017. Check out Shaan Rahman’s wonderful melodies in “Aaro Nenjil” sung by Gowry Lekshmi.

It is one of those rare films that both did well at the box office and made the job of critics a tad difficult. But there were still who compared it with Nitesh Tiwari’s Dangal and Ali Abbas Zafar’s Sultan.

Godha is available on DVD.

7. AADU 2

Called the funniest Malayalam film of 2017, Midhun Manuel Thomas’s second outing of the year after the abysmal Alamara provides more than what it promised. It takes you back to Shaji Pappan and his motley crew of half-witted nobodies as they get embroiled in a conspiracy that they can’t make head or tail of. Destroying the myth that a sequel can never be as good as the first film, Aadu 2 emerged as one of the best Christmas releases in Kerala and was also certified a box office hit.

Sitting like a crown on Jayasurya’s filmography, who enjoyed an almost equal success with Punyalan Private Limited (another sequel film) earlier in 2017, Aadu 2 shows that humor does not always have to be mixed with crass. A combination of slapstick and situational comedy – that is Aadu 2 for you by a talented crew headed by Vijay Babu.

Aadu 2 opened on 22 December 2017.

6. PARAVA

One of my personal favorites, Parava was highly anticipated mostly because it would mark the directorial debut of the phenomenal Soubin Shahir, known for his perfect comic timing and situational jesting. A man with great number of talents, Shahir took crafty filmmaking to another level with Parava, which talks about pigeon flying, a racing game (and a maddening hobby for some) popular in Mattancherry and Fort Kochi areas of Kerala.

Starring newbies in crucial roles and Dulquer Salmaan and Shane Nigam in supporting ones, Parava is a tour de force that must be witnessed in order to be appreciated. In addition to the extra efforts that must have been taken for filming the pigeons and their movements, Parava boasts of mouth-watering shots of the places it is set in, and altogether delivers a power-packed dose of entertainment.

When it came out in September 2017, I hadn’t experienced anything like it in a very long time. Something that I could relate to the experience I had while watching Alphonse Putharen’s Premam in 2015.

Parava opened on 21 September 2017.

5. NJANDUKALUDE NAATTIL ORIDAVELA

Released in the same month as Parava and another film by a debutante director, Njandukalude Naatil Oridavela is a dark comedy that so effortlessly conveys its message about a serious topic that you will stare in awe even as the credits roll. Consisting an ensemble cast of Nivin Pauly, Shanthi Krishna, Lal, and Aishwarya Lekshmi, it is a delightful piece of life that must be viewed with your family.

Don’t miss the somewhat useless (in the film) yet hummable “Enthavo” sung by Sooraj Santhosh and produced by Justin Varghese.

Njandukalude Naattil Oridavela is available on DVD.

4. THONDIMUTHALUM DRIKSAKSHIYUM

Though not a personal favorite, Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum is considered one of the best Indian movies of 2017. With realism as his main weapon, director Dileesh Pothan embarks on a journey with two of his most raw characters who meet the third one to wreak havoc in the most natural way.

Working around a gold chain that goes missing, the film aspires to shed light on how the society works, meanwhile also poking fun at police apathy and their piglike attitude. Suraj Venjaramoodu reclaims his stance as an actor who can play any role, and so does Fahadh Faasil, who upset few fans because he is not the main protagonist in the film.

Nimisha Sajayan can easily be called the breakout star of 2017 as she geared up and flourished in her new release, “Eeda”, early in January 2018.

Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum is available on DVD and BluRay.

3. MAYAANADHI

If Aadu 2 rose as the box office hit of the Christmas season, Aashiq Abu’s effervescent romantic drama Mayaanadhi ruled the critic circles. Starring Tovino Thomas (wow, again!) and the resplendent Aishwarya Lekshmi (wow, again!) as lovers, it is being called a love story that talks about “being in love”. Not the superficial courting or the gooey aftermath – just plain romance that is so much missing from this world.

Written by the talented duo Syam Pushkaran and Dileesh Nair, Mayaanadhi is easily one of the subtlest Malayalam movies of 2017. It’s devoid of gaudiness and that’s why it works.

Mayaanadhi opened on 22 December 2017.

2. ANGAMALY DIARIES

A festival favorite and more popular as the Malayalam film hailed by Anurag Kashyap, Lijo Jose Pallissery’s Angamaly Diaries is the rawest Malayalam film of 2017. A brief look at the trailer is enough for you to get hungry for the whole film.

Known for its gritty storyline about street gang wars in the Kerala town of Angamaly and starring mostly new actors, it received international acclaim for a variety of things including the minutes-long single take climax. If Nimisha Sajayan was THE breakout star, I think we can at least name Antony Varghese as the breakout male star of Malayalam cinema of 2017. He will be next seen in Swathanthryam Ardharathriyil (2018).

Don’t forget to listen to its weird soundtrack, notably “Theeyame”, “Thana Dhina”, and the love number “Do Naina”.

(Having said all that, I’m still curious about Pallissery’s Ee.Ma.Yau, which got a preview screening sometime in November and then disappeared.)

Angamaly Diaries is available on VCD and VOD.

1. TAKE OFF

A theme recently sampled by Ali Abbas Zaffar in Tiger Zinda Hai (2017), Take Off took me by surprise. Director Mahesh Narayanan delivers a breath-taking view into the ruins created by ISIL-controlled states as he chronicles the lives of a few nurses who find themselves held captive by the unforgiving terrorist outfit in Syria.

Parvathy won accolades for her mature performance as the leader of the nurse gang as she both tries to contact her husband, played by Kunchacko Boban, and awaits help from her Indian embassy chief, played by Fahadh Faasil. Narayanan has left no stone unturned with Take Off as you dissolve into the stupendous performances of the lead stars who act like they are living the characters. It completes the top Malayalam movies of 2017.

Take Off is available on DVD.

Malayalam Cinema in 2017: Year in Review

It is often very difficult to create such lists containing the best cinema has to offer but for 2017 it was very easy. More than 60% of the films that released last year were turkeys, some of which were huge disappointments such as Ajai Vasudev’s Masterpiece and Bejoy Nambiar’s Solo. However, there were titles that deserved much more love from their audience. And few such honorable titles are listed below.

If I could add ten more films to this list of top Malayalam movies of 2017, I would add Minnaminungu, Kaattu, Ramaleela, Udhaharanam Sujatha, Varnyathil Aashanka, Rakshadhikari Baiju (Oppu), C/O Saira Banu, Karutha Joothan, Munthirivallikal Thalirkumbol, and Veeram. Few other personal favorites are Aakasha Mittayee, Theeram, and Role Models.

But, I am happy to close the year with the fact that 2017 saw films that had women in prominent roles and almost half of the above 10 films had lead actresses, Godha and Take Off to name just two. Now let’s move ahead with more roles for women in the production side too. We start with Roshni Dinaker’s My Story coming up in early 2018.

For a detailed analysis of these films and to know how I came up with this list, check out my blog piece.

Here’s to a new year filled with better Malayalam films.