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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mollywood Reloaded: the History and New Wave in Malayalam Movies

For a long while, mallu movies were all about four ‘M’s – the mooch, the mundu, the Mammootty and the Mohan Lal.

With time, the mooch gave way to the clean shaven look, the mundu gave way to well-tailored pants and now if reports are to be believed, then the remaining two ‘M’s of Mollywood are giving way to a younger lot of actors, often described to as the ‘new age’ actors like Fahadh Faazil.

But if you closely study Malayalam movie industry, it’s actually a case of history repeating itself; the so called new-age actors today are bringing that same freshness that both the ‘M’s brought to Mollywood when they first started off.

And if you think that you got nothing to do with Mallu movies, think again! Mallu movie has always been a breeding ground for strong scripts and storylines so much that many much loved Bollywood movies were actually ‘inspired’ from the mellu movie industry – If you thought ‘Hera Pheri’ was good, the mallu original was a classic called ‘Ramji Rao Speaking’; ‘Billu Barber’ looked so much better in ‘Katha Parumbol’ while ‘Bhool Bhulaya’ was a rip from what is considered as Mollywood’s almost perfect movie ‘Manichitrathaazu’. And mellu movie industry is actually a lot cooler than it seems, with many India firsts coming from this part of the nation:

* India's first 3D film – My Dear Kuttichatan

* India's first live-action/animation hybrid film - O' Faby (1993)

* First Indian film to have multiple climaxes- Harikrishnans

* The world's first film with a single actor in the star cast - The Guard

* First Indian film was made entirely on the basis of public funds (crowdsourcing) Amma Ariyan

* Also, few others that hit the mind are the first Indian film to be shot and distributed in digital format - Moonnamathoral, and India's first neorealistic film – Newspaper Boy.

So as you can see, a lot of new age movie ideas were pioneered by the mallu film industry, some at a time when their impact could not even be comprehended and were deemed far ahead of their times. And if the current flux in the Malayalam film industry is any indication, other movie makers should also take notes on these prophetic changes.

Now a lot of people say that Malayalam movies is currently in the cusp of a revolution – a revolution against the norm, against the old staid, against the superstars. But a dekko into Mollywood’s storied history will prove that Mollywood has an inbuilt cyclic mechanism of self-correction that keeps happening every time movies seem to hit rock bottom. So let’s go back into past to predict the future:

The Golden 80s

the 80s – In this decade, the yester mega star Prem Nazir got into supporting roles, and Jayan died in an action stunt sequence in 80. Sukumaran and Soman also slowly got relegated to character roles and this period was marked by the rise of strong script based roles enacted by the then new faces of Mammootty and Mohan Lal.

Due to a plethora of movies with scripts and screenplays that resonated well with the social fabric of Kerala like ‘Varavelpu’ and ‘Ramji Rao Speaking’, movies of this decade connected with the junta in such a way that they pushed the two Ms - Mammootty and Mohan Lal- to the pedestal of Mollywood. Also, top notch directors like I V Sasi, Priyadarshan, M T Vasudevan Nair, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Bharathan, Padmarajan, Aravindan, Sibi Malayil etc made remarkable movies of varied craft that blurred the line between art and commercial cinema, today considered classics and proving that yesteryear masterpiece 'Chemeen' was not a flash in the pan but rather a sign of bigger things to come. The decade also saw strong female characters leading to the discovery of some of the best female actors of Malayalam Cinema like Shobhana, Seema, Urvashi, Suhasini, Geetha, Revathi, and Nadia Moidu. The 80s focused on stories backed by strong directors, their visions, strong scripts and only then came the star. The 80s are known as the golden era of Malayalam industry.

Also to note - The role of the mallu action star, perfected by Jayan with his movies and his unique mannerisms, suffered a huge dent with Jayan’s death (below pic - Jayan's last stunt on the helicopter that killed him) and this gap has never really been filled.
Mohan Lal with his ‘Rajavinte Makan’ and Suresh Gopi, a decade later with his fiery dialogues, did manage to partly fill that gap but they went on to focus on versatile roles. The true blue mallu action hero died with Jayan. After his death, directors and producers started an immediate search for new actors to replace him. This movement led to debuts of actors who resembled Jayan in physical appearance (like Ratheesh), similar sounding names (Ajayan) and those with similar mannerisms and style. One of those actors was a young man named Sajin, who later changed his name to Mammootty.

Must see 80s movies - Rajavinte Makan, Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha, Vellanakalude Nadu, New Delhi, Oru CBI Diary Kurippu, Kireedom, Nadodikkattu, Vadakkunokkiyanthram, Ramji Rao Speaking, Vaishali.

Movie of the decade : Nadodikkattu

Dialogues of the decade: "Ningal moonu peryum iratta pettathano" , "Angane Pavanayi shavamayi ", "How many kilometers from washington DC to Miami beach..? .. Kilometers and kilometers..  Ungle, send him out.. outhouse.. erangippodaaa"

The Glittering 90s

the 90s – Movies of this decade followed a ‘star+story’ formula. The 90s consolidated the superstars, and they developed strong individual images by the end of it. Movies of the 90’s slowly graduated from script to acting and Mollywood actors won six national awards in this decade. Mohan Lal was seen as the most versatile and ruled this decade while Mammootty appeared to fit only “serious” roles and had lesser success. This decade also saw the rise of Suresh Gopi, as the English speaking angry cop.
Suresh Gopi was so strongly associated with his macho cop image that it was considered that nobody could play a cop better than him. Jayaram rose as Mollywood’s fourth superstar in this decade with his unique coming timing and family oriented comedy movies. Almost every successful movie of the 90s were star based. Each star(baring the ever adaptable Mohan Lal) had a certain image that was leveraged successfully by directors. Priyadarshan, Siddique Lal and Shaji Kailas emerged as directors with unique brands of cinema and along with Fazil and Sibi Malayil, Mollywood saw major hits. The 90s also saw the spectacular rise and sudden stop of leading lady Manju Warrier. 

Also to note - Suresh Gopi and Jayaram developed strong images and junta refused to accept them outside of it. Jayaram’s family audiences were slowly being taken over by a rising actor and fellow Kalabhavan artiste named Dileep. Mammootty too seemed to be stuck to serious roles though he attempted his brand of comedy that met success in ‘Oru Maravathoor Kanavu’ and ‘Megham’.
Towards the end of this decade, audiences were treated to larger than life representations of their favorite stars that were initially welcomed. Manju Warrier’s retirement created a drought of leading actresses, a gap that was only later filled (partially) by Kavya Madhavan almost a decade later. Mohan Lal, the most versatile, ruled this decade but soon he too fell victim to his image. 

Must see 90s movies - Godfather, Amaram, Devasuram, The King, Manichitrathaazu, In Harihar Nagar, Commissioner, Thenmavin Kombathu, Harikrishnans, Meleparambile Aanveedu, Chinthavishtayaya Shyamala, Sandesham 

Movie of the decade : Devasuram

Dialogues of the decade: "Ee forest muzhan kaadu aanalo ", "Mohan Thomasinte uchisht... ... I am Bharat Chandran, just remember that!" , "Shyaame...nee economics padichuttundo ", "Ee 12 vayassinte kuttiyeyano muthalali 13 kollangalayitt premikkunath"

The Falling 2000s

The 2000s - At the beginning of the 2000s, the warnings signs were already clear - the superstar phase was already underway and they were victims of their own images.  This decade is often considered the decade that saw the deterioration of Malayalam movies. Slapstick and buffoonery overtook the famous malayalam film comedy in this decade. Mammootty, Mohanlal and Dileep controlled the box-office revenues of Malayalam cinema and these 3 artists were criticized for their high remunerations, preference for formulaic content and larger-than-life male-oriented roles, causing the crisis in Malayalam cinema due to their "superstar" effect.
Amateur scripts were written, often on the sets, purely with the superstar in mind. Producers invested for profit with no commitment to the art of film-making and most movies looked the same. Antics of Fan Clubs made more news than the actual movies themselves. With the advent of television, high ticket costs and lack of compelling movies, families also reduced going to the theatres. Films lost the once famous Malayalam realism, became over-priced and, ultimately, financially unsuccessful. Mollywood was in crisis and in a bid to get audiences back, theaters started showing soft porn, and this heralded the famous trend of ‘Shakeela movies’ that emerged top grossers for more than a year. A talent starved Mollywood started accepting Tamil and Telugu dubs into Kerala. Jayan was resurrected in a new slapstick wave. Mohan Lal had a surfeit of similar looking movies built on the image of the invincible, larger-than-life hero that became his undoing. Mammootty started off the decade in slump but later successfully reinvented himself. Suresh Gopi famously decided to stop acting in movies depicting violence and by end of the decade, Suresh Gopi the superstar was decimated. Jayaram fell astray with Dileep initially taking over his audiences. By the end of the decade, both Mohan Lal and Jayaram went back to family comedies that met reasonable success. Mammootty innovated on various levels and with directors new and old to come with blockbusters like ‘Rajamanickam’, ‘Pazhassi Raja’ and ‘Pokkiri Raja’. This was Mammooty’s decade. The decade also saw the rise of versatile star son Prithviraj Sukumaran.

Also to note – From the doldrums, a faint but sure wave of movies emerged that were story backed with sharp direction. So came movies like ‘Nandanam’, ‘Kaazhcha’, ‘Chandupottu’, ‘Thanmathra’, ‘Achanurangatha Veedu’, ‘Classmates’, ‘Kaiyoppu’, ‘Thirakatha’, ‘Twenty Twenty’, ‘Pazhashi Raja’, ‘Paleri Manickyam’ and ‘Passenger’ from directors like Lal Jose, Ranjith, Blessy and Joshy. However the lion’s share of movies were superstar oriented scriptless fare. Malayalam movie budgets became part of intense scrutiny and other avenues like television rights were explored for additional sources of revenue. With coming of age financial savvy, most of Mollywood’s biggest blockbusters came from this decade.

Must see '00s movies – Narasimham, Rajamanickam, Meesha Madhavan, Bharat Chandran IPS, Kinnara Thumbikal, Twenty Twenty, Pazhashi Raja, Paleri Manickyam, Chocolate, Thirakatha.

Movie of the decade : Twenty Twenty

Dialogues of the decade: "Nee po mone.. Dinesha..", "Evan pulliyaanu ketta", "itthonnum oru thettu alla kutta..."

The New Wave 2010s

The 2010s – One of the most prominent cultural influences of Kerala is the Gulf boom, or the large scale migration of malayalees to the Middle East between 1972 to 1983. So profound was this phenomenon that almost every keralite household has or knows at least one person in the Gulf/US, thereby exposing the progeny of this generation to global sensibilities. 

This younger globalized generation came with a different set of values, aspirations and attitudes and when some of them joined the film industry, the result showed. Movies made by these new directors like ‘Ustaad Hotel’, ‘Beautiful’, ‘Salt N’ Pepper’, ‘22 Female Kottayam’, ‘Traffic’, are more grounded in reality, show their protagonists with shades of grey and have believable dialogues. Experiments like ‘Pranchiyettan and the Saint’, ‘Urumi’ and ‘Melvilasam’ found favor with the junta. Newer themes, new faces and new treatments came as a breath of fresh air in the industry that was stubbornly rigid and formulaic in its ways. Most of these movies, devoid of the superstars, had smaller budgets and put the reins back into the hands of the director. This started the current New Wave of Malayalam Cinema. This was similar to the 80s when the ‘superstar concept’ disappeared for a short while that lead to the golden age. However, the conventional patterns refused to let go of its mighty hold and continued to have a strong support with viewers, as seen by the stunning successes of ‘Christian Brothers’, ‘Chinatown’ and ‘Seniors’. The new wave films gave a new lease of life to leading ladies, who are believably shown to often openly flirt, drink in public and pass lewd comments.

The Mollywood actress played for decades as the always goody goody protagonist by Sharada, Seema, Shobhana and Kavya Madhavan is today slowly shown as characters with darker shades as enacted by Rima Kallingal and others from her ilk. 

Also to note – Mammootty’s openness in the last decade to experimentation and to work with new blood played an instrumental role in discovering new talent as many of the new wave directors started off their careers with Mammootty ; cases in point - Ashiq Abu of ‘Salt n Pepper’(Daddy Cool), Anwar Rasheed of ‘Ustadh Hotel’(Rajamanikyam), Amal Neerad (Big B), Martin Prakkatt (Best Actor), Vysakh (Pokkirri Raja) and Blessy (Kazhcha). Star sons like Vineeth Srinivasan, Dulquer Salman, Fahaad Fazil made waves and scripts have started to be written so that people can relate to them.

Movie of the decade(till date) : Pranchiyettan & the Saint

Dialogues of the decade: "Kismathu ennonnundu Faizi. Athine aarkum thadukkan kayyoolla", "thottavante vishamom thottavane ariyuu punyaala"

If you read the signs over the last three decades of movies, it teaches you few profound morals to the Mollywood story – 

* Three decades of Mollywood shows that the obvious way to make a successful Mollywood movie is to have a strong script backed by brilliant direction. With the booming Indian fiction scene, stories and scripts should be relatively easier to procure and in the hands of new wave directors, Mollywood can really push itself into the realm of gold (again). 

* Budget definitely matters – Mollywood does not have the audience of other bigger industries like Hindi, Tam or Telugu. The average life time gross for a blockbuster of decade 2000 is only 16.9Cr; and this is its lifetime potential - so if you budget a mallu movie at 15Cr, obviously, it will almost never recover that cost.

* Mohanlal read the signs ahead of others and started producing many of his own movies, thereby bringing his budgets remarkably down. Dileep, Prithviraj and Mammootty also started producing their own movies. Mammootty again pioneered here by co-producing classics like ‘Gandhinagar 2nd Street’ and ‘Nadodikaattu’, however became a full-fledged producer only with the eminently forgettable ‘Cobra’ and the meh ‘Jawan of Vellimala’. 

* The Superstar phase is far from over – with good scripts and great directors, they have proven themselves back. Also many new age directors, like Ashiq Abu of ‘Salt n Pepper’ fame, have their next movies lined with the super ‘M’s, thereby extending their lifelines.

* The fate of Mollywood’s leading ladies is intertwined with marriage. Leading ladies of strong personalities like Shobhana, Urvasi, Manju Warrier left a void and several names took that mantle – Meera Jasmin, Samyuktha Verama, Jomol - but eventually left the film world for marriage – a trend reminiscent of Karthika, Lizzy and Ambika in the 80s. Kavya Madhavan and Mamtha Mohandas also followed the same trend but returned to leading roles after the unfortunate end of their marriages. 

* Makeovers – Kunjacko Boban, Biju Menon, Baburaj, Swetha Menon have successfully reinvented themselves. The best case of reinvention is current heartthrob Fahad Faazil, who premiered in the disastrous Kaiyettum Doorathu, went on a sabbatical and came back as the beacon of the Mollywood New Wave. 

* Mallus love and reward humor as seen as the dominant theme of the last three decades. Unfortunately the quality of humor dished out today has become substandard. The degradation of comedy in Kerala over the last three decades can be witnessed by watching the comedy classic ‘In Harihar Nagar (1990)’, and its new age sequels ‘To Harihar Nagar(2009)’ and ‘In Ghost House Inn (2010)’. 

* Kerala has a high level of literacy and the literary standards from Trivandrum to Kasargod is the same, making the disparity between urban and rural centers not as marked as with other states. This makes it easier to make and sell the same movie across Kerala without worrying about urban-rural split. However another split that the new wave movies are accused of is the metro-non metro split. 

* Malayalees seem to reward experimentation – whether it was Mammootty with his ‘Rajamanickam’ and ‘Thurruppu Ghulan’ or more lately, Dileep’s ‘Mayamohini’ and ‘Sound Thoma’ that became hits in spite of being mediocre scripts but high on the novelty factor. 

* In many ways, Mollywood would never have been the same without the sterling screenwriting/direction contributions of actor Sreenivasan and director Ranjith.  Countless classics (Vadakkunooki Yanthram, Sandesham, Varavelpu, Nadodikattu etc) have Srinivasan's wildly entertaining screenplays while Ranjith's conscious decision to steer himself away from commercial formulaic fare like 'Ravanaprabhu', 'Prajapathi' and 'Black' to focus on satisfying his artistic sensibilities paved way to stunningly brilliant films like 'Kaiyoppu', 'Thirakatha' and 'Pranchiyettan and the Saint'.  This blog believes that Ranjith's refocusing of his career is a defining precursor to the current New Wave Age of Mollywood.

*Action movies are universally considered a fail proof genre and Mollywood still does not have a true blue action star – a movie a la ‘Commando –One Man Army’ with mallu sensibilities can maybe open up a whole new genre and a whole new kind of actor in Mollywood.

Recommendations to the stars:

* The way of the future for the superstars is co-productions, own productions or taking a percentage of the revenues, so as to keep costs down and making bigger bang for the buck.  Mammootty, Mohan lal, Dileep and Prithviraj already have production houses while Jayaram and Suresh Gopi are still production-shy.  The onus of the superstars should now be purely on great scripts.  Both the 'M's seem to be faltering of late though Mohan Lal's record is slightly better.  Dileep's recent innovations in 'Mayamohini' and 'Sound Thoma' have met great success.

* Suresh Gopi should stop experimentation and immediately come out with a hard hitting cop drama with a great script, dialogues and direction (maybe an own production) - the time is ripe for a cop drama with Suresh Gopi's amazing and inimitable dialogue delivery.  Suresh Gopi's next big movie is Shankar's 'I'. and that has a risk of turning him into a character artist.

* Jayaram seems to be on the right path with his current choice of movies that is reminiscent of the great comedy family movies that he was always known for.  Dileep's choice to stick to slapstick leaves the road clear for Jayaram to bring back the amazing comic timing and mimicry skills that he and only he is capable of.  Methinks Jayaram's competition in the current crop is Jayasuriya.  Jayaram just needs that right director to bring his comedy skills to the fore.

* Prithviraj that smart man, seems to be slightly ahead for Mollywood - for his very young age, he's produced a world class product in 'Urumi', crossover-ed successfully to Tam movies with 'Mozhi', 'Ravanan' and more,  got the mallu man new found Bollywoodian glory with his six pack avatar in 'Aiyya' and now with Yashraj film 'Aurangzeb' and SRK's 'Happy New Year', is all set for a bigger bite in Bollywood.  Prithvi can do wonders by considering world cinema and make not just Kerala, but India proud.

So there you have it - three decades of Mollywood, and an elaboration of the New Wave of Malayalam movies. The warning signs were out there, were not heeded and the crisis began - a crisis that brought an industry to its heels.  But "the night is darkest just before the dawn" - and from the slumps, came a wave of self correction and resurrection that brought in newer elements that changed everything again - just like in the 80s. And in the 80s, it heralded the Golden phase of Mollywood. So is the current wave bringing back the gold? Well.....

Mollywood lives on with renewed glitz, glamour and glory.

I wonder what my non mallu friends think of this post - I'm sure they wouldn't have much of a clue of Mollywood, forget its crises.  My mallu friends, well, what do you think?

Colgate brought this post of of me, and I am proud of this one!


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Bole toh Doctorgiri zindabad!

Circuit : Bhai, do you know of any gynecologist?
Muruli Prasad Sharma :  “Nahi Circuit, lekin bole to, tell them we can have a look at it.”

Circuit :  Sahi hai.  Bhai, does Modern Healthcare touch our lives?
Muruli Prasad Sharma: Haan Circuit, Modern Healthcare touches everybody’s lives.   Those 206 types of bones which we break, it’s Modern Healthcare that fixes it back.

(Dr. J. Asthana and Chinki walk to where Muruli Prasad and Circuit are standing)

Dr. J. Asthana: Can I ask what is going on here?
Murli Prasad Sharma:  Ask!  Don't be shy, ask. Come on, ask!
Chinki: Murali!!!

Murli Prasad Sharma:  Chinki, apun ko question poochne ka hai, how does Modern Healthcare touch our lives?
Chinki:  Well Muruli, Medical advancements have taken India pretty ahead in the game so much so that India is the toast of medical tourism, of affordable medical care and of extremely competent doctors.  Broadly there are five main players in the healthcare cycle – Doctors, patients, Hospitals, Insurance, Pharma and Equipment companies.   

Circuit :  ‘Toast’ bole toh?
Muruli Prasad Sharma: ‘Toast’ bole tho Sikki Roti, Circuit - sehar ke liye mast hai.

Chinki continues :

Like I was saying, broadly there are five main players in the healthcare cycle – Doctors, patients, Hospitals, Insurance, Pharma and Equipment companies.   Doctors are the face of Modern healthcare and it is their experience, judgment and ethic that connects Modern Healthcare with the patient.  

The patients are the ones  who pay for Modern Healthcare, and this money runs the whole system.  Patients today have longer life spans rates and higher service levels today due to Modern Health Care.  And Hospitals are the dispensers of Modern Healthcare.  Hospitals today pour millions to buy cutting edge equipment to help their doctors in treating diseases and to differentiate themselves from other hospitals that don’t. 

Hospitals also bear running and maintenance costs, amounting to crores, and they recover their huge investments in the form of usage charges to the patients. 

Dr. J. Asthana adds in:  There are also the invisible parts of Modern Healthcare - the pharma and equipment makers that pump billions into research and development and the Insurance companies that provides a financial cover to make all this work.

Circuit: Financial help kartha hai - apun ki tarah Social worker hai kya?
Muruli Prasad Sharma:  Arrey Circuit, patients can take insurance to cover their medical costs, while hospitals also insure their expensive machinery.  It makes Modern Health Care affordable.

Dr. J. Asthana:  But there are things that patients have to do at their side too so that diseases can be prevented – after all, ‘Prevention is the best form of Cure’.
Chinki : Bhai Hindi mein boley toh?
Muruli Prasad Sharma:  simple hain yaar – ‘Prevention’ bole to Nirodh, ‘Cure’ bole to Illaaz – “For best results, use condom”
Chinki: Murali!!!

Chinki adds in :

In today’s times, Modern Healthcare can cure more diseases than before.  People with Cancer, Stroke and Diabetes can today enjoy their lives while fatal diseases like Small Pox and Rinderpest have been successfully eradicated.  But Modern Health care can be expensive, so patients need to do the following to make sure they can enjoy Modern Healthcare better:

  • But adequate insurance -medical and life- for self and loved ones.
  • Follow a healthy lifestyle by following some simple ideas– if you eat a heavy and fatty meal, keep the next few meals light; Use the stairs or walk, instead of bike,  to the nearby kirana stores to buy groceries; and have a hobby.
  • Have a family doctor whose number is always on your speed dial.
  • Make known to everyone at home the number of the nearest hospital and of the nearest ambulance.

Dr. J. Asthana:  Also, hospitals should make sure that they train their staff to be more sympathetic to patients.  Often patients complain that even though the doctors are very kind, the staff are rude and insensitive to patients in their gravest hours.
Muruli Prasad Sharma:  Aey mamu.. jadoo ki jhappi de daal aur baat khatam…. Tension nahi lene ka.

Chinki : So Muruli, now do you know how Modern healthcare touches lives?
Muruli Prasad Sharma:  Bilkul Chinki, Modern healthcare not only touches lives but also improves it.  Bole toh Doctorgiri zindabad!

Bole toh, ye meri entry hai 'Apollo Hospital's "How does Modern Healthcare Touch Lives"' blogging contest ke liye.

Apun ke liye vote karne ka boss (here