Much before Premam cast its magic over all of us last year, Malayalam Cinema has been silently breaking barriers and forging its way forward for decades. While it's a shame for the rest of us to recognize its importance this late, we believe that it's never really too late to learn.
Today, Fully Filmy brings to you a list of 10 lessons the rest of Indian Cinema can learn from the Malayalam film industry!
1. Pace yourself before you waste yourself
Like fine wine: 'Ennu Ninte Moideen'(2015) | Source: moviemagg.com
Some might argue that Malayalam films are slow and draggy, but there's a reason why they do it. Most Kollywood and Bollywood filmmakers produce choppy and hurried screenplays in the name of making it 'fast-paced', but the end result is an inconsistent, half-baked narrative that's lost in translation, leaving the audience unsatisfied and dumbfounded.
Malayalam films treat their movies like fine wine; the more it ages, the more rich the brew is. While on one hand they demand your time and patience, on the other hand they force you to sub-consciously invest yourself in the characters and the plot. By the end of the film, you feel like you'd been transported to another realm with all of the characters becoming a part of your own life.
2. There is no room for ego in art
The more the merrier: 'Bangalore Days'(2014) | Source: mathrubhuminews.in
Filmmaking is one of the purest forms of creative synergy. Without a strong and complete crew, a potentially good movie can fall flat on its face. Unfortunately, the stars of most of our films believe that a film is all about themselves, and there is no room to collaborate with their peers if the story demands it. Hero worship has sadly become a norm in our country. Think about it: how many Tamil, Telugu or Hindi mainstream multi-starrer films can you think of?
But darkness, as they say, cannot exist without light. 'Mollywood' stars never shy away from sharing screen space with other famous actors provided the plot demands it.
3. The 'foreign location dream songs' are just not cool anymore
There's no place like home: 'Premam'(2015) | Source: pinterest
Look at a film like Premam or the more recent Charlie. They're a testament to the fact that you don't have to get out of the country to create beautiful frames. Our landscapes, our cities, our villages, our streets and our culture offer limitless forms of inspiration. Of course, there is no harm in setting your story abroad, but a film about a tough cop falling in love with a girl in Chennai has no reason to suddenly transport them to a snow-covered hillock in Switzerland and taking away most of the hitherto-demure heroine's clothes.
4. A low budget is never a limitation
Low on budget, high on results: 'Ordinary'(2012) | Source: entecity.com
Spending crores for the sake of a song that shouldn't have been made in the first place wouldn't exactly translate into good cinema.
Anurag Kashyap said in one of his interviews that having a low budget allows him to experiment more. It is only a financial limitation that checks the scale and grandeur. In terms of imagination, a low budget is a boon; a tool that allows you to tread new grounds instead of the taking the familiar, template route that most commercial films are limited to. And Malayalam cinema is a living, fire-breathing example of this school of thought.
5. Cinema can be used to break barriers...in more ways than one
Pushing the envelope, since forever: 'Trivandrum Lodge'(2012) | Source: thehindu.com
Since decades, Malayalam cinema has always tried to explore themes that reflect our lives, subsequently serving as a catalyst to push the envelope, create awareness and drive change. Whether it's religion, caste, sex, drugs, adultery or any other 'potentially controversial' subject for that matter, Mollywood takes on the proverbial bull by its horns and talks about things that happen every day in our lives but shoved behind the curtains.
Our other film industries consider this as 'taboo' and look the other way when making a movie. But hey, item songs are totally fine.
6. Women are not brainless sex objects, eye candy or 'timepass'
Here for a purpose: '22 Female Kottayam'(2012) | Source: keralapals.com
Alright, not all films portray women this way. There are a few poignant films that have created strong female characters. But what's sad is that they're labeled as 'women-centric' films before they even begin production.
In terms of the cinematic portrayal of women, there is no other film fraternity that brings out the real, raw beauty of the fairer sex like the Mallus. No item songs, no usage of women as dolled-up airheads showing up for no reason for a total of 20% of a movie's runtime. Consider movies like Mili, Munariyippu, or 22 Female Kottayam. While these movies revolve around women, they are a symbol of how every other Malayalam film treats their female characters. Some strong, some weak, some independent, some flawed, some flirty, some demure, but most importantly...real.
7. Nostalgia is an extremely underrated feeling
On the memory train: 'Premam'(2015) | Source: thehindu.com
We think it's cool to talk about likes on Facebook or selfies on Instagram in our films with the belief that the audience will find it cool too. Alright, we got nothing against 'staying true to the times'. But there is a certain nuance that's missing from most Tamil, Telugu or Hindi films...nostalgia.
We don't know about you, but we feel that a film or a story works so much more when it has a relatable connection to our collective past, whether it's an old movie or a classic song or even a yesteryear device like a gramophone. And if you've noticed, every Malayalam movie has a nostalgic undertone with varying levels of subtlety. Take Premam for instance. It didn't have a plot or anything significant to say, but it worked on so many levels, with one of them being the nostalgic factor. Just the mere thought of Shambu and Koya singing 'Kanmani Anbodu Kadhalan' or 'Mava' singing 'Ennavale adi ennavale...' brings a smile to our faces, doesn't it?
8. Characters are supposed to be human, not larger-than-life cardboard cutouts
Being Human: 'Munnariyippu'(2015) | Source: nowrunning.com
Like we mentioned earlier, the concept of 'hero-worship' seeps into most of our commercial films, portraying the protagonist as an invincible being who can take on at least 50 people at a time, even if he was shown following the neighbourhood hottie on a cycle a few minutes ago. And this has been happening since the beginning of time and still hasn't changed.
Now that's something you would never see in a Malayalam film. Their characters behave like what they're supposed to be: human.
9. 'Young' doesn't mean 'inexperienced'
Breaking new ground: 'Monsoon Mangoes'(2016) | Source: manoramaonline.com
While it is almost foolhardiness for a youngster to try and break into other industries, Mollywood is a rare breed that is on the constant lookout for fresh talent whose only qualification is their inimitable passion. The average age of a Malayalam film crew is not more than 25-26, and while 'experience' is always good, there are just some things that youngsters have that cannot be replaced. The audacity to risk it all and try to do something new every time, perhaps?
10. For God's sake, give your writers some credit
Blood, sweat and ink: 'Drishyam'(2013) | Source: muyals.com
Unlike the West where screenwriters are celebrated(Aaron Sorkin, Charlie Kaufman and the likes), the norm in our country is that the Director is the one who writes the script and screenplay in most cases, or if there's a writer involved, he's just relegated to being another nameless crew member.
The Malayalam industry is one of the very few regional film fraternities that gives the respect screenwriters really deserve, which is why if not for anything else, a Malayalam film will definitely have a very strong plot and multi-dimensional characters. Things have definitely started to change slowly, and hopefully in the next decade we'll see our very own writers' names up on the marquee instead of being buried somewhere in the end credits.
Written by Raunaq Mangottil