Sadhya literally translates to banquet in malayalam. It holds high significance to any malayali and is a feast consisting of a variety of several dishes served on a banana leaf. The intention somewhere is to let people experience a sensation of different kinds of tastes. Some too sweet, some too spicy but put together on a large banana leaf, it sure is to leave you with a full tummy. Isn’t this supposed to be a film blog? Ohh yes! Where I am going with this is that our evolution of the Malayalam film industry lovingly called Mollywood can be hypothetically compared to a Sadhya. It has seen great beginnings, sour phases, bitter ones but most definitely also sweet ones leaving us saying Ende Saare.
I’d love to tell you how but I’d also like to say that all comparisons and opinions expressed in this blog are those of mine alone. It needn’t purport to reflect the opinions or views of anybody else.
Every Sadhya starts by the host placing one Sharkara upperi and two pieces of banana chips on your leaf. You know there is a grand meal coming ahead letting you relish the taste of this appetiser. Although the appetisers in other cuisines may look better, you know the limited quantity of two banana chips and upperi tastes the best. A beautiful tease to the journey ahead. A reality check!
While the southern film industry was thriving on a mass hero factor and his style to run their films, Malayalam films right from the very beginning has been emphasizing on the importance of stories. The 80s and 90s in Mollywood was all about Malayalam films discussing issues and topics which were both current and relevant to the period. What if two people from different parties belonged to the same household? What happens when widespread unemployment and poverty pushes men to try their luck in the gulf countries? What happens to Namboodiri women who have illegitimate sexual affairs? What happens is the rise of evergreen films like Sandhesam, Nadodikattu, Parinayam, Thoovanathumbikal, Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu and Manichitrathazhu. The relevance of these stories to the then situation in the state along with an element of satire & black comedy, paired with iconic duos like Jayaram & Sreenivasan, Mohanlal & Shobana, Mamooty & Thilakan etc. made these films an instant favourite amongst the audience.
A sour-sweet and bitter dish, I’ve never really understood the importance of Inji Puli in a Sadhya. Although I’d love my sadhya without an Inji Puli, I wouldn't mind sitting through the bitterness of the ginger for that sweet tinge of tamarind in the end (if I had to that is).
The path of meaningful films slowly saw a shift to the mass entertainers in the beginning of the 21st century. The Malayalam Film industry started following the trend of a hero saving the day by using heavy action sequences and punch dialogues. Stardom was at its peak and although that worked to the financial benefits of the industry it still provided to be a disappointment for an industry that strongly believed in telling a story. Films like Narasimhan, Ravana Prabhu, Valleyeetan, Aaran Thamburan, Chronic Bachelor were the big hits of that era. Films started drifting towards being an actor’s film rather than a character’s films. They still weren’t bad films and tried to make sense by talking about issues like social injustice, poverty or fighting against power misuse.
After putting in a lot of thought as to what is the best comparison of this phase to a Sadhya, I decided to go with the Aviyal. Not because of how much I like or dislike it but just because of how it is a surprising mixture of a lot of vegetables, few of them being very unnecessary.
It would be an understatement to call the era of multi starrer films a disaster. Star value took care of financial profits and although the fan clubs enjoyed watching their favourite stars come on screen together, the disappointment it cost the general audience was massive. This was the period of release of film like 20-20, Christian Brothers, Husbands in Goa, China Town, etc and pardon me when I say this but I fail to understand the point of these films. Call some actors on board, add a glorified fight sequence, an unnecessary song and dance, throw in some B - grade humour and objectification and Voila! Malayalam film industry got a little distracted by the trend of its neighbouring industries and started paying a little too much value to stardom. But the era didn’t last a dreading long period. The industry soon transitioned into its next era, making its comeback and what a comeback at that!
Throw in some good ol’ mashed bananas into this sweet porridge and mother of good lords! Absolute bliss. Would let you forget every bad moment and bask in the glory of the dish leaving an aftertaste, you’ll want to cherish forever.
My personal favourite, the existing phase of your Nerams, Bangalore Days and Kumbalangi Nights. These slice of life films with their visual conviction and cinematographic brilliance accompanied by smartly composed background music and audio scores brought in tremendous fame to the industry. However, what truly worked for these films were their representation of indigenous communities within the state. How they would take a part of the culture and recreate its magic using nostalgia and connection. The “us” feeling, but without making it just about the us. This, as we know it is accentuated through the language, local slang, food, dress and set design. Don’t believe me? Do you remember the mention of a Thattil Kutti Dosa and Chammanthi in Salt and Pepper or the Kozhikode Biryani and Halwa in Om shanthi Oshana? These words would have most probably instantly taken you back to scenes from the films. The cultural connect to the part of association. Just like Thattathin Marayathu with the Kannur slang or Parava its Kochi Islamic pop connect.
While the association to a culture remains an integral part of these films, it is not the only reason these films are popular. Films like Bangalore Days, Premam, Mayaanadhi, Ustad hotel, Charlie etc speak about a story or concept through the relationships shown in the films. Characters become an integral part of these films through their relatability quotient. Everyone would have a Kuttettan (Bangalore Days) in their lives and everyone would go in search of a gin like Charlie. Also because these characters often go on to portray not just people but personified emotions. For instance, Kuttan can also be seen as the fear of judgement that lingers inside all of us and Charlie as the passion, adventure and happiness we all keep searching for all through our lives. I could have finished this meal with the payasam but I’d still like to have that sulaimani tea cause..
Everything started on 29th May, 2015. I was getting non-stop raving reviews about Premam. Nowadays, everyone with a Facebook account write reviews. I really got frustrated and my inner self told, "**a kaelambu. Padam yepdi irukunu paapom." I went to Escape Cinemas, watched the movie wearing a 'frustration filter.'