Monday, January 07, 2008

Malayalam Cinema 2007

– More Despair than Hope ?

Year 2007 presented nothing unpredictable or exciting. It was the usual fare with a mixed bag of very few successes and a whole lot of failures, financial as well as aesthetic. Despite the unending wail about the 'crisis' looming large over it, in terms of numbers, it did better this year with 64 releases compared to 59 last year.

The pick of 2007 would be Nalu Pennungal by Adoor Gopalakrishnan, which takes a intense but dispassionate look at the lives of women in Kerala during the mid decades of last century. It bears the mark of a very mature filmmaker for its control over the medium, and in its charming ability to narrate with bare essentials. Shyamprasad's Ore Kadal was refreshing in terms of its theme – a 'normal' housewife breaking out of the prisons of her sexual mores, and finally walking out of the family to seek refuge in her lover. It is also notable for casting a senior actor like Mammooty in a role that suits him. Another promising film of the year was Avira Rebecca's Thakarachenda. It takes a frontal look at the contemporary phenomenon of displacement and homelessness – one of the many social tragedies that unfold before us and that our cinema is studiously blind to. PT Kunhimuhamed's Paradesi takes up a globally contemporary and politically relevant theme of the question of citizenship and nationality from our very midst but gets mired in its insistence to tell the whole story through dialogues.

The 'commercial-mainstream' was not able to wriggle itself out of its obsession with super stars, despite thumping failures. It seems to be vegetating in a world of make-belief and tired formulae. It is disappointing to see even young filmmakers falling into the same trap. Only someone like Laljose sometimes dares to break this hoodoo. His Arabikatha was a very interesting film that takes a hilarious look at the 'actually existing' communism in Kerala. But in the process, it resorts to the simplistic and the nostalgic, positing all the virtues and ideals in the past and in the rural. Maybe it is this deep suspicion about the urban and the contemporary, and its black and white approach to the problems it throws up, that ultimately led to its success. This year's box office hits like Chocolate, Mayavi, Hello, Chota Mumbai and Vinodayatra etc had nothing new either in their format or theme. They trade with tried out formulae and depended on PR to do the rest. For the last few years, television channels have been working overtime to promote films. Though, films and filmfare still constitute the bulk of their content, it is sad that none of the TV channels in Kerala has made any significant foray into the field of cinema; they still wait for the films to be made to market and use it.

The inability to explore such symbiotic and mutually energizing links is yet another symptom of the disease that afflicts our industry. Even the fact that the superstarrers have been failing consistently has not been an eye-opener to it. There are a lot of lessons to learn from film industries like Tamil and Hindi, which have succeeded in boosting the local industry by looking out and finding new pastures. They were ready to break away from myopic conventions and to look the global in its eye. We still keep our heads plunged in the sand of nostalgia and surface only for consumption – that of course, of the global and the trendy. It was sad to see even young filmmakers like Amal Neerad getting caught up in this, and unable to transform a language that is contemporary to our visual experience but at the same time making connections to our lives and times. Only films that tried to traverse a different terrain were Bharathan (Anil Das) Thaniye (Babu Thiruvalla) and Ekantham ( Madhu Kaithapram). While Bharathan is an attempt at science fiction (a non existent genre in Malayalam), the other two films deal with the burning topic of the aged in Kerala, their loneliness and despair in a society like ours. Unfortunately, they do not confront the challenges of visual language and address the expectations and tastes out there that are shaped and determined by the immediacies of television and the spectacles of digital technologies. We are definitely in need of some fresh air.

The last year saw the departure of some veterans like P Bhaskaran and Kozhikodan, notable lyricist Bharanikavu Sivakumar, and actors like Ravi Menon and Vijayan. Bhaskaran-mash was a multifaceted personality who made signal contributions in various fields. Films like Neelakuyil, Rarichan Enna Pouran, Iruttinte Atmavu, Kallichellamma, and Anveshichu Kandethiyilla etched a vibrant period in the history of Kerala and will be rediscovered in the years to come. Kozhikodan in an assiduous career spanning decades shaped the taste of a generation of viewers with his perceptive and enduring writings.

One hopes Malayalam cinema would succeed to live up to their dreams



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