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Malayalam Cinema --History


The first Malayalam movie was released in 1928. It was a silent film titled Vigathakumaran, produced and directed by a businessman, J. C. Daniel who had no prior film experience. However this film was a commercial failure. The second film Marthanda Varma, produced in 1933 was based on a novel by C. V. Raman Pillai. But it was never released due to some legal issues.

Balan released in 1938 was the first talkie in Malayalam. It was produced at Chennai (then Madras) in the neighboring state of Tamilnadu. Malayalam movies continued to be made almost exclusively by Tamil producers till 1947 when the first major film Studio, Udaya was established in Kerala. With this more Keralites entered this field of films.In 1954; Neelakkuyil captured national interest by winning the President's Silver Medal. Scripted by the well-known Malayalam novelist Uroob and directed by P. Bhaskaran, it is often considered the first authentic Malayalam film. Another notable production was Newspaper Boy (1955) which had elements of Italian neorealist. Chemmeen (1965), directed by Ramu Kariat and based on a story by Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai went on to become immensely popular and won the National Award. It had music by Salil Chowdhury, songs by Manna Dey and editing by Hrishikesh Mukherjee.

Malayalam Parallel films of the 1970s

The 1970s saw the emergence of a new wave of cinema in Malayalam. The growth of film society movement in Kerala introduced the works of the French and Italian New Wave Directors to the discerning Malayalam film enthusiasts. Adoor Gopalakrishnan's first film Swayamvaram (1972) brought Malayalam cinema to the International film arena. In 1973 M. T. Vasudevan Nair who was by then recognized as an important author in Malayalam, directed his first film Nirmalyam, which won the President's Gold Medal for the best film. G. Aravindan followed Adoor's lead with his Utharayanam in 1974. John Abraham, K. R. Mohanan, K. G. George, and G. S. Panikkar were products of the Pune Film Institute who made significant contributions.

Aravindan was famous in Kerala as a Cartoonist before he started making films. He is considered one of the best Indian Film Directors. His important movies include Kanchana Seeta (1977), Thampu (1978), Kummatty (1979), Chidambaram (1985), Oridathu (1986), and Vasthuhara (1990).

Malayalam Art Cinema of the early 1980s

Adoor Gopalakrishnan made Elipathayam in 1981. This movie was widely acclaimed and won the British Film Institute award. His other movies include Mukhamukham (1984), Anantharam (1987) Mathilukal (1989), Vidheyan (1994), Kathapurushan (1995), and Nizhalkkuthu (2003). Padmarajan made his early works in this period including the movie Koodevide? (1983)

P. A. Backer and Bharathan are other names worth mentioning.

Golden Age of Malayalam cinema

Most critics and audiences consider the period from late 1980s to early 1990s as the golden age of Malayalam cinema. The Malayalam cinema of this short but beautiful period is a culmination of the Malayali ethos and South Indian life. It is characterised by detailed screenplays, excellently directed by master-Directors, dealing with everyday life with a lucid narration of plot intermingling with humor and melancholy. This was aided by brilliant Cinematography and lighting as in motion pictures like Perumthachan (1990), directed by Ajayan with Santosh Sivan as the cinematographer. While the movies were made expressive with warm background music by composers like Johnson, as in the motion picture Nammukku paarkkaan munthiri thoppukal (1986) directed by Padmarajan.

Many of the movies released during this time narrowed the gap between art cinemas and commercial cinemas in the Malayalam film industry, as in Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha (1989). These were paralleled with movies like Kireedam (1989) directed by Sibi Malayil and written by Lohitadas, Mathilukal directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan (1989), 'Amaram'(1991) directed by Bharathan and 'Sargam'(1992) directed by Hariharan.

The period had an abundance of movies rich in creative humour from Directors like Priyadarshan, Akkare akkare akkare (1990) and Sathyan Anthicad, Nadodikkattu (1987). The era also saw well crafted comedy by the Duo Siddique-Lal, Ramji Rao Speaking (1989)) and In Harihar Nagar (1990). Other notable contributions of this period include His Highness Abdullah (1990) directed by Sibi Malayil, Piravi (1989) by Shaji N. Karun, Abhayam (1991) directed by Sivan, and the motion picture Daisy (1988) an expressive depiction of separation and longing set in a Boarding School, directed by Prathap K Pothan.

Popular Malayalam cinema through early-mid 1990s

Later movies followed in the essence of the golden period but lacked in freshness. However, they still stand out for their brilliance in storytelling and appeal. These include 'Bharatham' (1991) by Sibi Malayil, Kaalapaani (1996) by Priyadarshan and the award winning 'Manichitrathazhu' (1993) by Fazil. 'Sphadikam' (1995) directed by Bhadran was well received by the viewers as was 'Desadanam' (1997) by Jayaraaj. Some works stood out as strong in evocative power reminiscent of the earlier period, like Swaham (1994) directed by Shaji N.Karun, the first Malayalam film entry to the Competition in Cannes International Film Festival in 1994.

Current Scenario (late 1990s - mid 2000s)

After the early 1990s the quality of Malayalam cinema declined, partly due to the arrival of Satellite Digital Television and film piracy and partly due to the changing interests of the audience. The movies in current period are largely nonsensical comedies primarily aiming at large scale entertainment without much artistic message. These movies include Meesa Madhavan (2002) by Lal Jose and Kunjikkoonan directed by Sasi Shankar (2002). However,notable exceptions to these were the motion pictures Chinthavishtayaya Shyamala by Srinivasan (1998) and Vanaprastham (1999) directed by Shaji N Karun. Also Narasimham, the highest-grossing Malayalam movie as of 2005 was relased during this period, in 2000.

This is the period where two sequels of previously notable movies came out. Mohanlal's Ravanaprabhu the second part of Devasuram and Mammotty's Sethuramayyar CBI the third part of Oru CBI Dairykurippu. Udayananu Tharam, a blockbuster and a trend-setter, was jointly released by Mohanlal and Sreenivasan.

This period witnessed the migration of Malayalam film technicians toother language films. Among them were Priyadarshan, Santosh Sivan, Sabu Cyril, Ravi K. Chandran, Srekhar Prasad and others.