Netflix has proved to be a wonderful platform for Malayalam cinema. With the current facelift, this particular regional industry is going through, the online streaming service has made available for the public those films that are daring, different, and not exactly oriented for a commercial audience. Some of the films on this list, like ‘Eeda’ (2018), have largely shocking themes and interesting filmmaking styles. A picture like ‘Chaayam Poosiya Veedu’ (2015), that would probably fail to find a big market in the theatres due to its bold character portrayals, has found a reasonably high following on the internet.
Netflix has allowed the smaller films within a relatively small industry to see the limelight, and this is important, because of various distinctive portrayals of subjects that find importance within Kerala help in the progressing of art, and it gives a stand-alone voice to independent filmmakers. You’ll find that the movies I have selected for this list are all different from each other, and from the wider releases outside of Netflix that make a mark at the box office. I do so with the hopes of celebrating difference and highlighting change in cinema.
10. Minnaminungu (2017)
There are two things that make ‘Minnaminungu’ (The Firefly) work. The first and most effective of these is the leading performance from Surabhi Lakshmi that landed her a National Award. Her portrayal of a struggling mother takes this film to heights it definitely wouldn’t have reached otherwise. Next, there’s the story, which on its own is quite moving and hard-hitting, though the final product here does suffer from some narrative issues. Following the mother as she works odd jobs in order to feed and educate her only child, ‘Minnaminungu’ shows how the society of which the woman is a part takes advantage of her unpleasant circumstances, with her falling prey every time. The film does falter at times with its evidently low-budget cinematography and uninspired supporting cast performances, but I do find the tale it tells to be memorable on its own.
9. Freedom At Midnight (2018)
The story of this film centers around a family man called Jacob who is charged with the murder of a policeman and sent to jail. Once inside the jail, Jacob realizes that there is a way in which one can escape this confinement, and goes about forming a gang in order to carry out this operation. We have not seen many great prison dramas from India, but here is a film that tries to fill in this gap. However, there are clear similarities between ‘Freedom At Midnight’ and ‘The Shawshank Redemption‘. Moreover, the writing of this film is not that great, with the story being filled with coincidences. The positive aspects of this film are its cinematography and performances.
8. Eeda (2018)
‘Eeda’ (Here) has its importance here as being one of the more daring releases to be available on the service. Following a love story between two individuals who meet purely by chance, the film addresses its main concerns rather quickly. Taking place in the Kannur district of Kerala, the couple faces something of a dilemma as their families each belong to rival political parties functioning in the area. As their relationship takes flight and turns into a more intimate affair, their backgrounds seem to silently disapprove of their romance. Using slight changes in their names to call out real political parties, the film succeeds in showing a very real as well as brutal condition of one of the most dangerous, politically triggered localities in the state. Nimisha Sajayan and Shane Nigam both give memorable performances as the counterparts of the couple, and the film has been competitively directed.
7. Uyare (2019)
Acid attacks are becoming one of the most common crimes against women in South Asia, and the effects such an attack tends to have on the person involved is extremely shocking. The central character of this film is a woman called Pallavi, who dreams of becoming a flight attendant. However, her plans are completely ruined when her former boyfriend throws acid at her and disfigures her face permanently. Pallavi also loses some of her vision as a result of this attack. Pallavi comes across a guy called Vishal who wants to hire her as a flight attendant despite her poor eyesight but is advised against the same by his father who says that doing so might pose a threat to the security of the passengers. However, Vishal talks about the discrimination against Pallavi in a press conference, and she gets uncomfortable at first when her story is shared with the world. But she is finally convinced by her father to give the career a shot once again. A poignant tale, ‘Uyare’ is a very relevant film in the South Asian context. Although the film resorts to cliches in its storyline, the way everything is executed brilliantly definitely deserves our appreciation.
6. Grandmaster (2012)
Mohanlal, the lead actor of this 2012 action thriller, is one of the most respected actors of South Indian cinema, who has had a successful career spanning decades. Here he plays the role of a high-ranking police chief, Chandrashekhar, who receives an anonymous letter from a man called “Z” who claims that he will be killing some people one by one. A string of three murders soon follow and leave Chandrashekhar completely bamboozled. He does notice that the killer is murdering his victims in alphabetical order. Chandrashekhar’s former wife’s name is Deepti, and he believes she is the fourth target of this serial killer. Chandrashekhar even zeroes in on a man who has been present in the three earlier murder cases, but is this person being used by the mastermind behind these murders? The story of the film is not that original, but it is executed quite well and proves to be a rather engaging watch.
5. Sudani From Nigeria (2018)
A beautiful story of friendship set in a small village in the Indian state of Kerala, ‘Sudani From Nigeria’ is a film people of all ages can enjoy. The story begins with a local soccer manager called Majeed who manages to bring some success to his team by hiring three Nigerian players. One of these players, Samuel gets injured badly and needs time to recuperate. Majeed realizes that Samuel will not be able to afford the hospital charges, and thus proposes that Samuel should stay with him and his mother. Samuel starts living with Majeed, and soon the two of them develop a warm friendship. Since Majeed’s townsfolk have never seen a foreigner before, Samuel becomes quite popular in the village as well. This draws the police’s attention, and they soon come enquiring about Samuel’s passport. While telling a beautiful story, this film also shows us how suffering is one common element in the human experience. This a feel-good movie which will remain with you long after you are done watching it. Every aspect of this film is of superlative quality.
4. Angamaly Diaries (2017)
To present a film in a style never carried out in Malayalam cinema before it, with a cast of 86 fresh faces is definitely a big risk to take. Director Lijo Jose Pelliserry tells his tale of a bunch of outlaws in the streets of Angamaly with a brash, raw, unforgiving execution, making for a zany, almost insane realization of events, in a film that is rather well-acted and well-written. A cinematographic achievement, the 11-minute long shot that climaxes the film is truly one of the greatest achievements on Indian celluloid. There isn’t much to say about the plot of this film, which might be its biggest flaw, but in its defense, ‘Angamaly Diaries’ had advertised itself as a ‘local’ film, one that refused to care about conventional filmmaking methods, thereby not catering to the expectations of average filmgoers, giving them an experience totally out of the blue. Thankfully, this was one they could take home, making it one of Pelliserry’s many effective experimental endeavors.
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3. Aalorukkam (2018)
Let me talk a little bit about Indrans first, to give you a better idea of why I’ve placed this film so high up on the list. Indrans is one of Kerala’s best-loved comic actors, who began his way into the public domain by becoming a tailor for celebrities before his time. Noted for this thin, funny-looking face and expressions, Indrans had unfortunately been pushed into the team of typecast actors during the ’90s and 00s. The role of Pappu Pisharodi, the protagonist of ‘Aalorukkam’ (A Man Gearing Up), is so unlike the characters he has played in the past, and he pulls it off with such brilliance, capturing the pain of an old man conducting a sort of armchair hunt for his missing son almost perfectly.
The film is quite depressing, moving with a slow pace crafted well enough for the audience to conduct a detailed study of the characters they see unfold on-screen. The aging man’s son had left him several years ago, and on account of his failing health, he makes a sort of last wish to the doctors in charge of him, who agree to help him in his hunt. Propelled to excellence by director VC Abhilash’s keen eye for visual influencers, the film does, still, have its drawbacks connected with a low-budget visual touch, which dents the cinematic quality of the film considerably, something that is aided by some of the cardboard performances on the side. Indrans gives a career-best performance here, and is probably the biggest highlight of the film. He went on to win a National Award for this role.
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2. Njan Prakashan (2018)
A wonderfully made satire, this 2018 film tells the story of a man called Prakashan who loathes his job as a nurse and believes this profession is only suited for women. Prakashan plans to marry a girl who has a foreign nationality so that he can acquire a visa for that country without much hassle and then start a better life there. Prakashan gets to know that his former girlfriend Salomi is going to Germany where she will be working as a nurse since the pay there is significantly higher than what she gets at Kerala, India. Prakashan goes about collecting money, sometimes in rather shady ways, to buy tickets for himself and Salomi, but his endeavor reaches a crushing failure when he finally realizes that it was Salomi who has been making a fool of him for the money all along. How will Prakashan react to this situation? Will he be able to shape up his life after this big blow? If you want to know this, you’ve got to watch ‘Njan Prakashan’. The film is brilliantly written, has some amazing characters, and is overall a very entertaining watch. The way the director handles the fine balance between the comedic and the darker moments in the film is truly appreciable.
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1. Ottaal (2015)
Shot in the visually pleasing land of Kuttanad, ‘Ottaal’ (The Trap) tells the sad, heartbreaking tale of the relationship between a boy and his grandfather, who happens to be his sole living family member. Adapted from Anton Chekov’s timeless novel Vanka, the film is supposedly told from the viewpoint of the boy, named Kuttappayi (who is seen writing a letter to his grandfather earlier on in the film from a time in the future), his recollections of his hometown set the stage for a magnificent picture about hope, loss, and nostalgia. Director Jayaraj designs a very intimate experience for the viewers with inexperienced actors and a low-budget feel to his work, the strong points of the film then being the connection made between the long-time estranged grandfather and his grandson, who happen to be the only two characters that appear throughout the film. Nature and several other elements that form strong memories for someone who resides next to the backwaters of the state find their beauty being used to exceptional effect here. Though the village where the boy comes to is otherworldly, his purpose of the visit is in connection with his deceased parents, something that isn’t heavily sympathized in the picture. What sympathizes here is the major question that the film poses: “why do we ignore all that we have?”
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