Eight Malayalam Movies to Watch on Onam
SUDANI FROM NIGERIA (Netflix): Released in 2018, this absolute crush located in the idyllic small town of Malapurram demarcates the relationship between local football coach Majeed (played with rare empathy by Soubin Shahir) and Nigerian footballer Samuel Abiola Robinson (playing himself) when the latter is forced to move into the former’s house after a leg injury. Obvious cultural differences are quickly brushed aside as the two bond in a way that is both moving and inspiring. Majeed’s mother played by Savithri Sreedharan is a treat as she gives her ‘Sudanese’ house guests home food and a universal gyan on how to experience a sense of belonging in the most foreign environment . Zakariya Mohammed directs this exquisite tapestry of cultural culmination.
TAKEOFF (Hotstar): True to its title, Take Off, the highly acclaimed 2017 film, takes too long to take off. Too many ifs and buts are on the line before reaching the crux of the matter which is the kidnapping of 19 Indian nurses in Iraq. The super talented Fawad Faasil is wasted in a supporting role. Parvathy Thruvothu in the central role is dazzling in her immersion in the character of the nurse. She is the linchpin of the film and she knows it. Despite the many liberties with the truth, this 2017 drama directed by debutant Mahesh Naraynan is worth seeing for Parvathy’s powerful performance.
KUMBALANGI NIGHTS (Amazon Prime): This undisputed masterpiece by Madhu C Narayanan chronicles the ups and downs of the lives of four brothers in rural Kerala who are largely at daggers drawn but like all great Indian families, care deeply for each other in times of crisis. The crises here are all about the women breaking into the lives of the brethren, in the most unexpected ways. Don’t wait for me to reveal more of the plot. But I will reveal something else. The great Fahadh Faasil, who co-produced this film, presented himself as the craziest product of patriarchal law seen in our cinema. His masculine arrogance is not only terrifying but also very funny. Like any great cinema, this one makes you laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time.
HTEL USTAD (Hotstar): Dulquer Salman shines in this 2012 gem about a young man pursuing his culinary dreams in a quicksand of fragmented engagement and disfigured aspirations. How Dulquer emerges from the quagmire of disenchantment with the help of his aging grandfather (played by the brilliant Thilakan) is the theme of this dreamy cinema. The kitchen theme gives this beauty led by Anwar Rasheed a lot of food for thought. The film is more than cinema. It is a lesson in how food in the womb and love in the heart can solve all problems.
OPPAM (Amazonia): Prolific director Priyadarshan and Mohanlal have made so many films together, most of them admirable. But none are as deeply satisfying as the one where Mohanlal plays a blind guard (you’ve heard the oxymoron on the right) dealing with the presence of a serial killer in the building. Captivating from the start, this thriller is unique because we can all see the killer, but not the hero. I haven’t seen any actor look so blind since Naseeruddin Shah in Sparsh.
MOOTHON (malayalam): In her second film, Malayalam masterpiece Moothon that should be on everyone’s must-see list, director Geetu Mohandas (whose debut film Liar’s Dice is an undiscovered gem) actually brought together two films in a work of astonishing impact. Ostensibly, Moothon is a travelogue of a 15-year-old in search of his missing older brother. Amir disappeared in the turmoil of Mumbai. The male child, played by actress Sanjana Dipu, travels to Mumbai alone and is sucked into the city’s brutal belly with barely room for anyone to breathe. Let me say it here. Nivin Pauly is a revelation. With this one performance – in fact these are two performances so harmoniously fused that they become completely unified – Pauly joins the elitist circle of the most accomplished actors in our country. His Akbar is the force of Nature.
Thunder against humanity that he has buried under the rubble of roughness, his performance embodies that musk of machismo that men are supposed to display to be considered “enough man”. Miraculously, and with mesmerizing ease, Geetu Mohandas starts the play and takes us into a ravishing romance captured by the splashing waves of Laskshadweep in a flashback between Akbar and his mute soul mate Amir (Roshan Mathew). It’s a love story so free from genre constraints that I wanted to stand up and applaud not only the director’s supreme sensitivity but also the indomitable bravery of the two actors. In scenes reminiscent of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, the two actors embody love with haunting immersive intensity. When Nivin Paul and Roshan Mathew look at each other, they don’t see a man or a woman. They only see love.
KAPPELA (malayalam): After the exceptional Mothoon, another blow from the land of magnificent greenery. Kappela captures the Kerala countryside with a caressing gaze one only gets in their home movies. The film is set in rural Kerala, although luckily there are no coconut palms or football players. This crazy anti-romcom takes us on an unexpected roller coaster… Rather, a bumpy bus ride where Jessy (Anna Ben), the inexperienced young rustic heroine of the film, loses almost everything, only to have her soul redeemed just in time. It’s a crazy moral tale. I’m afraid to reveal the plot. Suffice it to say, for all of my cinematic experience, I could never have guessed what writer-director Musthafa (believe it or not, this is the actor’s-turned-director’s first film) was leading. No, I never saw the twist coming. Life is that. (I can bet it’ll be lapped up for a Bollywood remake in no time.)
For about 20 minutes of the second half, when Roy (Sreenath Bhasi), the film’s shameless parasitic hero, is introduced, I thought I was watching another movie. But then the director, fully aware of his direction and mastering the moral graph of the fate of the three main protagonists, expertly maneuvers the story through the stormy incidents. There is not a minute of inactivity in Kappela. The director’s sense of detail is one of the film’s many virtues. In one footage, when Jessy climbed into the window seat of a bus in the pouring rain, I actually saw raindrops on her seat. The pace is always in a race, never lacks grace. By the time the film stops, three lives are irreversibly changed. And we breathe a sigh of relief. All is well with the world, at least this time.
GOODBYE: Thank God for happy endings. Well almost. This thriller about an online dating plan gone horribly wrong, has a lot of balls, plus a heart that beats steadily. And it ends on a bright note. We need this. The important thing to remember is that the entire 98-minute film was shot on iPhones. So now we finally know why they are called smartphones. It’s such a smart thriller that they come with some of the best young talent in Malayalam cinema going out with a conviction born out of isolation. Unsurprisingly, the well-thought-out thriller simulates a tense tempo at a slow-burning temperature. Since the world is locked, neither of the characters are in a rush to get anywhere.
Image source: IMDb