2018 wasn’t really a bad year for Malayalam cinema. May be if you compare it with the previous year, the number of talked about movies would have been less. But still there were so many talents that managed to attract the attention of the viewers with their visible and invisible presence in the making of a movie. Here are some of the people who started their journey in the industry in a particular role this year that I feel deserves a shout out. This is not supposed to be a ranking list, so the order is based on the release date of the movies these people were associated with.
Ajithkumar Balagopalan (who used to be credited as B Ajithkumar) isn’t exactly a newcomer. He is a veteran editor in the industry and has frequently collaborated with people like Rajeev Ravi, T K Rajeev Kumar, Geethu Mohandas etc. Shri Ajithkumar took over the director’s chair this year with his movie Eeda that had Shane Nigam and Nimisha Sajayan in the lead roles. Set in the fiery political backdrop of Kannur, this Romeo and Juliet story was a compelling watch. The characters and presentation had rawness and Ajithkumar made sure that his movie never became a propaganda film or an apolitical film. With Eeda, he sort of announces that he is here to make films of relevance.
Not many people would recognize this name, as the spotlight is not often given to dubbing artists. Sneha was there in this list the moment I knew that it wasn’t Nimisha’s voice in Eeda. The appreciation I mistakenly gave to Nimisha for dialogue delivery is perhaps the testament to the fact that Sneha’s work as a dubbing artist was flawless. She was a native of Kannur and the decision to make her dub for a character of Kannur backdrop was a smart move. But the perfection in her work was seamless and the movie offered the character a wide range of emotions which made the job challenging. Sneha went on to dub for two more movies this year; Lilli and
One of the most controversial films of the year was Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Sexy Durga which then became S Durga. The interesting cinematic experiment had two people at the center of it and one character was played by Kannan Nair. His Kabeer was tensed and vulnerable and Kannan Nair’s performance had the element of realness in it to keep us on the edge of our seats. Later in the year, he became part of one more interesting film, Lilli, where he played a negative character. Kannan has acted in commercial films prior to this, but
Zakariya is easily the star of the year with his first movie getting all the love from audience and critics. Sudani from Nigeria was Zakariya’s first film and it is undoubtedly worthy of being called the movie of the year. Zakariya’s ability to capture the nuances and texture of the villages has to be appreciated. He made a strong statement with his first film that there is no need of humongous budget or stellar cast to make a movie that can be called an international film. Sudani from Nigeria won everyone’s heart with its heartening story about a better world.
Poomaram was a movie that met with polarizing reviews. But one particular performance that sort of grabbed praise from everyone was of Neeta Pillai’s performance as Irene, an energetic leader of a woman’s college team who has all the aspirations to be the champions of the inter-college arts festival. In the very beginning itself, Neeta has a lengthy speech and the conviction with which she delivers those lines makes us root for the character she plays in the movie. I hope this talent will get more opportunities in the future.
Vishnu Narayan made his debut this year with the movie Maradona starring Tovino Thomas. For a movie that marked the transformation of its hero, Vishnu Narayan was able to make the movie devoid of melodramatic cheesiness. The roughness of the titular character was established in one of the best scenes of the year. With a making that gave emphasis on being less verbal and more visual in communicating changes in character behavior, Vishnu Narayan as a filmmaker is indeed a future promise.
Fellini made his debut as a director with the Tovino Thomas starrer Theevandi. The black comedy written by Vini Vishwalal was a concept that could have become an overdone comedy because of the satiric angle it had. But Fellini manages to keep it simple and effective to make Theevandi an interesting movie that was constantly entertaining and sporadically enlightening.
Samyuktha Menon made her debut as a leading lady in films this year. And she had two releases back to back in one month which sort of established the fact that she was a promising talent for the years to come. In Theevandi she was the leading lady who had a major role to play. For a newcomer, she showed an impressive level of confidence in playing the character of Devi. In Lilli, she pushed herself to a very challenging character and to do that so early in one’s career is something that gives the audience
“Jeevamshamay” from Theevandi could well be the most played song of the year. Even the people who weren’t aware of the movie Theevandi was humming this song and Kailas Menon is the music composer behind this hit song. The beautiful melody won praises from everyone and his other compositions in the movie also got recognition.
Rafeek Ibrahim as a debutant director dared to do a gangster comedy this year titled Padayottam. The Biju Menon starrer gangster comedy was a movie that did justice to the genre. The acceptance for the movie came later when a lot more people saw the film when the DVD got released. Rafeek made the movie in a very subtle way making it a less annoying comedy. I am saying this because eccentricity is a nature of gangster comedies and keeping it minimal and enjoyable is indeed a talent.
Sharfu Amishaf and Suhas
Sharfu and Suhas made their debut as scriptwriters this year with the Fahadh Faasil starrer Varathan. Even though the basic plot had resemblance with Straw Dogs, the transportation of the story to our culture and the idea to use it to make a commercially appealing movie that talked about a relevant social evil called moral policing was an appreciable thing. Even the kind of feminism this movie had was different from the original film and progressive when compared to the usual depiction of women in Malayalam films. The writer duo has an exciting 2019 ahead of them as they will be writing Aashiq Abu’s next film titled Virus, a movie about the Nipah outbreak.
Even though there were flaws, Lilli from Prasobh Vijayan was a movie that sort of impressed me for its uncompromised approach. Reputed production house e4 entertainment showed guts to create a niche movie which never compromised from its intent. It had violent visuals, disturbing situations, and technical quality. Prasobh Vijayan’s movie had something in it to make me root for the unapologetic approach it had in its treatment. It wasn’t a budget extravaganza and interestingly Samyuktha, who played the center character, is a known star now. I hope to see the return of Lilli with the same rawness and lesser errors.
One of the key things that made Lilli’s survival act a triumph was the performance of the antagonists in the movie. Along with Aaryan Krishna Menon and Kannan Nair, newcomer Dhanesh Anand who played the role of a brutal and venomous Rajesh who had no shades of humanity was truly impressive. The malicious character was performed flawlessly by the actor.
In November we saw Joju George in a gripping thriller titled Joseph. The backbone of this movie that brought back ace director Padmakumar to the spotlight was a well-researched script written by Shahi Kabir. Interestingly Shahi Kabeer is a police officer in real life and he has shown his face in the celluloid in the 2017 classic Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum. Joseph was a movie that sort of broke the typical image of a police officer created in Malayalam cinema. Joseph looked real and his tactics were convincing. Shahi even created subplots to show us the problematic emotional side of police officers who have to see some of the heartbreaking things. Even though there was a preachy agenda to the film, the treatment of the script is very much like a thriller. Whether Shahi Kabir can attempt totally different genres will be an interesting thing to look for.
On November 16th two movies released, Nithyaharitha Nayakan and Joesph. The interesting thing was that both films had one music director who was a debutant. Nithya Haritha Nayakan was so bad that Ranjin’s music was perhaps the only good thing about that movie. The songs he composed for Joseph weren’t that instant hit materials. But those were songs that will linger on your mind and songs like Poomuthole and Uyirin Naadhane became a big hit among people. The flexibility Ranjin has shown in the first two films makes him a promising music director.
Anyone who has seen this year’s last clean hit Njan Prakashan won’t forget the character of the young girl Teena played by new face Devika Sanjay. The movie had a close resemblance with other Sathyan Anthikkad movies like Oru Indian Pranaya Kadha and Vinodayathra. And the second half was a key area where melodrama could have easily ruined the energy of the film. But Devika Sanjay as the slightly stubborn Teena had grace and charm in her performance to make those portions engaging. It is tough to make your presence felt when you have someone like Fahadh Faasil along with you on screen and this girl was able to do it. Even though the duration of the role is less, she was able to do complete justice to the character.
That was some of the names that stayed with me as new talents who made an impression in 2018. There are a few more names that deserve to be mentioned. Joselet Joseph who co-wrote Kuttanpillayude Sivarathri, actresses Savithri Sreedharan and Sarasa Balussery of Sudani from Nigeria, Maradona heroine Sharanya R Nair, Faisal Razi who sang the Poomaram song etc. deserve a shout out.