Netflix has proved to be a wonderful platform for Malayalam cinema. With the current facelift that 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.
15. One (2021)
Starring Mammootty, Murali Gopy, Joju George, and Siddique, ‘One’ is a political drama film directed by Santhosh Viswanath. The movie centers upon a formidable Kerala chief minister who has made a name for himself and earned public devotion for his uncompromising attitude towards corruption. However, a lot of politicians also hate him for his dictatorial decisions and desperately want him out. But when a power tussle is started by a social media post, the inflexible principles of the people’s chief minister are tested as he is pushed to fight for his own name and the greater good.
14. CIA: Comrade in America (2017)
At first glance, Amal Neerad’s ‘CIA’ seems like another one in the long line of communist-themed films that have flooded the Malayalam cinema recently. The film’s protagonist is Aji, a young communist, who falls in love with an NRI girl and travels to the US (entering illegally through Mexico) to stop her from getting married to some other guy her parents have picked. The actors have all done a good job and the plot is interesting enough as well. But the movie loses its footing slightly in execution, getting a bit “draggy” towards the end. Amal Neerad also misses out on making a bold statement on some very sensitive and extremely relevant subject matter and prefers to make tasteless jokes about men getting raped instead. ‘Comrade in America’ is pleasant and entertaining enough to watch though, all things considered. Starring Dulquer Salmaan, Karthika, Priyanka Nair.
13. Maniyarayile Ashokan (2020)
‘Maniyarayile Ashokan’, directed by Shamsu Zayba and produced by Dulquer Salmaan, is a feel-good movie designed to give hope to every man out there that they will find their dream woman someday, regardless of their flaws, and boy will she be perfect. ‘Maniyarayile Ashokan’ tells the story of Ashokan, a middle-aged man who does not look like he stepped right off a movie poster, as he experiences major FOMO because of all his friends getting married and settling into a life of blessed domesticity. Ashokan just wants to get married to a nice girl and start a family, but no luck so far. In order to fix his “planetary alignments” (as told by an astrologer), Ashokan goes to some unnecessary lengths. There’s not much substance to the story but the cinematography is beautiful, along with all the actors. Watch it as a 2-hour-long pleasant escape from the harsh realities of the world
12. Forensic (2020)
‘Forensic’ is a serial killer crime thriller that brings an investigating officer and a medico-legal advisor together (two people who have some history but thankfully not the romantic kind) as they try to catch a serial killer who especially targets young kids. This film does not delve into the details of the killer’s background too much because, as the protagonist explains early on, sometimes, the thrill of the crime is the psychopath’s motivation and nothing else. What this film also does not do is provide a romantic sub-story of any kind, which is great, because seriously, who has the time for singing romantic songs when there is a child-murdering killer on the loose. ‘Forensic’ makes for a decent crime thriller, with some power-packed performances from the main cast.
11. Varane Avashyamund (2020)
Anoop Sathyan’s directorial debut ‘Varane Avashyamund’ is a feel-good family movie that was meant to be the ultimate soothing comfort watch for relaxing Sundays. If only it was better scripted, with the characters having more depth, it could have been something great. But alas, the movie remains surfacy and the characters shallow. But that in no way means that it’s not a good film. It is. The story, set in a Chennai apartment building, is about the interactions between newly moved-in neighbors and runs like a sweet slice-of-life affair. Overall, it is an endearing and heartwarming film that will bring a smile to your face.
10. Kappela (2020)
Muhammed Musthafa’s debut as director ‘Kappela’ is a visually stunning film that plays into the “deceptive appearances” trope. Jessie (Anna Ben) is a young girl living in a remote Kerala village and she dreams of making it out of there someday (mainly because of her strict and overly controlling father). She dials a wrong number one day, only to have the person on the other end call her back, soon on a regular basis. This person is Vishnu (Roshan Matthew) who appears to be a genuinely nice guy living in a big town. For Jessie to fall in love with him, she doesn’t need more than the allure of town-life, away from her village. That he has the good looks and oodles of charm is just a bonus. Jessie runs away to live with Vishnu. That’s when the narrative changes from “sweet, romantic slice-of-life” to “duplicitous betrayal”. Ultimately, the movie’s message is rooted in patriarchy, though subtly – that girls can only have a safe life as long as they adhere to the rules laid down by father and mother. The ending notwithstanding, ‘Kappela’ is still a really good film, winning at cinematography, scripting, and acting.
9. 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.
8. 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 follows and leaves 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.
7. Vikrithi (2019)
‘Vikrithi’ means mischief. Someone commits what he thinks is only a little harmless mischief and someone else’s whole life is ruined because of it. That’s the premise of Emcee Thomas’ ‘Vikrithi’, which is interestingly enough, based on a true incident. The story is that of Sameer, a man with a need to overshare on social media about anything and everything, one day taking a picture of a drunkard passed out on the Kochi metro and posting it as a meme that goes viral. However, that person sleeping on the metro is not a drunkard at all, but a man named Eldho who is hard of hearing and mute, returning home in utter exhaustion after spending two sleepless nights caring for his sick daughter in the hospital. But Sameer’s careless post sets the ball rolling and events unfold that lead to a lot of grief and suffering for Eldho. This comedy-drama is one of the best Malayalam films in the last couple of years and only suffers from slightly haywire scenes in the second half.
6. 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.
5. 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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4. Thottappan (2019)
Shanavas K Bavakkutty’s second directorial venture ‘Thottappan’ deviates quite a lot from the book that it is adapted from – Francis Noronha’s “Thottapan”. But that deviation from the original story is not necessarily bad. Apart from a little bit of unnecessary flab, the movie is almost perfect and authentic in its portrayal of life in the remote villages of India, far removed from the city life. The story follows Itthak who is the Thottappan (which means godfather) of Sarah, his late partner, and best friend’s daughter. After his friend died, Itthak gave everything else up in order to care for Sarah and bring her up as his own. The film deals with themes of parenthood, brotherhood, family, community, trust, and betrayal. It is a very raw, real, and riveting watch, made special by superb performances by its actors.
3. Minnal Murali (2021)
Starring Tovino Thomas, Guru Somasundaram, Femina George, and Aju Varghese, ‘Minnal Murali’ is an Indian Malayalam-language superhero film. The Basil Joseph directorial follows an ordinary tailor named Jaison who accidentally gets struck by lighting and, to everyone’s surprise, escapes unharmed. A few days following the violent incident, he realizes that he has somehow gained superhero abilities. Sadly, before he can use them for the greater good, Jaison is suspected of an unsolved crime by the law enforcement authorities. When his own villagers turn against him, he realizes that he must fight for himself.
2. Kurup (2021)
Written by Jithin K. Jose, K. S. Aravind, and Daniel Sayooj Nair, ‘Kurup’ is an Indian Malayalam-language crime thriller film directed by Srinath Rajendran. The Dulquer Salmaan and Indrajith Sukumaran-starrer follow the titular protagonist as he embarks on a quest to find a man with a similar appearance to him. Once he has found the right man, the consummate criminal plans to use him as a tool for self-advancement by falsifying his own death and making quick money by cheating the system, but will he be able to pull off his ambitious goal?
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1. 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 in 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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