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.
20. 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.
19. 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.
18. Samarppanam (2017)
K. Gopinathan’s ‘Samarpannam’ opens with the murder of a young woman, her lifeless body discovered on the railway tracks. While it does sound like the opening of the typical run-of-the-mill whodunit thriller, it is not that. ‘Samarpannam’, rather than being just an investigative crime thriller, is an exploration of the complexities of human relationships. It closely follows the strange bond that forms between three individuals brought together by the heinous crime – the investigating police officer, the forensic surgeon who performs the victim’s autopsy, and an ayurvedic medical practitioner who was the victim’s employer. It is the nuances of these three people’s relationships with each other that the film explores. Don’t worry, they solve the crime too, by the end.
17. Ma Chu Ka (2017)
‘Ma Chu Ka’ is a psychological thriller that promises to keep viewers biting their nails from start to finish. The whole film just has two characters on the screen (plus a dog) and other characters are only talked about. The story revolves around the chance meeting of a young journalist and an advocate and how their relationship progresses in the course of a single day that’s full of lies and deception and finally culminates in death. The narrative of ‘Ma Chu Ka’ is slow and heavy with suspense, tension building up with each scene until it all ends with an alarming climax. They do clue in the audience to what is going on early in the movie, but it’s a subtly placed clue and most people who are not movie buffs may miss it entirely. Actors Pasupathy and Janani Iyer come together in this fine display of their acting talents.
16. 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.
15. Minnaminungu The Firefly (2017)
The only reason ‘Minnaminungu The Firefly’ is a must-watch is because of its leading lady Surabhi Lakshmi (who won a National Award for the Best Actress for this film). The story revolves around an unnamed woman who battles social disregard and anonymity every day in order to work several odd jobs and provide for her teenage daughter. The daughter, Charu, falls in love with a boy who is moving to Canada and she wants to go with her boo. So does Charu get a job or work to get a scholarship to Canada? Nothing of the sort, she just demands Rs. 6 Lacs from her already struggling mother. What Charu doesn’t tell her mother is the real reason she wants to go (for a boy!) but lets her mom assume that Charu wants to go to Canada for higher studies. The mother gives her all and works herself to the bone to collect the amount on time. She is clearly in for a shock when she learns the truth of why her daughter is going to Canada. While most of the supporting cast act like they were doing theatre instead of a film, Surabhi single-handedly carries the otherwise rather average movie by her excellent and moving performance.
14. Vishwasapoornam Mansoor (2017)
P. T. Kunju Muhammed’s ‘Vishwasapoornam Mansoor’ tries to make a lot of strong political and social statements during its runtime but fails for the most part. The story revolves around a young left-wing liberal Muslim man who falls in love with a distant relative who comes to seek shelter with him and his mother. Most of the film is a light-weight love story, but even their relationship and feelings are not wholly convincing because they rush past the romance. It’s confusing when the hero starts saying stuff like how much of an inspiration the heroine is for him, after two minutes of meeting her. Towards the end, the romantic drama morphs into heavy melodrama. The social and political statements (very relevant for today’s time) are only made towards the very end of the movie. ‘Vishwasapoornam Mansoor’ does call out the political bigotry and the irresponsible and biased media that’s prevalent in India right now, but it might get overlooked with all the romance and the melodrama.
13. 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.
12. 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.
11. 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.
10. 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.
9. 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.
8. 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.
7. 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.
6. 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.
Read More: Best Christian Movies on Netflix
5. Pareeth Pandari (2017)
A famous biryani chef, Pareeth Pandari, and his wife (who works as a midwife in the village) deal with the social challenges of matchmaking in remote, rural India when they embark on a moving quest to find suitable grooms for their three unmarried daughters. Written and directed by Gafoor Elliyas, ‘Pareeth Pandari’ is truly an underrated gem. From scripting to direction, to cinematography, and acting, every aspect of the movie is impressive. ‘Pareeth Pandari’ is an emotional, beautiful watch that’s chock-full of meaning.
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. 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.
Read More: Movies Like A Walk to Remember
2. Freedom At Midnight (2018)
‘Freedom At Midnight’ is a high-energy, fast-paced thriller that centers around Jacob, a former finance company employee who is convicted of killing a cop. But the thing is, Jacob doesn’t deserve to go to jail because he didn’t actually shoot the cop and is covering for the one he loves. So Jacob decides to orchestrate a daring prison break with a couple of other inmates. The movie is a heart-thumping action thriller, but devoid of any actual violent scenes. The cinematography and the background score are pretty epic and help make it quite an engaging watch that will have viewers invested from the beginning to the end. All the actors have done a commendably convincing job. There is a good chance that audiences will really enjoy this film, as long as they don’t compare it to ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ (it is not that level of smart).
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.
Read More: Best Bollywood Movies on Netflix