Trend 2012 in Malayalam cinema was a story of more highs than lows.

Looking back, 2012 was arguably a spectacular year for Malayalam cinema, not only because of the number of films released but also because of the sheer number of hits at the box-office. While the number of releases every year is usually under 100, this year well over 120 films were released! Audiences too did their part and went to the movies in droves.

Close to 20 films such as Mayamohini, Thattathin Marayathu, Ordinary, Ayalum Njaanum Thammil, My Boss, and Run Baby Run, to name but a few, set the cash registers ringing. But quite a few of the rest, such as Husbands in Goa, Mallu Singh, and so on, also brought in a decent collection at the box-office. “It has been a great year for both myself and Malayalam cinema, with some pluses and some minuses. Even from the minuses, we learn some new things in life and that’s why I feel this year was great,” says actor Kunchacko Boban.

This year too, continuing the trend of the past several years, Malayalam films have become more and more dependent on ‘satellite rights’ (the amount paid by TV networks to buy the rights of a film, which is usually based on the marketability of the cast and crew and the merits of the film). As a result, many films made on comparatively smaller budgets made profit even before they were released. And this has helped some of the big stars to maintain their positions on the leader board, even after starring in one dud after another. The possibility of assured remuneration may also have prompted many producers to give green signals to projects by new and/or less-experienced talents.

The ‘new generation’

Nowadays, those who refuse to travel along conventional lines, especially those who don’t care much for the tried and tested ‘commercial’ set up are being branded as belonging to the ‘new generation’. Not many of them, though, are pleased with the tag. Young actor Fahadh Faasil, who has been anointed a ‘new generation hero’ thanks to his experimental roles in movies such as Friday and 22 Female Kottayam, bristles: “I hate that term. I am fascinated by classics such as Thoovanathumbikal or Innale, which were radical for their times. Then how can ‘new generation’ be part of only a particular generation?”

Dulquer Salmaan who made a big impression this year with vastly different roles in Second Show, Ustad Hotel, and Theevram agrees: “I have never really understood what people mean when they brand some films as ‘new generation’. It just doesn’t make any sense.” Srinath Rajendran, who directed Dulquer’s debut film, Second Show, opines: “Be it commercial or experimental, the films have to connect with the audience. If they succeed in that, then the viewers are certainly going to accept it.”

Director Aashiq Abu, easily one of the most promising filmmakers in Malayalam now, says: “From Ram Gopal Varma’s gangster movies and Farhan Akhtar's friendship movies in Bollywood to Sasi Kumar’s realistic movies in Tamil with ‘rugged’ characters, every industry witnesses the emergence of new trends once in a while. I think the viewers here have always loved such changes and they are game for any fresh themes that make sense.” However, some ‘conventional’ filmmakers grumble that plagiarised versions of films made in various corners of the globe are being presented under the guise of experiments. In all likelihood, the debate will go on for the coming year as well, especially on internet sites, which have become the main arena for marketing and reviewing films.

Going by the hits and misses at the box-office, finally, it seems that fresh themes are winning over star-driven tales. Gone are the days when the heroes had to be handsome, virtuous and invincible. The protagonists of today are the serial womaniser, the fat guy, the scrap seller, the troubled police officer, the chilled out dude with no head for money, the cross-dresser, the peppy college boy… essentially those who realistically reflect the times. Suddenly the ordinary has become fashionable. Regular guys walk away with the pretty girls or, in some cases, dump them too!

That there is a change in perspectives is a given. But the focus is not just on the hero, but also on hard-hitting performances as well; late actor Thilakan’s outstanding show in Ustad Hotel and Prathap Pothen’s performance in Ayalum Njaanum Thammil, which the veteran actor rates “easily as the best in my career,” are prime examples. In the new scheme of things, it seems, the star takes the backseat as the actor gets the centre stage.

Urban themes

Quite a few female-oriented films have also made it to the hit list this year. “I think it’s all about the script and we have always had films with female characters playing the lead,” says Ranjith Sankar, who made Molly Aunty Rocks with Revathy in the title role. Malayalam movies are also increasingly becoming metro-centric in their themes. In fact, a fair number of the top box-office films such as Ee Adutha Kaalathu, 22 Female Kottayam, and Diamond Necklace tell tales of the urban Malayali, his dreams, his foibles, his highs and his lows.

But the penchant for the realistic and the urban have also brought about a taste for explicit language and provocative themes, often under the guise of ‘bold’ or ‘modern’ themes.

On the flipside, though, dialogues are getting more real and closer to life and dialects too (read Kavya Madhavan’s Neeleswaram accent in Bavuttiyude Namathil, Biju Menon’s Palakkad accent in Ordinary, the Kozhikodan dialect of Ustad Hotel, and so on).

A stand off between the theatre owners and the Government resulted in a long-drawn-out strike, which led not only to a financial loss for the industry but a loss of morale too. But as the year gives way to another, there is a sense of hope in the minds of everyone involved. There may be hits or misses, but the power of the movies has been underlined yet again. After all, the business here is to sell dreams.

Trendsetters

Rise of metro-centric themes

Erosion of the super star system in Malayalam cinema

Revival of multi-starrers

The heroine gets a second lease of life

Dialogues get more real and closer to life