“Kambilipothappu, Kambilipothappu!!” (woollen blankets, woollen blankets!!) — so screamed the words scribbled on a minimalistic poster, alluding to a famous line from the Malayalam film Ramji Rao Speaking. Several posters sharing a similar character started appearing in cyberspace on Tuesday evening and have since gone so viral that social media enthusiasts have started talking about the resurgence of Malayalam calligraphy.
Titled ‘Malayaleegraphy’ (short for Malayali + graphics + calligraphy), the posters started off as a hobby project by two digital artists, Hiran Venugopalan and Orion Champadiyil.
Over the past five days, the duo has created and uploaded around 30 posters having a variety of content borrowed from films and literature — all written in the classy old ‘lipi’ (script).
These have been shared widely on various social networks and the Facebook page of Malayaleegraphy has garnered more than 7,000 ‘like’s in these five days.
At a glance, nostalgia associated with dialogues of Malayalam films of the late 1980s seems to be the reason for this popularity. But equally popular are the posters depicting dialogues from the literary works of P. Padmarajan and short verses of young poets.
“The way the posters went viral was not planned in any way. The Malayalam dialogues are something that everyone identifies with. Most of the requests we are getting from the public are also for similar work. But we are planning to include more content from literature and new-age haikus,” says Hiran Venugopalan, who also created the decorative Malayalam font ‘Dhyuthi’ five years ago.
The duo hit upon the idea of ‘Malayaleegraphy’ after visiting a popular exhibition of Malayalam calligraphy by artist Narayanan Bhattathiri, on the sidelines of the International Film Festival of Kerala in Thiruvananthapuram last December.
“I have been experimenting with various styles of lettering for the past 30 years. The exhibition had a selection of my works. I have also been working in digital media for 15 years and it is good to know about the popularity of the work done by the young team,” said Mr. Bhattathiri, whose work has adorned periodicals such as Kalakaumudi and Malayalam.
The ‘Malayaleegraphy’ team uses Adobe Illustrator and the Open Source software Inkscape for their designs. The vector graphics that these two create helps the rendering of Malayalam fonts properly, says Hiran.
In true Open Source spirit, their designs are under the Creative Commons License, which means anyone can use them for non-commercial purposes. This has enabled other online design start-ups like WowMakers, Flamingos Media and Bransense to borrow the idea to come up with even better designs, all within two days.
In a social media space dominated by English content, it has suddenly become ‘cool’ to be writing in the mother tongue. With the development of a variety of fonts and designs harking back to a bygone era, these young designers are bringing back the tradition of ‘Chuvarezhuthu’ (writing on walls) which was where the real experiments in Malayalam calligraphy happened.
One of the posters from ‘WowMakers’ says, “Eda Dasa, namukku entha ee buddhi nerathe thonnathathu?” (Dasa, why didn’t we think of this idea before?), also featuring a cow, in a reference to the famous scene from the film Nadodikkattu. Well, there is a time for every idea to happen, and as Victor Hugo said, ‘You cannot resist an idea whose time has come.’