In Malayalam cinema, the small town is the new star

Many critically-acclaimed films in Malayalam today are firmly rooted in the small towns and villages of Kerala

Updated - June 10, 2019 03:01 pm IST

Published - June 06, 2019 05:03 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

A still from Ea. Ma. Yau

A still from Ea. Ma. Yau

Even as Faluknama Das , the Telugu remake of Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Angamaly Diaries , celebrates the Telangana dialect, for some time now, Malayalam cinema has been moving into small towns to great success. Angamaly Diaries was all about Angamaly, a small town in Ernakulam district that has its own sub-culture when it comes to food, dialect and lifestyle.

Stories set in small towns and villages are now making waves in Mollywood. In fact, some of the recent critically-acclaimed hits had glocal stories: local stories with a global appeal. Woven into the warp and weft of the region in which the story is located, the films delineate a theme that has minute details meticulously captured in every thread of the tale.

Appani Ravi in Angamaly Diaries

Appani Ravi in Angamaly Diaries

Kumbalangi Nights , the big hit of 2019, for instance, based the narrative in a small coastal village about seven kilometres from Kochi. The dialect, the characters and the subject were rooted in the soil of Kumbalangi and its people. To soak in the ambience of the place, director Madhu Narayanan stayed in the village till the day the shooting began. For an authentic feel, some of the characters were also played by locals. The cottage industries there, the tourism angles and the occupation of the residents in the island were an intrinsic part of the film. The result was a heart-warming film that tugged at the heartstrings of every viewer.

Prior to Kumbalangi Nights , there was the much-appreciated Ente Ummante Peru , which hardly moved out of Thalassery and its vicinity till the denouement in the second half when the protagonist travels to Lucknow. Every line spoken in the movie directed by Jose Sebastian resonated with the life and culture of Thalassery and its surrounding areas.

Lijo Jose Pellissery

Lijo Jose Pellissery

It was the same with the critically-acclaimed Ee. Ma.Yau in 2018, directed by Lijo. The entire film unfolded in Chellanam, a small village about 12 kilometres from Kochi, with its own dialect and micro local culture.

Last year, B Ajithkumar’s Eeda and Zakariya’s Sudani from Nigeria too had at their core a specific region and highlighted the local landscape there; in the films, the location was as much a character as the actors. Instead of travelling to famous hill stations, parks, and gardens to shoot a few scenes or songs, entire films are often shot in one village or district. Director of cinematography and filmmaker Rajeev Ravi was among the first in Mollywood to make such movies.

A still from Sudani from Nigeria

A still from Sudani from Nigeria

Right from his first film Annayum Rasoolum (2013), which highlighted the living spaces of Mattancherry and Vypeen in Kochi to the upcoming Thuramugham , all his works had deep roots in the region in which the story was set. If his second film, Njan Steve Lopez, focussed on the lives of a community hailing from the coastal belt in the capital city, with its specific lifestyle, Kammattipaadam was, in effect, situated in Kochi’s past and present.

In 2016 came Maheshinte Prathikaram , a gem of a film that marked the arrival of Dileesh Pothan as a film director. It was nothing less than a love letter to the charm of Idukki with an ode to the district penned by Rafeeq Ahamed and composed by Bijibal.

Syam Pushkaran, the writer and scenarist of Maheshinte Prathikaram and Kumbalangi Nights and co-director and dialogue writer of Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum , says it is a story-teller’s way of narrating an absorbing story that decides where it would be located. “ Maheshinte Prathikaram, for instance, was based on a real story I had heard in my hometown in Thuravoor in Alappuzha. It had happened years ago. So, for a better feel to the movie, we decided to move it to Idukki,” he says.

Syam Pushkaran

Syam Pushkaran

Syam lived in Idukki for some time to observe the lives of people in the high ranges. “The conversations in the little tea shops, shanties, the locals’ concerns, their daily issues... it was important to get all of it right since I did not know much about the place. The film was shot in Prakash City in Idukki,” he says.

The writer agrees that such films might struggle to make a mark as the dialect might be difficult to comprehend for even those living in Kerala. He points out that commercially, it might be easier to make a film that is dialect- and locality-neutral. However, obviously, there are filmmakers keen on taking the path less travelled.

Rajeev Ravi

Rajeev Ravi

All eyes are now on Moothon , Geethu Mohandas’ first feature film in Malayalam, a major portion of which has been shot in Lakshadweep.

“What is wonderful about Kerala is that there is so much of geographical diversity despite its small size. As a result, most of the places, ranging from the coastal belt from north to south and the high ranges, have their own dialect and way of life. Moreover, even when we talk about the coastal belt, the dialect, food and lifestyle of Malayalis living in Kasaragod, for instance, is quite different from coastal villagers in Alappuzha or Thiruvananthapuram,” says Sangeeta, an indie filmmaker.

Celebrating diversity indeed!

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