The 25 best Malayalam films of the decade: ‘Premam’, ‘Maheshinte Prathikaram’, ‘Kumbalangi Nights’ and more

In decade that rejuvenated Malayalam cinema, we take a look at the films that stood out from every year of the 2010s

Updated - December 19, 2019 06:33 pm IST

Published - December 19, 2019 06:26 pm IST

A still from 'Annayum Rasoolum'

A still from 'Annayum Rasoolum'

​Over the last ten years, changes in content, narrative and characters of Malayalam cinema gave it a facelift, invigorating an industry that is now perhaps the best in India if one were to go by themes, treatment and characterisation. Here is a list of 25 memorable films of the decade, from 2010 to 2019. Instead of going only by critically acclaimed flicks or box-office hits, the attempt has been to zero in on films that became a trendsetter or introduced a new narrative in Mollywood.

2010

1. Ranjith’s Mammootty-starrer Pranchiyettan and the Saint, a satire, remains a popular watch even today. Among notable releases that year were Sufi Paranja Katha, Kutty Srank and Elsamma Enna Aankutty.

A still from Pranchiyettan and the Saint

A still from Pranchiyettan and the Saint

2011

2. The late Rajesh Pillai’s gripping Traffic, scripted by brothers Bobby and Sanjay, came as a shot in the arm for the Malayalam film industry. With an ensemble cast and a layered story set in contemporary Kerala, Traffic followed an ambulance that travels from Kochi to Palakkad with a heart for transplantation.

Front runners

If Santhosh Sivan’s extravaganza Urumi pushed the envelope in storytelling, Aashiq Abu’s Salt N’ Pepper made food a hot-seller in cinema . Madhav Ramdasan’s tautly made Melvilasam, with Suresh Gopi and Parthiban, exposed the ugly aspects of caste in the armed forces.

2012

3. The film of the year has to be Aashiq Abu’s 22 Female Kottayam, with Rima Kallingal in the lead role of a rape survivor who takes revenge on her tormentors.

A still from ‘22 Female Kottayam’

A still from ‘22 Female Kottayam’

Front runners

2012 marked the arrival of Anjali Menon as director ( Manjadikuru ) and scriptwriter ( Ustad Hotel ). Madhupal’s Ozhimuri and Ranjith Shankar’s Molly Aunty Rocks introduced two memorable heroines that broke the mould of conventional leading ladies in Mollywood. Lal Jose’s Ayalum Njanum Thammil, starring Prithviraj, wooed viewers and critics.

2013

4. Mohanlal’s Drishyam , directed by Jeethu Joseph, was remade in several languages and the slick thriller established a new box-office record for Malayalam cinema.

A still from Drishyam

A still from Drishyam

5. The year began well with cinematographer Rajeev Ravi’s début as a director, Annayum Rasoolum . Anna and Rasool fall in love and their tragic love story pulls at the heartstrings as they try to overcome barriers of religion and class.

6. Rosshan Andrrews bounced back with the hard-hitting Mumbai Police, one of the first films in Malayalam to address homosexuality.

7. Lijo Jose Pellissery tasted box-office success with his lyrical fantasy, Amen, starring Fahadh Faasil in the lead.

Front runners

Both Joy Mathew and Alphonse Puthren also came good with their directorial début with Shutter and Neram respectively, while Shyamaprasad’s Artist swept the awards. Dulquer Salmaan in Neelakasham Pachakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi opened up new horizons for wannabe travellers.

2014

8. The feisty rom-com Bangalore Days , directed by Anjali Menon, heralded a new era in Mollywood. Nazriya Nazim became the sweetheart of Malayalam film viewers.

A still from Bangalore Days

A still from Bangalore Days

9. In the midst of many hit films, superstar Mammootty proved why he is a class apart with an unforgettable performance as an enigmatic prisoner with a mysterious past in Venu’s Munnariyippu .

Front runners

Manju Warrier marked her comeback to cinema with How Old Are You? While Nivin Pauly showcased his acting chops in 1983 and Ohm Shanthi Oshaana , Fahadh showed that he was comfortable in an action thriller too with Amal Neerad’s Iyobinte Pusthakam .

2015

10. Alphonse Puthran’s Premam conquered the box office, changed fashion trends, introduced new narratives and song-making.

Nivin Pauly in Premam

Nivin Pauly in Premam

11. Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s dark OruOzhivudivasathe Kali on the politics of caste revealed the malevolence that lurks beneath the bonhomie among four men.

Front runners

Ennu Ninte Moideen , a poignant love story based on a real-life romance, directed by RS Vimal, struck gold at the marquee.

Rani Padmini,Charlie, Salim Ahamed’s heart-rending Pathemari and Dr. Biju’s Perariyyathavar were the other notable releases of the year.

2016

12. A revenge saga that Mollywood had never seen before won over viewers and critics with its simplicity. Fahadh-starrer Maheshinte Prathikaram , written by Syam Pushkaran and directed by Dileesh Pothan and backed by a cast of extraordinarily talented actors, was the toast of filmdom.

A still from Maheshinte Pratikaram

A still from Maheshinte Pratikaram

13. Rajeev’s Kammatipaadam, a no-holds-barred narrative, explores the lives of those marginalised by Kochi’s relentless urbanisation and exposes the underbelly of real estate dealings.

Front runners

Sameer Thahir’s Kali was a relationship drama that centred on Dulquer’s character Siddarth’s inability in controlling his rage.

Vidhu Vincent entered the record books with her début film, Manhole , when she became the first woman director to win the Kerala State film award for the best director.

2017

14. Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, scripted by Sajeev Pazhoor, proved that Dileesh’s success as a director was not a flash in the pan. A sparkling performance by Nimisha Sajayan announced her arrival as an actor.

15. Lijo’s Angamaly Diaries was as much a coming-of-age, turf war film as it was about food that made you want to, well, hog the fries and curries on screen.

A still from ‘Angamaly Diaries’

A still from ‘Angamaly Diaries’

16. Mahesh Narayanan’s Take Off , based on a real-life incident when Indian nurses were evacuated from battle-hit Tikrit in Iraq, was an eloquent demonstration of how far Mollywood had come in scripting and visualising a story.

17. A bitter-sweet love story with Tovino Thomas and Aishwarya Lekshmi, Aashiq Abu’s Mayaanadhi became a much-discussed and watched film for the way it tackled sexuality, love and ambition.

A still from Mayanadhi

A still from Mayanadhi

Front runners

Soubin Shahir turned director with Parava while Basil Joseph’s Godha packed a punch with its story of a woman wrestler. Ranjan Pramod’s Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu with Biju Menon, was a small film with a big message that talked about the vanishing playgrounds in Kerala.

2018

18. Sudani from Nigeria , written and directed by Zakariya Mohammed, is this heart-warming movie about football and friendship, a paean to Malabar. Realistic portrayal of people and the place make it a classic film for all times.

A still from ‘Sudani from Nigeria’

A still from ‘Sudani from Nigeria’

19. Ee. Ma. Yau. is all about death and dying. Handled with a light touch, Lijo manages to show us the big picture with a story set in a small village. A son struggles to give his father the funeral he always wanted but when things do not go the way the son had planned, he takes things into his own hands.

A still from ‘Ee.Ma.Yau.’

A still from ‘Ee.Ma.Yau.’

Front runners

Film editor B Ajithkumar made his début as director with Eeda. The film on the political blood-letting in Kannur hinges on a romance between two youngsters from families on opposite sides of the political divide. Ranjith Shankar’s sensitive Njan Markykutty with Jayasurya playing a transperson became a talking point.

2019

20. Unda , helmed by Khalid Rahman, has Mammootty bang on target as middle-aged policeman Manikandan C P who is sent on election duty to Bastar in Chhattisgarh. Without any melodrama, the director unfolds a sensitive story laced with humour about the contradictions and setbacks the police team has to confront.

A still from Unda

A still from Unda

21. A water buffalo meant to be butchered escapes and goes on the rampage with an entire village close on its heels. Jallikattu , a masterpiece from Lijo, is an adrenaline rush that tells a story with hardly any dialogues. The entire exercise leaves one wondering if there is any difference between man and beast.

22. In Kumbalangi Nights , director Madhu C Narayanan and scenarist Syam Pushkaran come up with a surreal tale that questions the toxic masculinity shown on our screens. It is the men with flaws, insecurities and dashed dreams who are the true heroes while the women are some of the strongest, independent characters in Mollywood.

A still from ‘Kumbalangi Nights’

A still from ‘Kumbalangi Nights’

23. Produced by three sisters, Uyare , directed by Manu Ashokan soared high with Parvathy playing a survivor of an acid attack who refuses to let her dreams come crashing down. It also zoomed in on the ripple effect of toxic relationships.

24. Geetu Mohandas’ Moothon , a dark film about identity, marginalisation and exploitation, also gave Nivin and Roshan Mathew the opportunity to delineate a tender love story never seen before on screen.

A still from Moothon

A still from Moothon

25. Aashiq Abu’s Virus was based on the Nipah scare in 2018. Without being shrill and strident, the medical thriller, with a huge set of characters, narrated how a dedicated team of people from different walks of life worked together to identify and isolate the virus.

A still from Virus

A still from Virus

Front runners

Sanal’s disturbing take on politics of gender and society, Chola has riveting performances by Nimisha and Joju George. Closely reflecting certain unfortunate events in Kerala, the film raises uncomfortable questions about how society perceives men and women.

A still from Chola

A still from Chola

Mathukutty Xavier’s Helen may not have the greatest script but Anna Ben holds the film together with her gritty performance as an independent young woman with her never-say-die attitude.

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