The directorate of Film Festivals, under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting organized the 67th National Film Awards this monday in New Delhi to honour the brilliance in the Indian film fraternity (for the year 2019). While the year featured some great work from both mainstream Hindi cinema and the ever-evolving regional cinema, one industry stood out for good - The Malayalam Film Industry.
"Malayalam cinema had a rich haul at the 67th National Film Awards announced on monday, scooping up 11 awards, including the award for the best film and the best debut film." - The Hindu (dated - 23/03/21)
From bagging awards in technical categories like best special effects, cinematography, costume design and makeup to some of the leading categories like best feature film and best debut film, malayalam cinema witnessed a spectacular triumph. Some of the prominent films bejeweled with national awards included - Priyadarshan's war epic Marakkar : Lion of the Arabian Sea, based on the story of a legendary Kunjali Marakkar IV and his epic warfare against the Portuguese, starring Mohanlal (best feature film);Saajin Baabu's Biriyani, highlighting the story of a married muslim woman confined within the four walls of the household, forced to conceal her desires in the name of religious and societal norms (special mention).Mathukutty Xavier won the award for the best debut film for his survival thriller Helen, a film revolving around the disappearance of a suburban girl and her quest to survive. It is crucial to note that this is neither the first nor the only time the malayalam film space has turned heads for its critically acclaimed films.While the buzz around Lijo Jose Pellissery's independent action thriller Jallikattu (India's official entry for the best international feature film category for the 93rd Academy Awards) failed to secure a shortlisted nomination due to the lack of intense need for promotion, marketing and publicity campaigns, it sure ignited fascination for regional cinema in the sub-continent.
In a culturally diverse and multilingual country like India, the growth of regional cinema has made a positive shift in moving the spotlight from mainstream Bollywood to a much vibrant and varied production of films. Be it a Gujarati film about a social activist's trial (The Court, 2019) or an Assamese film about two chaste lovers and their ravening journey towards desire (Aamis, 2019), it is safe to say that regional cinema has find its audience. Gone are the days when Bollywood was seen as the one destination for all major commercial successes.
Spectacular hits like Bahubali, Sairat and KGF have been considered game changers in moving the masses and breaking box office records.
"As per the recent FICCI-EY report, despite comprising only 17 per cent of the films made in the country, Bollywood contributes almost 40 per cent to the net box office collections annually. Films made in almost 29 other Indian languages contribute approximately 50 per cent to the annual domestic box office collections. The balance is constituted from Hollywood and international films." - Financial Express (dated - 27/09/19)
One of the golden benefits of regional cinema is that it's not constrained to big scale, grandeur films, even small-budget, content-driven productions have been making quite a name in the film circuit. Owing to the recent introduction of streaming platforms, films in different languages (Gujarati, Assamese, Malayalam, Tamil, Bengali, Telugu etc.) have managed to enable audiences to consume quality content by bridging the lingual gap. Regional films have not only helped film enthusiasts from across the world to explore the country in a new light but has also proved monumental in educating the public about grave social and cultural issues.
It is pretty interesting to learn that out of all the regional industries, one seems to have witnessed a "new wave" with respect to artistic freedom and progressive projects.
The Malayalam Film Industry has been pumping out various creative films ranging from war epics to "small town" productions. While the remake culture of Bollywood has definitely made audiences familiar with some promising malayalam works (Drishyam, Bhool Bhulaiyaa, Hera Pheri, Julie etc.), some of the recent films like Moothon, Kumbalangi Nights and Angamaly Diaries have been widely praised by the critics and well received by the public. Naturally, a question arises - What does Malayalam Cinema get right? Why is it said to be one of the most progressive industries in the country right now?
Nature of work : The very nature and way of working is drastically different from other regional film industries. It can be noted that directors, script writers and actors have found a way of expressing complex connotations through simple, slice-of-life films focused on the mellow way of living. By shifting the focus from the chaotic surroundings to the inner workings of the characters, they highlight the nuanced depth of emotions, often reflected in the characters that live a life just like the audience, giving them something they can easily relate to. (Some films that dealt with complex human emotions through simple stories -Njan Prakashan, Premam, Thondimuthalam Driksakshiyum)
Evolution of Audience : When it comes to celebrity culture, the malayalam film industry is no exception. The audience has grown a liking for some stars and their projects. They have shown support to new celebrity ventures, which has inspired more and more producers to invest in compelling storytelling methods. One of the core reasons for this is creative liberty. From Controversial films such as Jallikattu and Moothon to films challenging the conventional domestic sphere like The Great Indian Kitchen, Malayalam films have been positively appreciated by the audience, making a progressive shift in the industry.
Finance : Because of the growing interest in regional films, it is way cost effective to produce a film now than ever. The growth of small production houses in the last decade is evidence enough to witness the glory of small budget films. These small scale productions are profitable, easier to produce and distribute. One of the crucial reasons behind this being the rise of OTT platforms in the country. (Some of the finest regional films, available on OTT platforms - Drishyam 2, Axone, Super Deluxe etc.)
Today, Cinema is no longer restricted to political, lingual or geographical barriers. It's about time we overcome our differences and appreciate the eternal beauty of our country through the lens of some brilliant filmmakers.
"Once you overcome the 1-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films." - Bong Joon Ho
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