The gap between market and aesthetics is still wide as ever, but one of the silver-linings of 2018 in Malayalam cinema is the box-office success of films such as Sudani From Nigeria and Ee Ma Yau which also won top honors at two international film festivals in the country. One of the films in the list, Sleeplessly Yours, is an indie drama made on a shoe-string budget, which didn’t have a theatrical release. This happened in a year when two of the costliest films in south India came from Malayalam film industry – Odiyan and Kayamkulam Kochunni – and both fell staggeringly short of good filmmaking or great performances.
Here is our list of eight best films from Malayalam cinema in 2018 – excluding the five films gearing up for release over the Christmas weekend, and films like Jayaraj’s Bhayanakam and low-budget drama Aa Bha Sam, both of which had a limited release.
Sudani From Nigeria
In his debut film, director Sakhariya takes no cinematic risks, but invests in a deeply humanitarian tale that gives voice to individuals from two marginalised sections. A young Nigerian refugee finds a home in a Malappuram small town, in a lower-middle class Muslim household of a local football team manager. Sakhariya turns personal into universal, and also turns the seemingly simple drama on friendship into an affecting political and social commentary of the times.
Ee Ma Yau
Lijo Jose Pellissery’s film follows a man’s death and the subsequent funeral in an impoverished coastal village. The dark and profound Ee Ma Yau makes a stark note of the class differences in the village and the indifference and callousness of the church which poses as a moral guardian to all. The film, though with rough edges aplenty, won Pellissery the Best Director award at Kerala State Film Awards as well as at the International Film Festival Of India, while the film’s lead actor, Chemban Vinod Jose won the Best Actor award. The film won honors at the recently concluded 23rd International Film Festival Of Kerala too.
There have been few films this year that possess the wild energy of Sleeplessly Yours, visually as well as in terms of the narrative. Sleeplessly Yours, a low-budget indie film directed by Gautham Soorya and Sudeep Elamon, premiered at the 23rd International Film Festival Of Kerala. Two young lovers decide to spend five nights without sleep, and by the end of it, their romantic utopia comes crashing down as sleep deprivation exhausts their body and mind. The makers are less invested in a political or social commentary, and the focus is steadily on the relationship dynamics of the neo-liberal era.
M Padmakumar’s crime-drama delves into the psyche of a retired police constable – an exceptional sleuth – whose professional and personal life collide disastrously at a point. Rather than the core criminal case of organ trafficking what makes Joseph a cut above the rest is its portrayal of the protagonist’s state of loneliness and depression. Joju George, the lead actor, delivers an exemplary performance that covers up a lot of flaws in the old-school narration style that Padmakumar opts for.
Anjali Menon ends her four year-break after Bangalore Days through Koode, which is set in her favourite terrain of familial relationships. Menon makes compassionate observations of the mental, physical and emotional bruises of a young man who had to leave home to work in the oil fields of the Middle East in his early teenage. The film stays away from a ‘conventional hero’ construct. Joshua (Prithviraj) is a victim of sexual abuse, the trauma of which leaves him meek and psychologically troubled.
Veteran editor-turned-filmmaker B Ajithkumar’s Eeda places the familiar tale of Romeo and Juliet in Kannur (a northern Kerala district), in the backdrop of the region’s long-standing political turmoil. The result is a slow-burning romantic drama that culminates on a devastating note. The two youngsters in the film, who fall in love while living in a booming commercial city far away from Kannur, find themselves caught in a war they don’t want to be a part of. Ajithkumar chooses to side with the youth who want to leave behind the politics of violence, rather than find the better among the two clashing parties.
Cinematographer-filmmaker Venu’s film, starring Fahadh Faasil in the lead role, is a semi-fantasy drama that explores the theme of materialism through a metaphorical treasure hunt. Notwithstanding a glaring lack of focus which renders the film blurry especially towards the end, Carbon is an immensely gratifying off-beat film that urges the audience to look beyond what is on screen and find new meanings. The screenplay delivers a well-rounded characterisation of its protagonist – a reckless young man who wants to make some quick money, and Venu, with the help of his cameraman KU Mohanan, succeeds in creating great atmospherics.
An uncredited adaptation of Jean Luc Godard’s Breathless, this Aashiq Abu film is a feat of good filmmaking, performances and music. The tale of a convict and his ex-flame gets a perfect make-over in the rising new metropolis of Kochi, and Abu uses the French classic’s basic plot to deal with the new questions of feminism on screen that Malayali society is grappling with. Aishwarya Lekshmi, who plays the female protagonist in the film, outperforms her male co-star Tovino Thomas, and the actors boldly take on the film industry’s reluctance in portraying on-screen physical intimacy.