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December 7, 1998


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All is not lost...

Shobha Warrier

A clip from Chinthavishtayaya Shyamala
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The question one often encounters from non-Malayalees these days is, 'What has happened to Malayalam films? They used to be so realistic and beautiful.' As someone who loves and enjoys serious, meaningful films, it disturbs me no end to see crass, senseless Malayalam films like Harikishnans and Summer in Bethlehem succeeding at the box office. Once in while, films like Chinthavishtayaya Shyamala and Deshaadanam appeared; fortunately, they were commercially successful too.

Amidst these gloomy tidings comes the news that five Malayalam films -- the largest regional component -- have been selected for the Indian Panorama section to be screened at the international film festival in Hyderabad from January 10 to 20.

A clip from Agni Sakshi
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The list of Malayalam films reveals there are still some film-makers around who believe in good cinema and make good films, even though the odds are against them. Of the 16 films selected from 8 languages, five are in Malayalam, 3 each in Bengali and Hindi and one each from Assamese, Kannada, Oriya, Punjabi and Tamil. Sadly, the jury headed by director Vijaya Mehta could not pick the required 21 films from the 65 entries submitted. And this in a country which boasts of producing the most number of films in the world! Reportedly, barring the films from Kerala, the jury felt the quality of entries was poor.

A clip from Mangamma
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Among the directors of the five Malayalam films are Hariharan (Ennu Swantham Janakikutty), a veteran of 25 years standing, and a newcomer R Shyam Prasad (Agni Sakshi). If Hariharan's 26th film was based on M T Vasudevan Nair's short story, Shyam Prasad's maiden film was based on Lalithambika Anthajanam's famous, award-winning novel of the same name. The other films include Srinivasan's Chinthavishtayaya Shyamala, T V Chandran's Mangamma and Balachandra Menon's Samatharangal.

Though Srinivasan has scripted many successful satirical films, he has directed only two films, Vadakku Nokki Yantram and Chinthavishtayaya Shyamala. His first film won him the state best director award. His second film is one of the year's biggest hits, well appreciated by the critics too.

A clip from Dil Se/Uyire
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I used to get irritated by the way some 'elite' film critics went crazy over Mani Ratnam, a film-maker whom I believe to be highly over-rated. At the same time, these critics ignore and sideline the serious efforts of a Mani Kaul or a Shaji Karun or a Girish Karnad or a Tapan Sinha or a Girish Kasaravalli. Shaji's Swaham was the only Indian film ever to be entered into the competitive section at the Cannes festival. But nobody cares about his next film Vanaprastham. The critics would prefer instead to speculate about Mani Ratnam's next venture, after his disastrous
Dil Se/Uyire.

Ever since I saw Roja, I saw Mani Ratnam as a director who commercialised sensitive issues for his personal glory. I could sense no sincerity in any of his films. For him, India's problems were just themes to strike gold. It pained me no end to see a beautiful and sensitive film like The Terrorist (by Santosh Sivan) on the anxieties and turmoil in the mind of a terrorist ignored by the media which chose instead to highlight a mediocre film interspersed with music videos. Yes, I mean Mani Ratnam's Dil Se/Uyire.

A clip from The Terrorist
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The comparison between The Terrorist and Dil Se/Uyire is inevitable as the theme of both films is the same. While I found Sivan's film genuine and sensitive, I though Ratnam's exercise fraudulent and soul-less. I am glad that Dil Se/Uyire has been rejected by the public. I am even more happy that the Indian Panorama jury rejected Dil Se/Uyire and selected The Terrorist for the Hyderabad film festival.

A clip from Jayate
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Ram Gopal Varma's Satya, Piyush Jha's Chalo America and Hansal Mehta's Jayate are the Hindi films selected for the festival,. The other films are Tapan Sinha's Ajab Gayer Ajab Katha! Satarupa Sanyal's Anu, Ashoke Viswanathan's Kichu Sanlap Kichu Pralap (all Bengali), Manoj Punj's Shaheed-E-Mohabbat Boota Singh (Punjabi), Jahnu Barua's Kuhkhal (Assamese), Bijoy Ketan Mishra's Ahahal (Oriya), Girish Kasaravalli's Thai Saheb (Kannada), and The Terrorist (Tamil).

If the fifties and sixties were the golden era of Bengali cinema, the seventies saw the ascent of Malayalam films. Great film-makers like Adoor Gopalakrishnan, G Aravindan, P A Backer, John Abraham et al began their illustrious career this decade. The parallel cinema movement in Malayalam, which started with Adoor's Swayamvaram, is almost dead now. Adoor is the only director who still refuses to compromise artistic quality to suit the marketplace. The middle cinema movement patronised by directors like Bharatan, Padmarajan, K G George subsided in the eighties itself.

Adoor Gopalakrishnan
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The nineties was the worst period in the history of Malayalam cinema with stupid and meaningless comedies hitting the theatres every week. If Mohanlal along with the grim faced Srinivasan made a few excellent comedies, the others who tried to emulate them had no idea about comedies. Nonsensical boorish scenes, ridiculous dialogues, substandard acting made for insipid and inane films.

Later, aping crude Hindi films became a fad. Colour, glamour and glitter were added to the stream of inanities. Malayalam films, which once dominated the national awards, have only got a couple of awards in recent years. The standards reached such an abysmal level that lovers of good films despaired and thought it was the end of the road for good Malayalam cinema. With the selection of these five films, it seems all is not lost after all...

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