Malayalam cinema

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Malayalam cinema
Iffk 2011 DSCN4617-crop.jpg
Kairali and Sree Cinemas in Thiruvananthapuram
No. of screens1100 single-screens in Kerala state of India[1]
Main distributorsAashirvad Cinemas
Maxlab Cinemas and Entertainments
Mulakuppadam Films
LJ Films
Friday Film House
Galaxy Films

Malayalam cinema is the segment of Indian cinema based in the southern Indian state of Kerala, dedicated to the production of motion pictures in the Malayalam language. The first production house in Kerala Chitranjali Studio is based in Thiruvananthapuram.[2] Balan is the first Malayalam talkie directed by S. Nottani, produced in 1938.[3] Aesthetic works such as Marana Simhasanam and Vanaprastham were screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival.[4][5] Marana Simhasanam garnered the coveted Caméra d'Or ("Golden Camera") for that year.[6][7][8]

In 1982, Elippathayam won the Sutherland Trophy at the London Film Festival, and Most Original Imaginative Film of 1982 by the British Film Institute. Rajiv Anchal's Guru (1997) and Salim Ahamed's Adaminte Makan Abu (2011) were Malayalam films sent by India as its official entries for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Academy Awards. Adoor Gopalakrishnan has won the International Film Critics Prize (FIPRESCI) for his works such as Mukhamukham (1984), Anantaram (1987), Mathilukal (1989), Vidheyan (1993), Kathapurushan (1995), and Nizhalkkuthu (2002).[9]

Malayalam cinema is known for works such as Chemmeen (1965), which received a Certificate of Merit at the Chicago International Film Festival, and a Gold Medal at the Cannes Film Festival for Best Cinematography.[10] Piravi (1989) won at least 31 international honours, including the Caméra d'Or – Mention Spéciale at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, and was screened at the Un Certain Regard.[5][11] Swaham (1994) won the Bronze Rosa Camuna at the Bergamo Film Meeting in Italy.[5][6][7][8]


A still from the film Vigathakumaran

Active Malayalam film production did not take place until the second half of the 20th century: there were only two silent films, and three Malayalam-language films before 1947.[12][13] With support from the Kerala state government production climbed from around 6 a year in the 1950s, to 30 a year in the 1960s, 40 a year in the 1970s, to 127 films in 1980.[12]

The first cinema hall in Kerala, with a manually operated film projector, was opened in Thrissur by Jose Kattookkaran in 1907. In 1913, the first permanent theatre in Kerala was established in Thrissur town by Kattookkaran and was called the Jose Electrical Bioscope, now Jos Theatre.[14][15][16]

The first film made in Malayalam was Vigathakumaran. Production started in 1928, and it was released at the Capitol Theatre in Thiruvananthapuram on 23 October 1930. It was produced and directed by J. C. Daniel, a businessman with no prior film experience, who is credited as the father of Malayalam cinema.[17] Daniel founded the first film studio, The Travancore National Pictures Limited, in Kerala.[17] A second film, Marthanda Varma, based on a novel by C. V. Raman Pillai, was produced by R. Sundar Raj in 1933. However, after only being shown for four days, the film prints were confiscated due to a legal battle over copyright.[17]

In 1947, Kunchacko established Udaya Studio in Pathirappally, Alappuzha. In his early days, Kunchacko produced films under the banner of K & K Productions, with the partnership of K. V. Koshy. The company produced 4 films: Vellinakshatram, Nalla Thanka, Jeevithanauka and Visappinte Vili. Jeevithanauka (1951), starring Thikkurissy Sukumaran Nair ran for 250 days. During the making of the film Achchan, Kunchacko and Koshy parted ways and each started film-making under separate banners: Kunchacko under Udaya and Koshi under Filmco.[18]

New Wave Cinema[edit]

Malayalam cinema has always taken its themes from relevant social issues and has been interwoven with material from literature, drama, and politics since its inception. One such film, Jeevitha Nouka (1951), was a musical drama which spoke about the problems in a joint family. In 1954, the film Neelakuyil captured national interest by winning the President's silver medal.[19] It was scripted by the well-known Malayalam novelist Uroob, and directed by P. Bhaskaran and Ramu Kariat.

Newspaper Boy (1955) contained elements of Italian neorealism. This film is notable as the product of a group of amateur college filmmakers. It told the story of a printing press employee and his family being stricken with extreme poverty.[20] The 70s saw the emergence of a new wave of cinema in Malayalam. The growth of the film society movement in Kerala introduced the works of the French and Italian New Wave directors to the discerning Malayali film enthusiasts. Adoor Gopalakrishnan's first film, Swayamvaram (1972), brought Malayalam cinema to the international film arena. In 1973 M. T. Vasudevan Nair, who was by then recognized as an important author in Malayalam, directed his first film, Nirmalyam, which won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film.

G. Aravindan followed Adoor's lead with his Uttarayanam in 1974. K. P. Kumaran's Adhithi (1974) was another film which was acclaimed by the critics. Cinematographers who won the National Award for their work on Malayalam films in the 1970s were Mankada Ravi Varma for Swayamvaram (1972), P. S. Nivas for Mohiniyattam (1977), and Shaji N. Karun for Thampu (1979). John Abraham, K. R. Mohanan, K. G. George, and G. S. Panikkar were products of the Pune Film Institute. The 1970s also saw the emergence of the notable director P. G. Viswambharan with his debut film Ozhukinethire and mythical film Sathyavan Savithri, which was well accepted.

Also, commercial cinema in this period saw several worker-class themed films which mostly had M. G. Soman, Sukumaran and Sudheer in the lead followed by the emergence of a new genre of pure action-themed films, in a movement led by action star Jayan who is usually considered the first genuine commercial superstar of Malayalam cinema. However, this was short-lived, and almost ended with Jayan's untimely death while performing a stunt in Kolilakkam (1980).

Modern Era[edit]

The Malayalam cinema of this period was characterised by detailed screenplays dealing with everyday life with a lucid narration of plot intermingling with humour and melancholy. This was aided by the cinematography and lighting. The films had warm background music. In 1981 Fazil directed Manjil Virinja Pookal the film also introduced superstar Mohanlal to the world. K. G. George released films including Yavanika (1982), and Adaminte Vaariyellu (1984).

This was the period during which script writer M. T. Vasudevan Nair started teaming up with director Hariharan to produce works like Panchagni, Nakhakshathangal, Aranyakam and Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha. John Abraham's films such as Amma Ariyaan addressed people's issues and raised the finance directly from people.[21][22][23] The period had movies with humour from directors like Priyadarshan, Sathyan Anthikkad, Kamal and Siddique-Lal. Piravi (1989) by Shaji N. Karun was the first Malayalam film to win the Caméra d'Or-Mention at the Cannes Film Festival.[5]

Swaham (1994), directed by Shaji N. Karun, was the first Malayalam film entry for the competition in the Cannes International Film Festival, where it was a nominee for the Palme d'Or. Murali Nair's Marana Simhasanam later won the Caméra d'Or at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival.[4] Guru (1997), directed by Rajiv Anchal, was chosen as India's official entry to the Oscars to be considered for nomination in the Best Foreign Film category for that year, making it the first film in Malayalam to be chosen for Oscar nomination.[24][25][26]

Mainstream cinema[edit]

Athirappilly Falls has been a popular filming destination
Parvathy Thiruvothu received the IFFI Best Actor Award (Female) for her performance in Take Off

The millennium started with Shaji Kailas's sleeper hit Narasimham. In 2001 came the world's first film with only one actor in the cast, The Guard. Slapstick comedy was the predominant theme of the films of this era. C.I.D. Moosa (2003) by Johny Antony, Meesa Madhavan (2002) by Lal Jose and Kunjikoonan (2002) directed by Sasi Shanker are examples. Sequels to a number of successful films were made. Some movies were examples of exemplary film making, such as Meghamalhar, Madhuranombarakaattu, Nandanam, Perumazhakkalam, and Kazhcha. In 2008, Malayalam movie artists came together in the multistar film Twenty:20 to raise funds for the AMMA.[27]

After several years of quality and box office decline, Malayalam films saw the signs of massive resurgence after 2010[28] with the release of several experimental New generation films.[29] mostly from new directors. New generation is characterised by fresh and unusual themes and new narrative techniques.[28][30] These films differ from conventional themes of the past two decades (1990s and 2000s) and have introduced several new trends to the Malayalam industry.[31] While the new generation's formats and styles are deeply influenced by global and Indian trends, their themes are firmly rooted in Malayali life and mindscapes.[32] The new generation also helped the Malayalam film industry regain its past glory.[33]

Christian Brothers (2011) was released worldwide with a total of 310 prints on 18 March; it went to 154 centres in Kerala, 90 centres outside Kerala and 80 centres overseas, making it the widest release for a Malayalam film at that time. This record was later broken by Peruchazhi (2014), which released in 500 screens worldwide on 29 August.[34] Drishyam (2013) became the first Malayalam film to cross the 500 million mark at the box office. The film was critically acclaimed and was remade in four languages.[35] Later, in 2016, Pulimurugan became the first Malayalam film to cross the 1 billion mark at the box office.[36]

Political thriller Lucifer starring Mohanlal and Prithviraj Sukumaran was released in theatres worldwide on 28 March 2019. The film performed well at the box office. It crossed the 50 crore mark in four days, 100 crore mark in eight days,[37][38] and the 150 crore mark in 21 days, becoming the fastest Malayalam film to reach all three milestones. Lucifer is currently the highest-grossing Malayalam film ever.[39] In recent years, Malayalam films have been gaining popularity in Sri Lanka.[40] Fans have cited cultural similarities shared between Sinhalese people and Malayalis as a reason why they have been gaining popularity in the country.[40]

Innovative cinema[edit]

Malayalam screen has been known for its technical finesse, and gritty realism.[41] Newspaper Boy (1955), a neorealistic film, drew inspiration from Italian neorealism.[42][41] Film Maker Pradeep Nair made a 24-minute documentary film titled Oru Neorealistic Swapnam (A Neorealistic Dream), which detailed the making of Newspaper Boy. The film was produced by V. S. Rajesh with credit from the Public Relations Department of Government of Kerala, and was conceived for Film Buff.[43][44] The film's screenplay was published as a book by DC Books in July 2008. Noted screenwriter John Paul edited the book. The book consists of the script (rewritten by P. Ramdas since the original screenplay was lost), the original story, the songbook, reviews and memoirs.[45]

The first 3D film produced in India, My Dear Kuttichathan (1984), was made in Malayalam.[46] The first CinemaScope film produced in India was Thacholi Ambu (1978).[42] Padayottam (1982) was India's first indigenously produced 70 mm film,[47] while [46] O' Faby (1993) was India's first live-action/animation hybrid film.[48] Amma Ariyan (1986) was the first film made in India through crowd funding. It was produced by Odessa Collective, founded by the director John Abraham and friends. The money was raised by collecting donations and screening Charlie Chaplin's film The Kid.[49]

Moonnamathoral (2006) was the first Indian film to be shot and distributed in digital format.[50] Jalachhayam (2010) was the world first feature film shot entirely on a cell phone camera[51] and it was also an experimental film directed by Sathish Kalathil who is the director of Veena Vaadanam, the first documentary film in India shot with the same movie capture medium. Villain (2017) is the first Indian film to be shot entirely in 8K resolution.[52] The first Medical themed film in India Virus, is based on the 2018 Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala, the film was written by Muhsin Parari, Sharfu, and Suhas. The box-office hit stars an ensemble cast.[53][54] Naturalistic film Jallikattu received Best Director trophy at the 50th International Film Festival of India.[55]

Cast and Crew[edit]

veteran cinematographer Santosh Sivan

Malayalam cinema's directors have included J. C. Daniel, the director and producer of the first Malayalam film, Vigathakumaran (1928). Unlike other Indian films at that time, most of which were based on the puranas, he chose to base his film on a social theme.[56] Though it failed commercially, he paved the way for the Malayalam film industry and is widely considered the "father of Malayalam cinema". Until the 1950s, Malayalam film didn't see many talented film directors. The milestone film Neelakkuyil (1954), directed by Ramu Karyat and P. Bhaskaran, shed a lot of limelight over its directors.[41] Ramu Karyat went on to become a celebrated director in the 1960s and 1970s. P. Bhaskaran directed a few acclaimed films in the 1960s. The cameraman of Neelakkuyil, A. Vincent, also became a noted director of the 1960s and 1970s.[57] Another noted director of the 1950s was P. Ramadas, the director of the neorealistic film Newspaper Boy (1955).

In the 1970s, the Malayalam film industry saw the rise of film societies. It triggered a new genre of films known as "parallel cinema". The main driving forces of the movement, who gave priority to serious cinema, were Adoor Gopalakrishnan and G. Aravindan. People like John Abraham and P. A. Backer gave a new dimension to Malayalam cinema through their political themes. The late 1970s witnessed the emergence of another stream of Malayalam films, known as "middle-stream cinema", which seamlessly integrated the seriousness of the parallel cinema and the popularity of the mainstream cinema. Most of the films belonging to this stream were directed by PN Menon, I. V. Sasi, P. G. Viswambharan, K. G. George, Bharathan and Padmarajan.[58]

Film Score[edit]

K. J. Yesudas with poet and lyricist O. N. V. Kurup

Film music, which refers to playback singing in the context of Indian music, forms the most important canon of popular music in India. The film music of Kerala in particular is the most popular form of music in the state.[59] Before Malayalam cinema and Malayalam film music developed, the Keralites eagerly followed Tamil and Hindi film songs, and that habit has stayed with them until now. The history of Malayalam film songs begins with the 1948 film Nirmala which was produced by artist P.J. Cherian who introduced play-back singing for the first time in the film. The film's music composer was P. S. Divakar, and the songs were sung by P. Leela, T. K. Govinda Rao, Vasudeva Kurup, C. K. Raghavan, Sarojini Menon and Vimala B. Varma, who is credited as the first playback singer of Malayalam cinema.[60]

K. J. Yesudas, who debuted in 1961, virtually revolutionised the Malayalam film music industry and became the most popular Malayalam singer ever along with K.S. Chitra. The trio of Vayalar, G. Devarajan and Yesudas also made unforgettable songs like the earlier trio of Kamukara, Tirunainaarkurichy and Brother Laxmanan. Yesudas became equally popular with classical music audience and people who patronised film music.[61] He along with P. Jayachandran gave a major face-lift to Malayalam playback singing in the 1960s and 1970s. K. S. Chithra debuted in 1979, and by the mid-eighties, she became the most sought after female singer in South India.

The National Award-winning music composers of Malayalam cinema are Johnson (1994, 1995), Bombay Ravi (1995), Ouseppachan (2008), Ilaiyaraaja (2010), Issac Thomas Kottukapally (2011), Bijibal (2012) and M. Jayachandran (2016). Until 2009, the 1995 National Award that Johnson received for the film score of Sukrutham (1994) was the only instance in the history of the award in which the awardee composed the film soundtrack rather than its songs. He shared that award with Bombay Ravi, who received the award for composing songs for the same film. In 2010 and 2011, the awards given to film scores were won by Malayalam films: Pazhassi Raja (2010; score: Ilaiyaraaja) and Adaminte Makan Abu (2011; score: Issak Thomas Kottakapally). Ravindran also received a Special Jury Award in 1992 for composing songs for the film Bharatham.

The lyricists who have won the National Award are Vayalar Ramavarma (1973), O. N. V. Kurup (1989) and Yusuf Ali Kechery (2001). The male singers who have received the National Award are K. J. Yesudas (1973, 1974, 1988, 1992, 1994, 2017), P. Jayachandran (1986) and M. G. Sreekumar (1991, 2000).The female singers who won the National Filim Award for best female playback singer were S. Janaki (1980) K. S. Chithra (1986,1988).

Kerala State Film Awards[edit]

The Kerala State Film Awards[62] are given to motion pictures made in the Malayalam language. The awards have been bestowed by Kerala State Chalachitra Academy[63] since 1998 on behalf of the Department of Cultural Affairs of the Government of Kerala. The awards were started in 1969. The awardees are decided by an independent jury formed by the academy and the Department of Cultural Affairs. The jury usually consists of personalities from the film field. For the awards for literature on cinema a separate jury is formed. The academy annually invites films for the award and the jury analyses the films before deciding the winners. The awards intend to promote films with artistic values and encourage artists and technicians.

International Film Festival of Kerala[edit]

The International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) is held annually in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of Kerala. It was started in 1996 and is organised by Kerala State Chalachitra Academy on behalf of the Department of Cultural Affairs of the State Government. It is held in November/December every year and is acknowledged as one of the leading film festivals in India.[64]

Film studios[edit]

The Travancore National Pictures[65] was the first film studio in Kerala. It was established by J. C. Daniel in 1926 in Thiruvananthapuram,[66] which was then a part of Travancore. Producer-director Kunchacko and film distributor K. V. Koshy established Udaya Studios in Alappuzha in 1947.[67] The studio influenced the gradual shift of Malayalam film industry from its original base of Madras, Tamil Nadu to Kerala. In 1951, P. Subramaniam[68] established Merryland Studio in Nemom, Thiruvananthapuram. The other major studios are Sreekrishna (1952, Kulathoor), Ajantha[69] (1958, Keezhmadu – now extinct), Chithralekha[70] (1965, Aakkulam), Uma Studio[71] (1975, Vellakkadavu), Navodaya[72] (1978, Thrikkakkara) and Chithranjali[72] (1980, Thiruvallam).


The Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA)[73] is an organisation formed by artists of Malayalam cinema. It aims to act against piracy, to safeguard the interests of member actors and actresses, and to serve as a common forum to raise concerns and address issues. The activities of AMMA include endowments, insurance schemes, and committees on wages and benefits on revision, funds for research, pensions, and education loans for the children of the members. The organisation ventured into film production in 2008 with Twenty:20 to raise funds for its activities.[74]

Organizations such as Kerala Film Producers Association, Kerala Film Distributors Association, Kerala Cine Exhibitors Federation, Hyperlink Film Club and Kerala Film Exhibitors Association have coordinated work stoppages.[75]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]