2018: The year that debutant writers and directors made a strong impression in Malayalam cinema
We take a look at 15 newcomers in the industry whose works received deserved recognition
2018 was a good time for debutant writers and directors in the Malayalam film industry. Given the impressive array of work produced by them this year — not all of them successful at the box office — more newcomers are expected to appear in the coming year too. Among these are both self-taught and film school-trained filmmakers who dared to take the road less travelled. Most of them were fortunate enough to work with some of the biggest names in the industry.
Zakariya, Muhsin Parari
Zakariya and Muhsin penned the most successful film of the year, Sudani from Nigeria. The two friends managed to strike a chord with many audiences with their simple, genuine, and poignant screenplay. The film proved that you don’t need melodrama or sad music to conjure up a myriad of emotions. Muhsin made his directorial debut in 2015 with KL 10 Pathu. 2019 will see the two collaborating once again, in a writing capacity, for director Aashiq Abu’s much-anticipated Virus — based on the Nipah outbreak — and Kakka 921 helmed by Muhsin.
Jose Sebastian, Sarath R Nath
Like Zakariya and Muhsin, Jose Sebastian and Sarath R Nath (top pic) proved themselves to be two writers who have a strong grasp on human emotions with their debut film, Ente Ummante Peru. Starring Tovino Thomas and Urvashi in the principal roles, the film, directed by Jose Sebastian, came out a week ago and continues to draw audiences in both Kerala and other states due to the positive word-of-mouth.
After working as an associate director on several films, including a few with Lijo Jose Pellissery, Tinu Pappachan made his directorial debut with the pulse-pounding, electrically charged prison break thriller, Swathandryam Ardharathriyil. The film was backed by Lijo Jose Pellissery, and judging from Tinu Pappachan’s deft direction, it is evident that he put to good use all the lessons he got from his mentor. Tinu will be part of Lijo’s upcoming directorial, Jallikettu, which is among 2019’s most anticipated films.
Undoubtedly the most daring filmmaker in the list, Prasobh Vijayan wrote and directed Lilli, a first-of-its-kind kidnapping drama that didn’t make any compromises in the violence and gore department. Comparisons were naturally made to Korean thrillers, which are known for their unflinching approach to bloodshed. However, a large percentage of Malayali audiences chose not to watch the film in theatres. In addition to showing how much he is capable of doing with a minuscule budget, Prasobh also showed his remarkable ability to get the best out of his actors (Samyuktha Menon, Kanan Nayar, Dhanesh Anand, Aaryan Krishna Menon, and Sajin Cherukayil). The 90-minute film, which was backed by E4 Experiments (an offshoot of E4 Entertainment), is currently streaming on Netflix.
His directorial debut Ranam didn't create much of an impact at the box office -- the film was pulled from multiplexes after just a two-week run. Aided by Bhutanese cinematographer Jigme Tenzing, Nirmal created a visually striking gangster drama that, if given more support and resources, could've perhaps turned into something bigger and better.
Apart from Ranam, Nirmal also had another film in 2018, Hey Jude, directed by Shyamaprasad, and starring Nivin Pauly (as a youngster suffering from Asperger's Syndrome) and Trisha. The film's emotionally rewarding screenplay had a significant contribution from Nirmal.
Another promising filmmaker in the list is Fellini TP, whose Theevandi tasted unexpected success at the box office. A political satire that evoked the earlier films of Sathyan Anthikad, especially Sandesham, the film was released right after the floods and dealt with a couple of social issues in a light-hearted manner. The script was written by Vini Viswa Lal.
One of the best comedies of this year, Padayottam was directed by newcomer Rafeek Ibrahim. Before making his directorial debut, Rafeek had honed his skills on films like Captain, Anuraga Karikkin Vellam, and Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu. It was while working on Anuraga... that he first came across the script of Padayottam. Biju Menon, who played the lead character in Anuraga..., was cast in Padayottam.
In his directorial debut Maradona, Vishnu Narayan not only displayed his ability to juggle multiple genres but also maintain a good balance between each. The strongly layered romantic thriller presented Tovino Thomas with one of the strongest roles of his career — that of an emotionally conflicted thug in search of redemption. Like some of the other filmmakers mentioned in this list, Vishnu also proved adept at handling newcomers. Before foraying into direction, Vishnu Narayan had worked as an associate of directors Aashiq Abu, Dileesh Pothan, and Sameer Thahir.
A policeman-cum-scriptwriter, Shahir Kabir’s thought-provoking screenplay of M Padmakumar’s Joseph had audiences wondering, as they left the theatre, if the situations depicted in the film are based on true events. The film’s strong character development and nuanced writing made one thing clear: Shahi is here to stay.
Suhas and Sharfu wrote Varathan, which saw director Amal Neerad operating at his best. Combine that with the stupendous performances from Fahadh Faasil, Aishwarya Lekshmi, Sharaf U Dheen and the supporting cast, and what you get is a thoroughly gripping thriller. Though their story bears some similarities to the Dustin Hoffman-starrer Straw Dogs, one can’t deny the fact that Suhas and Sharfu carry enough talent to do something fresh and exciting with pre-existing ideas.
Through Prajesh Sen's directorial debut Captain -- based on the life of former Indian football team captain VP Sathyan -- we got to witness one of Jayasurya's haunting and powerfully affecting performances. Prajesh handled the subject with the skill of a veteran. I can't wait to see what he makes next.
His overblown marketing strategies and false promises may have irked many, but if Odiyan proved one thing, it’s that for a first-timer, Shrikumar Menon is not such a bad filmmaker. (Let’s face it: Barring some of the tried-and-tested tropes and old-fashioned melodrama, Odiyan is not really as terrible as it’s made out to be on social media.) The former adman knows how to stage stunning set-pieces (though not always coherent).
An adman-turned-filmmaker, Rathish Ambat effortlessly took charge of a massive canvas in his directorial debut Kammara Sambhavam — a combination of epic filmmaking and dark satire. Though not many got the satire part (which needed additional polish), it’s a commendable effort nevertheless. In fact, discussions on the film have once again begun on social media after its television premiere recently.