Many, including me, firmly believe that the best films in India are made in Kerala.
Year after year, Malayalam cinema throws stunning surprises at us. 2022 was no exception. Here are Malayalam films, I liked:
Where to watch? Disney + Hotstar
This is probably the best adaptation of The Godfather in recent years.
Director Amal Neerad doesn't let us forget that this is his take on Francis Coppola's The Godfather. And what a take it is!
This masterly Malayali mafia movie is self-explanatory. Its muted violence is stifling.
It creates a world so tightly wound around its own heritage of successive violence that the family unit threatens to fall apart.
Sweeping in its melodrama, arching in its velocity and untameable in its epic ambitions Bheema Parvam hurls us into the world of Michael (no coincidence this Michael name-calling) Anjootty, kicking dragging and screaming.
The narrative is custom-built to accommodate all the characters from The Godfather into the Malayali household. And it's all done with a chaotic perspective on the moral and ethical dynamics of extra-Constitutional violence.
Even if one is familiar with the original material, this ravishing remake takes you by surprise with its distending temperament and a choleric enormity whereby the violence comes in revealing welters rather than as rule.
Where to watch? SonyLIV
The Write Brothers -- Bobby and Sanjay -- are the real heroes of this clenched tale of the teacher and the taut.
Interestingly, two brothers in the police force, ideologically far removed from one another, are at the crux of a film that prods at the audiences' collective conscience while creating an edge-of-the-seat thriller about guilt and redemption.
Is Salute the best screenplay that Bobby and Sanjay have written to date?
The answer would have been a resounding yes, were it not for a relatively lame endgame which left me feeling a wee cheated thought not betrayed.
The narrative has too much going for itself to suffer from a post-climactic depression.
I would say Salute survives the end-blow most gracefully, thank you.
The pacing is consciously languorous, as though the pressures to come on the drama of ideological warfare need ample breathing space to grow.
Grow, the narrative does with astute velocity. While the last half hour is compromised, the narrative remains partly breathless but pertly pacy all through.
Sreekar Prasad's editing is firstrate with the plot moving in tandem with the stressful tension that the protagonist creates when he prefers to be a pebble in the stagnant pond.
Salute has a lot to say about mending broken promises. It is a coiling seething angry film about injustice and corruption set to a normalized tone which doesn't pick on any character for poor discharge of duty.
Where to watch? Netflix
Betrayal is a lot like a terminal illness. There is no point in talking about it. The more you do , the more bitterly ravaged it leaves you.
Betrayal is best left to itself. It is, to some like me, a crime worse than physical violation.
Time heals the damage to the body. What about the heart?
The look that I saw in the character Jannat's eyes at the end of Vineeth Kumar's Dear Friend would stay with me forever.
It said so much that words cannot. Not that Dear Friend is short of words. It cannot be.
With five flat-mates sharing space, thoughts, dreams, peeves and yes, a pet too, words flow. And yet Dear Friend is a very quiet film.
Quiet and non-judgemental, even when one of the friends just leaves, quits, exits.
Without prior notice. The friends, two of whom Jannat (Darshana Rajendran) and Arjun (Arjun Lal) are a couple, find their own way of dealing with the betrayal.
Writers (Sharfu, Suhas, Arjun Lal) and director Vineeth Kumar refrain from probing into the raw wounds.
It is a remarkably dry-eyed film. Where there is so much room for drama and hysteria, Vineeth Kumar choses to internalize the hurt and wounded pride.
This is one of the most restrained projection of hurt and betrayal I have seen, and also one of the most dispassionate There is a wonderful lengthy sequence with the vanished friend's mother where the four friends find out the truth about the filth of the fifth.
The mother doesn't shed a single tear. These are emotions buried too deep for tears.
Where to watch? Netflix
Mammootty in the Malayalam Puzhu is the most complex problematic father I have seen in any film since Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Anupama.
Mammootty plays Kuttan a blatant casteist, who has disowned his sister (Parvathy Thiruvothu) after she married a Dalit actor.
Mammootty's frighteningly prejudiced patriarch doesn't hide his biases. He is like a bull in a china shop that makes no effort to spare crunching over fragile content.
Kuttan's autocratic arrogance is amplified when he is the company of his young son Kichu (Vasudev Sajeesh). That the 70-year-old Mammootty passes off as the 14-year-old boy's father is a measure of the actor's charisma and credit. That they don't look comfortable as father and son serves the film's purpose just fine.
Kichu is petrified of his disciplinarian dad. The boy is not allowed any space to breathe beyond school, books and parenting. He is losing out on all the pleasures that make adolescence such a rewarding adventure.
The father has the boy his neck squeezing the life and breath out of him.
In the beautifully designed though at times clumsily executed film, debutant director Ratheena draws drama out of the simplest of situations, like the father making his son watch the same family video every night where he is seen disciplining the boy as a toddler.
Puzhu shows us how tyrannical parenting can destroy a child's life. And hats off to Mammootty for slipping so effortlessly into such an evil character.
Kuttan could have easily been played like a full-time villain. Mammootty embraces all of Kuttan's negativity and alchemises it into a force of inhumanly rigid nature. He is at once a despot and a weakling.
His son hates him for his tyrannical behaviour. But Kuttan has his own logic, no matter how faulty and fractured, for what he is doing.
In his preposterous worldview and his failure to tell discipline from despotism Mammootty makes the most despicable dad, barring Alencier Ley Lopez in Appan.
Where to watch? Netflix
Mahesh Narayanan actually steps out of his home territory in Kerala and takes the protagonists to NOIDA for better prospects.
As migrant workers in a glove factory Kunchacko Boban and Divya Prabhu merge so effortlessly into the migrants' world of invisibility that if you are not familiar with these two actors' work, you would think they are actual migrants.
The only time they are called out is when someone during a scuffle mutters, "These bloody South Indian migrants."
Hareesh and Reshmi would have remained entrapped in their citadel of anonymity, like Balraj Sahni and Nirupa Roy in Do Bigha Zameen, if something terrible didn't happen.
A doctored video surfaces, showing Reshmi performing oral sex on a man not seen in the video (anonymity/invisibility has many faces in Ariyippu). This ugly incident triggers off a chain of recalcitrant actions with far-reaching consequences to the married couple's mutual trust fund.
Mahesh Narayanan's has written a fable with irreversibly tragic consequences.
Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com