Malayalam New Wave Cinema - God's Own Country Shows The Way

By Sayantan Mondal. Posted on March 18, 2015

In the year 2011, two Malayalam movies were released - Traffic and City of God. They were not your regular Malayalam films, but they totally changed the industry that was bogged down by uninspired, generic movies. These two movies started a trend that is continuing even now and some critics are of the opinion that this is the Malayalam New Wave. The story, direction, cinematography, editing and all other aspects of filmmaking have transformed under this movement or at least that was the aim, but then the success rate varies. What was more important that even when they were not typical 'arty' films but a bit commercial, they still had a certain freshness in them. This divided Malayalam movies into three categories- the Commercial, the Art House and of course the New Wave.

Some may argue about the existence of such a wave. Here's why i think it's a new wave in Malayalam cinema and the things that make these films stand apart from the rest.

1. Unique Narratives

When you are telling a new story, there must be something unique in the narration or presentation. The Malayalam New Wave has taken to the non-linear/hyperlink method of telling stories. Why is it good? Because it gives the script a huge boost and makes the movie more exciting to watch. Why is it bad? The idea of non-linear/hyperlinked stories is still new to Indians so often the movies are rejected. In addition, sometimes it is shoddily done and the narrative loses steam. A fine example of non-Linear/hyperlink narrative will be Lijo Jose Pellissery's City of God that understands the structure perfectly.

2. Vision Coupled With Passion

Malayalam New Wave has given the industry a series of brilliant young directors. They have a vision and are willing to go to any extent to fulfill it. Maybe that's why they are happy to work within limited budgets that give them the freedom to experiment and tell unique stories. Even with these adversities, they've managed to create movies that are new and break stereotypes. It doesn't always work but what they have done till now is commendable. They have introduced new techniques, newer stories and a zeal that has been missing from the mainstream, something that other filmmakers could definitely take inspiration from.

Here's a video from the shooting of Bangalore Days.

3. Interesting Characters That Do Not Conform To Stereotypes

Creating characters that go beyond the ordinary, these filmmakers have brought a a fresh energy to the screens. North 24 Kaatham is a case in point. Not only is it one of the first road movies to be made in Malayalam, the characters here are quirky, weird and often mad with the camera showing the audience everything that needs to be seen. The camera fulfills the role it is supposed to, show a lot without confusing the audience. For this to happen the script has to be perfect and the director must be sure of what he or she is doing.

4. Visually Rich Scenes Without Resorting To Cliches

Below is a scene from Usthad Hotel featuring the two main characters from the film. The entire story represents everything that this movement stands for. Be it the story, acting, cinematography or the soundtrack, everything works in tandem. The scene is rich in colour and the frames manage to capture the emotion perfectly as it travels from present to past with some witty dialogues. What is more important is the strategic placement of several events in a single scene that places the desires of the characters in sync.

Another very good example of this is this scene from City of God that shows how the story reaches its conclusion. It shows how these films are going beyond cliches to take the narrative of their films ahead. The cinematography ensures that the frames capture the angst with ease. Remarkably, the soundtrack, except when a metal strikes the body, mutes the entire action scene and the constant rainfall.

5. Chronicling Our Times & Lives

In a film industry that was getting saturated with formulaic films, the first few movies of the New Wave proved that something out-of-the-box was definitely acceptable if done the right way. Most of these films chronicle the urban life. While that can limit its appeal, it still manages to capture the urban milieu and its flawed characters.

Two great examples of this are Traffic and City of God, which were released within three months of each other. Although City of God was a commercial and a critical failure. it is now getting it is slowly getting the recognition it deserves.

The one thing that is definitely worth learning from this Malayalam New Wave, is that if filmmakers offer something new, the audience will definitely pay attention. We hope filmmakers all over are paying attention. There are millions of stories worth telling that are just waiting to be told.


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