Take Off, Kumbalangi Nights And More: Eight Malayalam Films To Watch On Onam

If you don’t know this, then you don’t know Indian cinema. Some of the best films in India are being made in Kerala. Don’t believe me? Watch these eight modern masterpieces in Malayalam on Onam this year.

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Take Off, Kumbalangi Nights And More: Eight Malayalam Films To Watch On Onam
SUDANI FROM NIGERIA (Netflix): Released in 2018, this absolute heartwarmer set in the small idyllic town of Malapurram delineates  the relationship between a local football coach Majeed (played with rare empathy by Soubin Shahir) and a Nigerian footballer Samuel Abiola Robinson (playing himself) when the latter is forced to shift into the former’s home after a leg injury. The obvious cultural discrepancies are soon swept aside as the two men bond in ways that are at once moving and inspiring. Majeed’s mother played by Savithri Sreedharan is a special treat as she gives her ‘Sudanese’ house guests home food and universal gyan on how to feel a sense of belonging in the most alien of surroundings. Zakariya Mohammed directs this exquisite tapestry of cultural culmination.

TAKE OFF (Hotstar): Untrue to its title, Take Off , the highly acclaimed 2017 film, takes too long to take off. Too many ifs and buts are brought into play before we arrive at thw crux which is the kidnapping of 19 Indian nurses in Iraq. The super-talented Fawad Faasil is wasted in a secondary role. Parvathy Thruvothu in the central role is dazzling in her immersion into the nurse’s character. She is the film’s pivot and she knows it.Despite the many liberties with truth this 2017 drama directed by debutant Mahesh Naraynan is worth seeing for Parvathy’s powerful performance.

KUMBALANGI NIGHTS (Amazon Prime): This undisputed masterpiece directed by Madhu C Narayanan tells the ups and downs in the life of four brothers in rural Kerala who are largely at loggerheads but like all great Indian families, care deeply for one another during times of crises. The crises here are all to do with the women who storm into the brothers’ lives, in most unexpected ways. Don’t wait for me to give away more of the plot. But I will reveal one more thing. The great Fahadh Faasil, who has co-produced this film, has cast himself as the craziest product of patriarchal entitlement seen in our cinema. His masculine arrogance is not only terrifying but also very funny. Like all great cinema this one leaves you laughing and crying,sometimes at the same time.

USTAD HOTEL (Hotstar): Dulquer Salman shines in this 2012 gem about a young man following his culinary dreams into a quicksand of fragmented commitment and disfigured aspirations. How Dulquer rises out of the morass of disenchantment with the help of his aging grandfather (played by the brilliant Thilakan) is the theme of this dreamy cinema. The theme of cooking gives this Anwar Rasheed directed beauty plenty of food for thought.The film is more than cinema. It is a lesson on how food in the belly and love in the heart can solve every problem.

OPPAM (Amazon): The prolific director Priyadarshan and Mohanlal have done so many films together, most of them admirable. But none as deeply satisfying as this where Mohanlal plays a blind watchman (you heard the oxymoron right) who deals with a serial killer’s presence in the building. Gripping from the word go, this suspense thriller is unique because we all can see the killer, but the hero can’t. I haven’t seen any actor look so believably blind since Naseeruddin Shah in Sparsh.

MOOTHON (Malayalam): In her sophomore film, the Malayalam masterpiece Moothon which should be on everyone’s must-see list, director Geetu Mohandas (whose debut film Liar's Dice is an undiscovered gem) has actually yoked two films together into a work of stunning impact. On the surface, Moothon is a travel tale of a 15-year child’s search for his missing elder brother. Amir has gone missing in the bustle of Mumbai. The male child , played by a female actor Sanjana Dipu, travels to Mumbai alone and gets sucked into the city’s brutal underbelly with barely space for anyone to breathe. Let me say this right here. Nivin Pauly is a revelation. With this one performance - actually it’s two performances so seamlessly fused together that they become completely unified - Pauly joins the elitist circle of the most accomplished actors of our country. His Akbar is the force of Nature.

Thundering against the humanity that he has buried under the rubble of roughness, his performance epitomises that musk of machismo that men are supposed to flaunt to be considered “man enough”. Miraculously, and with a fascinating fluency, Geetu Mohandas flips the coin,and takes us into a ravishing romance captured by the splashing seawaves of Laskshadweep in a flashback between Akbar and his mute soul-mate Amir (Roshan Mathew). This is a love story so free of gender restrictions that I wanted to stand up and applaud not just the supreme sensitivity  of the director but also the indomitable bravery of the two actors. In scenes that are reminiscent of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, the two actors portray love with spellbinding immersive intensity. When Nivin Paul amd Roshan Mathew look at each other they see neither man nor woman. They see only love.

KAPPELA (Malayalam): After the outstanding Mothoon, another whammy from the land of gorgeous greenery. Kappela captures the Kerala countryside with a caressing glance that we get only in their homespun films. The film is set in rural Kerala, though luckily there are no coconut trees and football players. This nutty anti-romcom takes us on an unexpected   rollercoaster ride… Rather, a bumpy busride where the film’s achingly young inexperienced rustic heroine Jessy (Anna Ben) almost loses everything, only to have her soul redeemed just in time. This is a kickass morality tale. I am afraid to give away the plot. Suffice it to say that for all my movie-viewing experience I could have never guessed what the writer-director Musthafa (believe it or not, this is the actor-turned-director’s directorial debut) was leading into. Nope, I never saw the twist coming. Life’s life that.(I can bet it will be lapped up for a Bollywood remake in no time at all.)

For about 20 minutes of the second-half when the film’s loutish  shamelessly parasitical hero Roy (Sreenath Bhasi) is introduced, I thought I was watching another film altogether.  But then the director, fully conscious of where he is going and with a grip on the moral graph of the three main protagonists' destiny, manoeuvres the story through the stormy incidents with expertise.There is not one idle moment in Kappela. The director’s eye for detail is one of the film’s many virtues. In one sequence, when Jessy gets into the window seat of a bus in the pouring rain I actually saw raindrops on her seat. The pace is always in a race, never lacking in grace. By the time the film screeches to a halt three lives are changed  irreversibly. And we breathe a sigh of relief. All is well in the world, at least this time.

C U SOON: Thank God for happy endings. Well, almost. This thriller about an online dating plan gone horribly wrong, has a whole lot of balls, plus a steadily beating heart. And it ends on a bright note. We need that. The important detail that we must remember is that the whole 98-minute film has been shot on iPhones. So now we finally know why they are called smartphones. This is as smart a thriller as they come with some of Malayalam cinema’s finest young talent pitching in with a conviction born out of isolation. Not surprisingly the well thought-out thriller simulates a taut tempo at a slow burn temperature. Since the world is under a lockdown none of the characters is in a hurry to go anywhere.

The plot, done up entirely in a virtual format, takes its time to whip up a frenetic anxiety. By the time we reach the devastating climax, there is no escaping from the film’s vice-like grip on our senses.A piano-based deceptively calm and soothing background score by Gopi Sunder goes a long way in getting our undivided attention as love-stuck Jimmy (Roshan Mathew) befriends the troubled Anu (Darshana Rajendran) in Dubai on the digital platform.Remarkably the entire romance and the horrific aftermath unfolds through images on computers and phones. This is an ingenious invention born out of necessity as the film is shot in quarantine. At the same time that sense of virtual disengagement gives a muscular immediacy to the narrative. The actors get into the mysterious, melancholic mood effortlessly. I could almost feel Roshan Mathew and Darshana Rajendran’s growing fondness. Mathew, so brilliant recently in Moothon, Kappela and Choked, is growing into one of the most interesting actors in the country. But here it is undoubtedly Fahadh Faasil who holds this robust thriller together.

Image source: IMDb