Wear your mundus, gather that handful of pavizhamalli to offer to the screen gods (to see you through this marathon), and make sure there’s lots of hot idiyappam ready to be consumed with all kinds of curries you have whipped up (having pizza would be so blah with this feast of films!)
1. Kumbalangi Nights
Sometimes when people praise something to the moon, you sort of develop a resistance to watching it. The film is as delightful as Shane Nigam’s dimples. Loved the brothers getting into a scuffle every chance they got. Love the mooch admiration scene with Fahadh Faasil (and what a glorious evil moustache it is!). Soubin Shahir plays the eldest brother, and he’s so good - whether he’s grappling with Bobby, or pleading Bobby’s case with the villainous mooch-man - that I’m a confirmed fan. The film is such a revelation of relationships between women and men, brothers, sisters, the seething metaphor of four brothers living on the island where unwanted cats and dogs are abandoned and their redemption that the only regret I have is not having seen the film sooner.
The awesome Soubin Shahir shows up in Sudani From Nigeria on Netflix. In my most John Cleese voice, ‘I wish to register a complaint!’ Whoever marked this film ‘quirky’ does grave injustice to it. This is a movie about football and family. Majid (Shahir) is the manager of a local football team and Samuel Robinson is the team’s star player (along with other sponsored players from Africa. ‘I am not Sudanese,’ Samuel tries to explain, ‘I’m from Nigeria!’ But the name sticks, and hence the title of the film). What happens when an injured foreign player is brought home to recuperate? I wished I were Samuel. The film hits you right where your heart used to be. There is Majid’s mum, her best friend, assorted neighbourhood kids (of course they love football, too), neighbourhood ‘uncles’ and ‘bros’ who first come to satisfy their curiosity and then we see genuine kindness. In all forms. Whether it is from everyone who is football crazy and donates everything they have for Samuel’s hospitalisation and other costs, or the neighborhood aunty who cooks extra for Samuel. Whoever labelled it ‘quirky’ has never seen empathy and love. Watch this film. The last scene made this football fan feel like we just won the world cup.
3. Android Kunjappan Version 5.25
When I missed my grouchy dad, I used to watch Grumpy Old Men (instead of calling him). But I stumbled upon yet another incorrectly labelled Soubin Shahir film called Android Kunjappan Version 5.25. This too aims for your heart and your gut. Yes, it has some funny moments - because Robot answering in logical terms. But did the folks at Amazon Prime Video, responsible for writing synopses, not watch the film? Is the loneliness of an empty nester comedy? Is his attachment funny? Yes, there are weird characters in the village, but isn’t there more to the film than getting laughs for making the robot wear a mundu and sandalwood paste? I loved the film because I discovered the wonderful talent of Suraj Venjaramoodu as a grumpy old dad. Watch the film on Amazon Prime Video.
4. Driving Licence
Of course the search for what to watch next pushes you down the rabbit hole and I watch Suraj Venjaramoodu’s film called Driving Licence. This is also on Amazon Prime Video. And I watch it with a smile plastered on my face. What a wonderfully written film! Two men with totally different personalities clashing over a piece of government document. One is a super star (played by Prithviraj Sukumaran) who loves driving cars and performs his own stunts and the other is a fan who is a government officer: a Motor Vehicles Inspector. How do these two meet? You guessed it right. The star needs a driver’s licence. And the two clash because it’s gone missing and the only person who can reissue it is the inspector. Will it be easy for Hareendran to get one because the inspector is his biggest fan?
I began watching Pengalila on Amazon Prime Video because it asks a very pertinent question we city dwellers do not face every day: how many times do Dalits have to wash to wash off the supposed sins of their birth? But for all the innocence in the little child and her association with the elderly guy who is employed to clear the underbrush in the film, I could not deal with the horrendous world of patriarchy introduced into that happy world by her father. There are too many men who will not allow their wives to work and then taunt them subtly and not too subtly about their inability to bring home any money. The film skims on patriarchy but gently, because the child is realising the reality of her world.
6. Kammatti Paadam
This film on DisneyPlusHotstar will zap you awake. It is another point of view on our world - a world where Balan would berate you for being beaten up by Biju the butcher, but then will challenge him because ‘You cannot beat my boys’. Childhood friendships are put to the test because the world on both sides of the track has changed over the years. This film makes you sit up and take note of the disparities and shows you how righteous anger and injustice can collide over cinema. That's just so amazing you wonder why it’s playing on Disney that mostly has Bambi like films.
7. Ottamuri Velicham
When your mind is sufficiently blown by Kammatti Paadam, then switch to JioCinema once again and seethe, seethe with that anger. Ottamuri Velicham (Light In The Room) will choke you with its suffocating violence and fear. A young girl (Vinitha Koshy) moves into an isolated one room shack after marriage to Chandran and you discover that amid the serenity of the tea estates outside, there is darkness inside the shack even though the creepy light inside the room shows only the monster to whom she’s married. Not too many films dare to speak of marital rape with such eloquent eyes, and you want to shake up the old lady (Chandran’s mother) who will not stop her son from being so bestial. The revenge offers you a thrill that was necessary, so you finish the film and reach out for some tea to calm your jangled nerves.
8 and 9. Action Hero Biju and 7th Day
No Malayalam movie marathon is complete unless there is some moustache-twirling action. And there are two movies, one with Nivin Pauly and the other with Prithviraj that will bring back all the masala entertainment and thrills you needed after watching some serious violence and heart-wrenching drama. Action Hero Biju is on DisneyPlusHotstar and it will make you happy to see Nivin Pauly as a teacher turned cop who can beat up the baddies.
7th Day on the other hand (also on DisneyPlusHotstar) has Prithviraj who plays a suspended crime branch cop who is going to help out a group of friends when things that keep going wrong. Is he really helping them, though? Is he even who he says he is? It is a no-brainer, but a popcorn watch.
You will realise that I have not mentioned Mohanlal or Mammootty at all in this list. So get set to watch Mammootty and his bunch of misfit cops from Kerala being sent off to Naxal areas up north in Bastar. It’s a silly film, but thoroughly enjoyable because the cops have to venture out without any ammunition and well… Are the local politicians and cops to blame, or are the Adivasis who have been exploited, the bad guys? Such stories dealt with kindness (just like Rajkummar Rao’s Newton) are always a welcome relief. Politics, election duty, violence are all covered in the film.
Malayalam movies have always told stories that are stunningly different and no matter how many movies I see, I do tend to fast forward the songs. Even though songs showing us how the old man began to enjoy the Robot’s company, or the cop falling in love, push the narrative forward, it’s the drunk song by the old man at the well in the middle of the night (in Pangalila) that makes me watch, But who can deny that the stories from God’s own country rule? If only they’d stop thanking everyone and their uncle’s cat in the opening credits, I would be able to watch more movies!
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.