Best to worst Malayalam movies of 2021: From pathbreaking Great Indian Kitchen to pretentious Cold Case

From The Great Indian Kitchen to Kala, from Nayattu to Cold Case, here is the report card of the Malayalam films to come out in the last six months.

If the last decade saw Malayalam cinema being transformed in terms of themes, narrative styles and look, the pandemic has brought a new wave in its wake. Perhaps no other film industry has managed to leverage the shift to OTT platforms, necessitated by Covid-19, as much as this industry. The new-age directors, actors and technicians innovated in terms of storytelling, bringing the disquiet and claustrophobia home to us. Ambitious either in terms of form or vision, the films have caught the zeitgeist. Some worked and some didn’t.

Here’s a list of good, bad and ugly from the Malayalam film industry in the first half of 2021.

Not-so-good movies:

Vellam

Despite Jayasurya’s impressive performance as an alcoholic, this film is let down by its slender screenplay. The film is inspired by a real-life person and his struggles with a chronic drinking problem. Director Prajesh Sen, who had helmed Jayasurya’s sports drama Captain, directed the film, in addition to writing it. The film begins on a high note as it demonstrates the helplessness of an addict and the constant degradation of oneself to stay in the state of drunkenness. But soon the tale loses steam and falls back on melodrama and plays up the good nature of a man, who can’t stay sober.

Operation Java

It is a procedural drama that follows the aspirations of two good-natured computer experts. Despite their knowledge of computers, they can’t crack the job interview owing to their inability to speak fluent English. The two later start helping the ill-equipped cyber crime department of Kerala police. And in no time, they prove resourceful. Their loyalty and determination, however, are only met with discouragement and insults. Tharun Moorthy’s directorial is messy in many ways. The pacing was uneven and a few scenes in the film felt rushed. But, it is very informative. After watching this film, you may not be very willing to fill up lucky draw coupons at malls.

The Priest

The ominous first look poster of the film featuring Mammootty in a brown robe had created a massive hype for the film. And surprisingly, when the film opened in Kerala after the first lockdown, it was well-received at the box office by the audience. That doesn’t take away from the the fact that The Priest was a huge disappointment. The compelling premise and the intriguing ghost-hunter character of Mammootty are not effectively used to deliver a maximum thrill. Debutant director Jofin T. Chacko’s underplay of the exorcism scenes was a bummer.

One

Santhosh Vishwanath had helmed this film from the script penned by screenwriter duo Bobby and Sanjay. The film revolves around an idealist Chief Minister, played by Mammootty, who wants to revamp the entire political system by giving extraordinary “revisionary powers” to the public. The film revolves around the “right to recall bill.” And its lofty premise is let down by its superficial screenplay. But, it does end on a feel-good and inspirational note.

Irul

This film could have been so much better if only newcomer director Naseef Yusuf Izuddin and his writer Sunil Yadav had not circumvented challenges thrown by the script and taken shortcuts. Soubin Shahir’s Alex is the weakest link in this series of lies, deceit and half-truths. As usual, Fahadh Faasil is good in the movie and Darshana Rajendran performs her role as well as she could. The filmmakers get all the ingredients right, but fumbles in executing it effectively.

The worst ones:

Kho-Kho

Director Rahul Riji Nair rehashes familiar tropes and moments of popular sports drama in the mould of women empowerment. The writing is so superficial that at the end of the film, you don’t really feel for any of the characters. Mamitha Baiju as Anju overact, while Rajisha Vijayan as Maria Francis struggles to lift up a wafer-thin script. The stakes in the film are not that high, and the choreography of Kho Kho matches is underwhelming. You don’t learn much about the characters or the game. Rahul Riji Nair’s performance as a smooth-talking, backbiting teacher was a pleasant surprise.

Nizhal

Director Appu N. Bhattathiri and his writer S. Sanjeev wanted to deliver an intelligent horror drama. But, what they all managed to do is put together a good looking film, which is unnecessarily brooding and painfully slow. And the filmmakers have cast Nayanthara in the flimsiest character that she has done since Darbar.

Cold Case

Director Tanu Balak’s film has an interesting premise. It is a clash between a logical cop (Prithviraj) and a journalist (Aditi Balan) who follows paranormal activities. Both of them are chasing a story of an unidentified skull and they are destined to cross paths at one point. And between them, there is a rickety fridge, which holds the key to all answers. But, the premise is ruined by plot errors.

The best ones

The Great Indian Kitchen

Director Jeo Baby broke new ground as he told the story of cruel patriarchy. Instead of relying on dialogues to convey the institutionalized enslavement of women, he uses visual cues to bring out the unspoken horrors that unfold inside the kitchens of highly conservative households. And importantly, it sequences romance out of culinary science.

Drishyam 2

It was a satisfying sequel to the blockbuster 2013 crime drama. The story is set six years after the events of the first film. Well, one might think a long time has passed and people would have moved on with their lives, but no. It was the most exciting thing that ever happened in Georgekutty’s town, so it is still the top topic of gossip. Also, Georgekutty’s family is also struggling to make peace with the crime that changed their lives forever. Director Jeethu Joseph shines as a writer in this film.

Joji

Writer Syam Pushkaran’s sleek adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic play Macbeth, is beautifully complimented by director Dileesh Pothan’s contemporary visual sense. No evil laughs or gestures or lengthy soliloquy to highlight the sinister plot that’s afoot. But, the malice pervades the very air, but faces betray no emotion.

Nayattu

Director Martin Prakkat shines a light on the post-truth era we are living in right now. The film examines how the honest truth becomes the first casualty of political vanity. The entire Kerala police department turns against three of their own after a road accident kills a small-time member of a political party. However, it is the election season, so the men in power use the death to mobilize support for “justice” and turn it into a media circus, thus keeping the public distracted from the issues that actually matter. Sounds familiar?

Kala

This film is a story of two men trying to kill each other. Perhaps, the online pitch for this film must have read like this: It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. Writer Yadhu Pushpakaran has turned this line into a non-stop violent fest. It takes a while before you find out who’s the hero and the villain. And it takes longer to settle on who you were rooting for all along.

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