They say we keep it simple, but that’s how our life is! Shraddha Sunil delves into why Mollywood prefers to play it real while their neighboured is flooded with extravagant palaces, masked heroes and the like…
The first frame
Kerala’s stint with the condescending cameras and amplifying lenses dates to an archaic period sans any colour;1930, with the release of Mollywood’s first ever silent film, Vigatha Kumaran. What started off as a mere inspiration taken obliquely from stalwart writers of renowned literature pieces in Kerala, turned into a coup for the juvenile directors still ripe with their long sideburns, patiently waiting in the wings. At a time when Hindi and Tamil cinema were resorting to a mythological backing, Malayalam cinema was a few notches up the ladder of pragmatism. They decided to inaugurate the industry with a social message through the first sound film, Balan. With the times being simple and an even simpler audience, the story worked even if it treaded along an unadorned line. The directors felt this was pivotal to the success of their work for they were replacing the redundant pastimes of an agrarian society in the 30’s. It was all the more essential for them to stray away from the larger than life picture in order to have their work reflected upon.
Treading the old path?
Now, almost a century later, we see a conspicuously revamped Mollywood polished with novelty in terms of approach and thinking, yet strung together by that one factor that led to the inception of the industry and is surprisingly still keeping it buoyant across national waters; sometimes, even international. One might think realism is what the industry is thriving on since time immemorial. We think it is. It’s a formula that’s been equated in varied ways and has never ceased to work it’s magic. A succession of recent hits can proudly stand testimonial to that. The proclivity for Malayalam filmmakers to latch on to the weary rope of realism rooted to their nativity, while it drags them through a well forethought and familiar pathway, has received some criticism from film enthusiasts though.
Growing up to fantasies imprinted in our heads, be it the vigorous swishing of wands in Harry Potter to the wide, innocuous eyes of an extra-terrestrial, Jadoo in Koi Mil Gaya, you can’t blame the audience for wanting it all. We, as human beings are very capricious in nature, looking around for constant change. So, when an audience fails to find a larger than life /fantasy element in Malayalam cinema, they resort, in a desperate attempt, to other languages to fill up the gaping void left behind by the industry, whose blinkers prevent them from looking beyond their deliberate attempts to stay transfixed in the realistic realm. While doing so, the Malayalam audience have grown to identify with the sheer unrealism of Telugu films, mostly dubbed to their regional languages, the mould of experimentation that pervades the Tamil Industry, that’s constantly tugged at, reshaped and worked on frequently with and the profligacy exuded by Bollywood; factors that are seldom seen in Mollywood.
Now, is this a bad thing? WE beg to differ
The industry is known to run on a meagre budget in comparison to it’s contenders from other regions, posing as the main reason for erstwhile cinema being shoehorned into stifling sets and limited locales. Owing to this cause- effect relationship, directors of the bygone era found it a lot easier to extricate inspiration from situations they witnessed on a daily basis or works of literature based on the same. But what started off, as a move of desperation spiralled to be a solid underpinning for the industry. Regardless, the cinema dished out by the industry has acquired a vast fan following on a pan global scale notwithstanding it’s diffidence to venture into untouched territory.
Our Baahubalis have failed us!
A novice wouldn’t express hesitation to experiment with a ball of fire. But people who have played dangerously and succumbed to some long lasting burns, would care to tread carefully. And, Mollywood has, to the tune of some experimental films like “Pazhasi Rajavu”, touted to be the biggest budgeted film till date and the most recent example of “Double Barrel” turned out to be financial duds. With this, they came to realize their esoteric recipe to success and kept at it, unflinchingly. The directors learning from their past, were not provided with much of an incentive to experiment. Especially with current films, encompassing banal cruxes but revamped to an extent to retain the simplicity of those banalities, by reconstructing the underlying framework with generous doses of emotions, a potent script, acting that one wouldn’t construe as acting and evolving technical usage as well, being looked upon enviously by the fellow industries who seem to be already mounting their dibs on the film’s remake rights. Now, that could be passed of as an indomitable feat.
Mollywood Vs Bollywood
Every industry has their own set of idiosyncrasies an audience identifies with, almost immediately. This evinces as to why the Bollywood remakes of some of Tamil or Malayalam’s notable works, fail to gain a foothold amidst the preferred ostentatiousness in majority of the films up north. Again, this isn’t criticism rather just another peculiarity that defines Bollywood in all its nakedness and another reason why we switch over to a Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani when we crave to vicariously live in the exalted lives of the protagonists.
If Mollywood were to make a Baahubali or a Krish, then what’s the defining line between the three industries who are known for their respective vocations? The industry has willingly chosen to stick to a tried and tested formula, while not sidestepping innovation either. Innovation is constant with the changing times and volatile mindsets of the audience. If it weren’t, movies like Dhrishyam and Premam wouldn’t have created the furore; it did.
A film is a piece of art that’s meant to be national in theme and international in appeal. And Malayalam cinema has dutifully fulfilled this requirement. Hence, there is no haste for a sudden change in the well trodden pathway.
Though, If the industry were to dish out a well thought through fantasy in the near future, overcoming the one gaping shortfall, it would leave critics short of words.