Towards New Sensibilities
Even though Malayalam cinema right from the first talkie, Balan ventured into social themes instead of cosmetic dramas from Hindu Mythology, like anywhere else in India, they stood far away from social realities. While cinema elsewhere in the world, except India, took big leap forward in devising new cinematic forms making cinema an art form by itself, the Indian filmmakers right from the beginning considered cinema as a platform for combining all the art forms available in India. This was the concept about cinema even among the leading film critics then. Malayalam cinema was no exception in this regard. The first International Film Festival of India held in 1952 opened up the window to a new world of cinema to the Indian filmmakers. For the first time they understood that cinema has advanced much further than the make-belief Hollywood films, which were the only source of foreign films then. Films like Bicycle Thief, which was shown for the first time in India compelled a new generation of filmmakers to take a new path of filmmaking. Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali triggered the movement, which was taken up by other new generation filmmakers in Northern India.
Malayalam cinema too took a new path during the mid 1950s towards more down-to-earth social realities, rather than cosmetic social dramas. But this change in sensibility was not due to the effect of world cinema on them, as the Malayalee filmmakers were virtually absent at the film festival. Hence, even though Malayalam cinema became more sensible during the mid 1950s, it had to wait till the mid 1970s, till the new breed of FTII trained filmmakers started filmmaking, for Malayalam cinema to become ‘real cinema’.
In fact, it was the powerful movement that happened in Malayalam literature spearheaded by literary giants like Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai, Viakom Muhammad Basheer and M T Vasudevan Nair and the ‘Library Movement’ which coincided with it became the real factor for this changes in Malayalam cinema. Also the strong presence of playwrights like N Krishna Pillai, C J Thomas, C N Shreekhantan Nair, G Shankara Pillai and K T Muhammad opened up new vistas in the field of stage plays. Dramas of Thoppil Bhasi like Ningalanne Communist Aakki, Survey Kallu and Mudiayanaya Puthran created ripples in the society. Malayalam cinema, which followed these footsteps but couldn’t create its own cinematic form and remained as novels and dramas.
The Growth: 1960s
After the success of Neelakuyil, films with authentic Malayalam stories set in the backdrops of Kerala villages started arriving. Minnaminingu directed by Ramu Karyat and Rarichhan enna Pouran by P Bhaskaran were noted films produced during the late 1950s. Takazhi Shivashankara Pillai's famous novel Randidangazhi was also seen on the silver screen.
In 1961 Kandam Bacha Coat, the first full-length colour film in Malayalam was released. This was an adoption of a famous social drama. Bhargavi Nilayam (1964) directed by A Vincent is a notable film of this period. This was a cinematic adoption of renowned Malayalam writer Vykom Muhammad Basheer's novel. Vincent also directed some of the best films of early ages like Murapennu, Nagarame Nandi, Asuravithu and Thulabharam. Irutinte Athmavu directed by P Bhaskaran, based on M T Vasudevan Nair's story, gave a new face to superstar Prem Nazir, who till then was seen only in romantic hero's role.
Chemmeen - 1965
Chemmeen (1965) directed by Ramu Karyat was the first South Indian film to bag the President's Golden Lotus Award for the best film. Based on a famous novel of the same name by renowned Malayalam writer Takazhi Shivashanakara Pillai, Chemmeen pioneered the growth of Malayalam cinema in technical and artistic aspects. It brought together some of the best technical talents then available in India, Salil Chowdhari (music), Markes Burtly (cinematography) and Hrishikesh Mukhargee (editing). It also had a huge star cast.
The post-Chemmeen Malayalam cinema arena saw an upsurge in quality films, mainly based on literary works of some of the best writers of Kerala. After Chemmeen, Ramu Karyat directed Ezhu Rathrikal which narrated the story of the down trodden. The renowned Malayalam writer M T Vasudevan Nair made his film debut by writing screenplay for Murapennu. Directed by A Vincent, Murapennu was a landmark film. Oolavum Theeravum by P N Menon announced the revolutionary changes Malayalam cinema was about to witness in the early 1970s. A new generation of filmmakers who realized the uniqueness of the language of this medium, ventured into a different kind of cinema. This film could be considered as the bridge between the two eras of Malayalam cinema.
Here onwards Malayalam cinema got split into two distinct streams, one that considered cinema’s artistic qualities as its primary objective, which kept away all the formulas of popularity and the other the crass commercials, which took into consideration only the possibilities to entertain the mass and spin money.
The Malayalam New Wave
The growth of film society movement and the screenings of world classics forced a drastic change in Malayalee film sensitivity during the early 1970s. A new movement often termed as the 'New Wave Malayalam Cinema' or the 'Malayalam Parallel Cinema' emerged. Adoor Gopalakrishnan made his first film Swayamvaram in 1972, which made Malayalam cinema noticed at International film arena. G Aravindan through his Uttarayanam in 1974 accelerated this radical change in Malayalam cinema.
Another major stream of Malayalam cinema that appeared during the 1970s, which was a synthesis of the highly commercial popular cinema and the parallel cinema from which the masses always stayed away, was the 'middle-stream cinema'. These films, mainly from directors like K G George, Padmarajan and Bharathan, had meaningful themes but had popular forms of presentation and had influenced a generation of film viewers.