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Contemporary Malayalam Cinema

C.S. Venkiteswaran

Kerala is considered an ‘enigma’ or ‘paradox’ for its commendable advancement in social indices despite very low economic indices. And from time immemorial, Kerala society had trade links with the outside world, which made it a veritable boiling pot of cultures, religions and ideas. Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism came here and became part of it. Yet another modern global religion, communism, also found its home here, and the first elected Communist government in the world came to power in Kerala. In the case of cinema also, Malayalam remains an enigma. Catering to an audience numbering 30 million and working within very low economies of scale compared to flourishing industries in neighbouring languages, Malayalam still manages to produce more than 60 films per annum, and has the maximum number of films in the Indian Panorama every year!   Cinema came to Kerala a decade after Lumiere Brothers put up their historic show at Grand Café, Paris. But film production came much later. The first Malayalam movie ‘Vigathakumaran’ by J.C. Daniel was made only in 1928. It was followed by another silent historical “Marthandavarma” (1931), based on the celebrated novel by C.V. Raman Pillai. It took another seven years for the first Malayalam talkie “Balan” (1938) to be produced.   In the absence of an established indigenous production and distribution system, films from other languages, especially the neighbouring Tamil, dominated the Kerala film scene. There were only a handful of films in Malayalam till the 50’s – the period when film production began to gather momentum. Since then, it has not looked back. From an average of 6 .5 films per annum in the 50’s, it went up to 27.2 films per year in the 60’s and 81.8 films in the 70’s. It peaked in the 80’s with 113.7 films, and steadied itself at 75 films in the 90’s, slumping to around 60 in the present decade.   Malayalam cinema has always charted a a path of its own. Unlike other languages, puranic stories and Hindu mythologicals never dominated Malayalam screen. Even the early silent films and the talkies dealt with social, secular and historical themes. Another distinct feature has been its symbiotic links with literature. Literary influence continued to hold its sway, and is still evident in the imageries, narratives and even film criticism. In the fifties and sixties, fired by socialist-realist ideology, a number of young writers, lyricists, musicians and directors, entered the scene. The communist movement was gathering storm, sending tremors through ...

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