The new trend of comedy in South Indian Cinema: An analysis through Mollywood
Depression, road and lightning
South Indian language of Malayalam spoken by 35 million people of Kerala has a film industry of its own called Mollywood. Contrary to the Hindi film Industry called Bollywood often touted as the Indian film industry, Mollywood concentrates on making low-budget films that are content-driven. One example in this regard is the item songs of Bollywood that aim to cash in on voyeurism of the audience are rare in Malayalam movies.
After the second wave of the Coronavirus with its delta strain, I went back to the theatre in November 2021. My return to the theater was for watching the 2021 movie Jan-e-man.
Jan-e-man is a comedy film that does not fall into conventional comedy tropes. The film tries to find comedy in unexpected places and I have to say that the director (Chidambaram) is a genius. He finds comedy in a family’s mourning at a funeral and also in a depressed suicidal man’s birthday. Basil Joseph as the protagonist Joymon was a treat for the eyes. His comic timing and dialogue delivery felt so natural that I felt that him living his life. The supporting cast of Arjun Ashokan and Ganapathy did their roles well. The director (also the writer of the film) smoothly displays the complex aspects of the relationship between the siblings of a family whose father passed away.
The actor-director Basil Joseph. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
The death brings together his estranged son to the patriarch’s house where he finds his two sisters mourning. The relationship between them once again blossoms into love as they bond together. What we assumed to be the villain becomes one of the protagonists in the end. Basil Joseph and Abhiram Radhakrishnan were the major comedic pieces of the movie with the veteran actor Lal giving a sparkling performance.
Although the film lacks a strong female character arc, the film explores the stupidity of toxic masculinity as men in both grief and bliss find an excuse to booze together ignoring the sober women who try to keep sanity. The climax is a message for the religious fanatics who fight with each other that love transcends the boundaries of manmade God and religion. The climax twist gave the movie geek in me a kick without making the message of the movie preachy.
The film is a must-watch for movie geeks and also for everyone who enjoys class movies with wit and grit.
Bheemante Vazhi [Available on Amazon Prime]
The second movie I saw from the theatre was again a movie that gave importance to humor. Bheemante Vazhi is directed by Ashraf Hamza and the main protagonist is Kunchako Boban. The film explores the story of a road that was hard to come by due to some upper-class Christians of a neighborhood. Bheeman (Kuchako Boban) works his way to constructing the 1 km road overcoming the obstacles posed by a patriarch Kostheppan (Jinu Joseph) who was a symbolism of toxic masculinity.
Bheemante Vazhi cannot match the class of Jan-e-man but it still manages to give a comedic treat with an enigmatic background score and songs that explore male and female sexuality. Often films portray the sexual life and desires of men and ignore the fact that women also have sexual desires and emotions.
Bheemante Vazhi has important character arcs for its female characters that are crucial for the movie. Besides being a working professional and loving son, Bheeman is also a local playboy that has multiple affairs with local women. Contrary to depictions of women in movies as sexually promiscuous if they are beautiful and daring, here the protagonist is portrayed as one.
In the climax, Bheeman falls for a neighbor who is a widow. She makes him fall for her with her immaculate display of martial art skills. The climax again challenges the toxic masculine notions of patriarchy that girls fall for men for their strong masculine displays. Instead in the movie, it is the male protagonist who falls for a widow who single-handedly beats a toxic patriarch.
The film lacks continuity and clarity in some parts but it deserves our applause in its portrayal of women where it excels over Jan-e-man.
Minnal Murali [Available on Netflix]
The first superhero movie in Malayalam is a movie that gives importance to humor and comedy. The film is directed by Basil Joseph (the main protagonist of Jan-e-man) and it is the only OTT release among the three I discuss in this article.
Tovino Thomas as Jaison/Minnal Murali was a treat to watch. He did well in portraying a simple guy who doesn’t even know who Batman or Superman is but dreams of going to America. He lacks seriousness but the drawbacks he gets in his life make him mature at last.
Basil does a great job in showcasing the back story and development of the hero and the villain but the one who steals the show is the Villain (played by Guru Somasundaram). The villain whom I will call Psycho Shibu is marvelous and made me remember the performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker in the Dark Knight.
Basil seems to have made a conscious effort to give importance to female characters in the movie which can be seen in the character development of Bruce Lee Biji (Femina George).
The film is a good entertainer for children who wants to see superheroes and adults who want to see some psychological stuff with comedy. For children, Minnal Murali gives them what they want and for adult movie geeks like me, Psycho Shibu gives us what we want.
All the three movies in this issue of the newsletter are from Kerala which has a nickname called God’s own country. The Malayalam film industry has been always known for its content-driven movies in the Indian sub-continent. Unfortunately due to the domination of Bollywood in the subcontinent many movies that deserve standing ovation in Mollywood have not gone to the Oscars.
The three movies that are discussed in this article give importance to humor and comedy. Jan-e-man is the show stealer among them for finding comedy in unexpected places and being a satire of toxic masculinity. Bheemante Vazhi also treads in the same territory but it openly challenges toxic masculine notions with its strong female characters and the wholesome character development of the movie. Minnal Murali does conventional comedy in an unconventional Malayalam movie and that’s what makes it also worth your time.
If you are interested you can find my article that I wrote this week on the link between religion and morality in this link.
Thanks for reading.