From ‘Manjummel Boys,’ to ‘Premalu’ and ‘Aavesham’

During its exceptional run in Tamil Nadu, Manjummel Boys became the first Malayalam film ever to gross over `50 crores from the state. While many believe the film’s ‘Guna-connect’ as the major reason for its astounding success, Halitha disagrees. “People might easily attribute Manjummel Boys’ success to the impact created by the ‘Kanmani Anbodu’ song, but no, the film succeeded on its own merit.

There are several films, including Lokesh Kanagaraj’s works, where similar retro tracks are used, but how many have actually been this effective?” asks Halitha. Novelty in themes and storytelling has always been instrumental in Malayalam cinema’s success. For instance, take Bramayugam—a black-and-white period horror film. Despite its experimental nature, the film was lapped up by the masses and ended up earning around Rs 85 crores. “Mammootty’s negative role piqued the audience’s curiosity. It is not often that we see a superstar headlining such an unconventional film,” reflects Girish Johar.

Interestingly, despite Indian cinema’s obsession with stars, it’s not necessarily star appeal that has found these Malayalam films so many takers across the country. For example, though Bramayugam was a hit outside Kerala, Mammootty’s latest release Turbo—a mass entertainer—did not find many takers. Similar is the case with Prithviraj’s Guruvayoorambala Nadayil, which came right after he delivered a massive blockbuster, Aadujeevitham. Venkat says, “When it comes to Malayalam cinema, Telugu audiences prefer content-driven cinema over star vehicles. People thronged theatres for Manjummel Boys and Premalu, but not for Turbo. It suggests that only strong content will work.”

“Content is the hero,” echoes Meenakshi Sundaram, adding, “If the content is good, Tamil audiences don’t care about the language. Aavesham was not dubbed in Tamil, but still had a good run here.” though, he is quick to add, “These Malayalam films came at a time when Tamil cinema was struggling to offer attractive content.” Halitha sees the lacklustre performance of Tamil cinema this year as a “blessing in disguise.” The director is so much in awe of Malayalam cinema that she is releasing her new film Minimini as a Tamil-Malayalam bilingual.

Like Payal Kapadia noticed, Malayalam cinema is known for accepting story-driven experimental films, and the tendency is often attributed to the Malayalam audience’s palate for a diverse range of films cutting across language and culture. Curiously though, it’s also a land where the likes of Vijay, Allu Arjun and Shah Rukh Khan have been celebrated for their stardom. Perhaps then, all this newfound fame and acceptance of Malayalam cinema outside Kerala can be regarded as a case of poetic justice.

(With inputs from Jayabhuvaneshwari B, A Sharadhaa, BH Harsh)

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