Premalu, Manjummel Boys, Bramayugam : Malayalam Cinema Makes Waves At Box-Office
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Spotlight: The Telugu film industry is going through quite an interesting phase, where filmmakers, actors, technicians, and more importantly the audience are constantly challenging our notion of what is good cinema. ‘Spotlight’ is a column which sheds light on such trends, documents significant moments which are defining the industry today, and explores the past and the present, and where we are heading next. Written by Hemanth Kumar C R

Everyone is going gaga over Malayalam cinema these days, and it’s not without a reason. In February, 2024, within a span of three weeks, three films - Premalu, Bramayugam, and Manjummel Boys impressed the audiences from Kochi to Mumbai, India to USA and beyond. Collectively, the films have grossed more than Rs 250 crores at the box-office, a windfall amount which has left the industry wondering the reason behind this dream run for Malayalam films beyond Kerala.

To put the numbers into perspective, Girish AD’s Premalu, a romantic comedy which was predominantly shot in Hyderabad, was reportedly made with a budget of Rs 3-4 crores, and it went on to gross more than Rs 80 crores. Rahul Sadasivan’s Bramayugam grossed close to Rs 60-65 crores, whereas Chidambaram’s Manjummel Boys is poised to become one of the biggest hits of all time in Malayalam. It has already amassed more than Rs 100 crores including $900k in USA and Canada, a new record for a Malayalam film, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.

Manjummel Boys, in particular, became a sensation in Tamil Nadu, where it collected more than Rs 20 crores gross within a couple of weeks, and it became so popular that several theatres, even in tier-2 cities and towns, gave it prime screens. The survival thriller, which was set in the backdrop of Guna Caves in Kodaikanal, caught the attention of Kamal Haasan and Santhana Bharati, director of Guna, who commended the team for their work. The film even led to a renewed interest in Guna Caves as a tourist destination and the roads leading to the spot are set to be filled with a lot of youngsters, who are flocking to the caves after watching the film.

The popularity of Malayalam cinema among cinephiles outside Kerala is hardly a new phenomenon. In the past decade or so, films starring Fahadh Faasil, Dulquer Salmaan, Nivin Pauly, Tovino Thomas became hugely popular across the country, and during the pandemic, their popularity zoomed even more with several OTTs offering dubbed versions in several languages. Even if one doesn’t quite understand the cultural context in which the stories are set in, people were hugely impressed by storytelling, acting, and the technical aspects of the film. And film circles have always been fascinated by how Malayali filmmakers were able to pull off films within a limited budget. Veteran actors like Mammootty and Mohanlal too have charmed audiences with their versatility and sublime performances, and they have become so popular that they have been playing important roles in Telugu and Tamil films too.

The success of Premalu, Bramayugam, and Manjummel Boys is not accidental, and time and again, Malayali filmmakers have impressed the viewers with their content. The films also landed in cinema halls when there were no other big-ticket films releasing, and the positive word of mouth for the three films had a domino effect. What really came as a surprise was the speed at which the Malayalam film industry struck gold three weeks in a row. Now, that’s a rarity. That all the three films offered different experiences to the viewers in terms of the genres and storytelling is another icing on the cake.

Beyond the box office numbers, as you unravel the layers, you begin to see why all the three films worked. In Girish AD’s Premalu, one of the things that stood out, beyond its treatment, the hilarious conversations, and heartwarming moments, was its depiction of Hyderabad. Premalu is to Hyderabad what Anjali Menon’s Bangalore Days was to Bangalore. Both the films focused on the lives of young Malayalis living in the two cities respectively, and they romanticized the cities to an extent that it offered a fresh perspective to the viewers too. How did Girish AD, cinematographer Ajmal Sabu and their team capture so much of Hyderabad, more than what most Telugu films manage to do, continues to intrigue everyone. The film’s cast led by Naslen, Mamitha, and Sangeeth Prathap have become household names, and the film’s popularity among the youth eventually led to its Telugu dubbed version’s release by SS Karthikeya on March 8.

In complete contrast to Premalu and Manjummel Boys, Rahul Sadasivan’s Bramayugam, starring Mammootty, Arjun Ashokan, and Sidharth Bharathan, is unlike any fantasy horror thriller made in a long time. It’s a black & white film with only three characters throughout the film. The production design and cinematography is outstanding, and it’s aided by some terrific performances from all the three actors. More than all this, the film’s deeply philosophical undertones about life and death, oppression and freedom, and fate and choices left the viewers with a lot to think about long after watching the film.

On the other hand, Chidambaram’s Manjummel Boys is a masterclass in filmmaking. The film focuses on the lives of a group of friends from an arts club in Manjummel locality in Kochi, and their plan to go on a vacation to Kodaikanal goes haywire when one of them, Subhash, falls inside a pit in the Guna cave. The rising tension and drama, along with an astounding background score, and awe-inspiring production design (the entire cave portion was shot in a set) made the film an unforgettable experience.

The conversations about these three films, and Malayalam cinema in general, have been overwhelmingly positive. One of the key takeaways from the success of the films is that the respective filmmakers have given us a window into a different world and perspectives. That these films have resonated with the audience is extremely encouraging and it reinforces what people keep saying about the film industry in general - A Friday Can Change Your Life. And Malayalam cinema struck gold on three Fridays in a row.

- Hemanth C R

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