The recent success of films that take a detour from the conventional path and feature youngsters in lead roles, has ignited a debate in Malayalam cinema. Is the era of superstars coming to an end, or is Malayalam cinema witnessing a radical change?
"Some films that are fresh in thought and execution have clicked at the box office," says veteran director Sibi Malayil. "But I am against referring to them as 'new-wave cinema'. Changes were always there in Malayalam films. But most of these so-called new-generation movies revolve around the themes that deal with life in a metro city. These films are getting a good response in tier-I cities only".
If you look at the box office hits this year, they include 'Mayamohini', 'Ordinary', 'Thattathin Marayathu' and 'Ustad Hotel'. Apart from 'Mayamohini', the other three films have non-superstars such as Kunchacko Boban, Biju Menon, Nivin Pauly and Dulquar Salman in the lead roles.
Other notable films like 'Second Show', 'Grandmaster', '22 Female Kottayam', 'Spirit' and 'Diamond Necklace' were sincere attempts made by directors to take a different path. In 'Grandmaster', director B Unnikrishnan offered Mohanlal a role in which the actor played his age. '22 Female Kottayam' was a female-oriented theme, while Spirit dealt with the socially significant issue of alcoholism. As for 'Second Show', it was an action film which banked on its realistic narration to succeed. These are signs that indicate change, but not everybody agrees.
"The success of these movies is a good sign, but I will not say that the era of superstardom is over," says director T K Rajeevkumar. "If the superstars are ready to be part of fresh themes, they can attract a huge crowd to the theatres. But new filmmakers are coming up with a variety of subjects that do not exploit the stardom of the actors. So, irrespective of stardom, the actors should be ready to be a part of such projects".
Some filmmakers, however, feel that even in the 1980s, Malayalam cinema witnessed some positive change through directors like Padmarajan and Bharathan, who made path-breaking films. These movies broke the norms which were considered the prerequisite for a commercial entertainer, and traversed a new path between popular and parallel cinema.
"Even then, filmmakers had shown the courage to experiment with themes," says director K Madhu. "For instance, my film 'Moonnammura'(1988) was a thriller set against the backdrop of a hijacking. Remember, during that period, even the term 'hijack' was new to Malayalis".
The notable difference in the present situation is that films are now becoming successful because of directors rather than the, actors. "True," says Rajesh Pillai, who initiated a new trend with his path-breaking Traffic (2011).
"Nowadays, filmmakers are coming up with subjects which do not revolve around the stars. They have got more freedom to experiment".
Pillai says there is no need to categorize films as new generation or new wave. "There is no formula to make a new-gen movie," he says. "But a change in approach by the directors is evident. This is a positive trend".