Year In Review: Malayalam directors who triumphed in 2021

As the year comes to a close, we look at five filmmakers from Malayalam cinema who got people talking

Published: 28th December 2021 08:43 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th December 2021 01:43 PM   |  A+A-

Director Senna Hegde

Director Senna Hegde

Express News Service

Chidambaram (director, Jan-e-Man)

Some of us initially assumed that it would be another tried-and-tested story of a group of friends hanging out together. But Chidambaram showed us that his maiden feature, Jan-e-Man, was anything but. The film, which begins with a Malayali nurse working in Canada expressing his wish to come home for his upcoming birthday, saw the filmmaker treating the material with the same caution and skill as a veteran does. His personal experiences served as a jumping-off point for a film that knew where to make people laugh and where to get them emotional. The results are there for all to see. The film screened to packed houses following the first couple of days of its release. A protege of acclaimed cinematographers such as Rajeev Ravi and KU Mohanan, Chidambaram deftly managed to weave into his film themes of alienation, class and caste differences.

Basil Joseph (director, Minnal Murali)

It’s been only four days since the release of Minnal Murali on Netflix, but such a short span is enough to gauge the depth of its filmmaker’s instant popularity across languages. Already a breakout filmmaker in his home state owing to his first two features, Kunjiramayanam and Godha, the expectations naturally skyrocketed when he announced that he was going to direct a superhero movie as his third. Anchored by poignant performances from Tovino Thomas and Guru Somasundaram as the titular superhero and his antagonist, respectively, the big-budget original packed enough emotions and relatable scenarios to engage viewers of all ages. A sequel is on the way, and let’s hope Basil and gang amp up the stakes with an even bigger villain this time around.

Senna Hegde (director, Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam)

Here’s another filmmaker with a technology background who managed to make waves with his new Malayalam feature, Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam, released directly on SonyLIV after a rousing reception during its screening at the last International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) event. The film became an instant sensation after its digital premiere, with non-Malayali cinephiles also seeking it out and giving it a warm reception. Like Tharun, the Kanhangad native too began as an ad filmmaker before becoming a script consultant for Rakshit Shetty’s Ulidavaru Kandanthe. Senna has never looked back since. Many are still waiting to see his debut feature, 0-41*, shot on a limited budget and schedule. Senna and 0-41* were brought to the film community’s attention a few years ago after Anurag Kashyap posted its trailer. Senna has already bagged his next project, this time with a big star, Kunchacko Boban, titled Padmini. We can’t wait!

Tharun Moorthy (director, Operation Java)

A former ad filmmaker and an assistant professor of Computer Science before that, Tharun Moorthy proved himself to be another terrific talent to watch out for after his debut, Operation Java, became a smashing success. It’s yet another example of a new filmmaker bringing crowds to theatres despite the lack of any big star in it. The film delivered on all fronts, with Faiz Siddik’s camera work and Jakes Bejoy’s pulsating background score deserving special mention. Tharun once nursed dreams of becoming an actor, however, the path wasn’t so easy, leading him to embrace the idea of honing his skills by directing ads and eventually building his own firm. Tharun’s journey evokes filmmakers like Ridley Scott and David Fincher, who also had similar beginnings. He has already completed his second feature, Saudi Vellakka, which is expected to be out early next year.

Jeo Baby (director, The Great Indian Kitchen)

Jeo Baby’s The Great Indian Kitchen was the first best Malayalam release of 2021, and one of the few Malayalam OTT releases that stood out up until that point. Its impact lasted for months. Before its release, its posters gave the impression of a light-hearted family entertainer. In retrospect, what it has accomplished makes you laugh at yourself for assuming it was going to be a feel-good experience. Its reception on a newly launched (at the time) OTT platform, Neestream, was unprecedented. The film, with its minimalist approach, was a significant departure from what Jeo did earlier. The Great Indian Kitchen took Jeo back to the very roots of filmmaking. “There was a conscious effort to do something completely different from my last three films. Our subject and its ideology lent itself well to the narrative format we had in mind—something not too talky and told largely through images,” he told us in an earlier interview.


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