For the longest time, Malayalam cinema was punctuated by two ‘M’s: Mohanlal and Mammootty. With an enviable dominance over the box office, the pair enjoyed a monopoly of sorts.
But in 2010, there was a tectonic shift in that space as new faces and new styles of storytelling began to emerge, with risque thrillers such as Traffic, Chaapa Kurishu and infidelity drama Cocktail.
Gone was the idea of having heroes who were virtuous, living larger than life in idyllic villages. Young actors such as Fahadh Faasil, Dulquer Salman and Rima Kallingal embraced roles that resonated with the youth of Kerala living in cities such as Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. These actors never shied away from playing less-than-perfect heroes; some of the films are postively profanity-laden and alcohol-drenched. The women in these films aren’t simply portrayed as beautiful, timid beings either.
As Anjali Menon’s ensemble romantic comedy Bangalore Days, led by relative newcomers Faasil, Salman, Nivine Pauly and Nazriya Nazim, continues to set the box office on fire, tabloid! takes a look at the young actors who have managed to push the boundaries of Malayalam cinema.
Who: Fahadh Faasil
Industry connection: The son of director Fazil, who made blockbusters such as psychological thriller Manichitrathazhu and romance Aniyathipravu.
His must-watch films: Chaappa Kurishu, Diamond Necklace, Artist and Bangalore Days.
See him next in: Iyobinte Pustakam by Amal Neerad.
The leader of this new-generation-actor pack has been a part of many provocative films. In 2013, Faasil acted in 13 films, managing this incredible feat without being monotonous. As a suave pimp in the morbid thriller 22 Female Kottayam (in which he aids his boss to rape his girlfriend — twice), an emotionally warped biker in this year’s blockbuster Bangalore Days and as a troubled, narcissistic painter in the award-winning Artist, Faasil revels in experimenting. His appetite for films is also voracious.
“I wish I had done a lot more because I am having so much fun doing these roles, like the roles that I am choosing these days,” said Faasil in a interview during the launch of a Malabar Gold & Diamonds store in Ras Al Khaimah recently. He claims there’s no strategy behind his prolific movie career.
“If I had my way, I want to do 15 films in a year, but I have realised I cannot physically do that … I found 13 interesting films last year but I haven’t found many this year. It’s all about identifying with my roles.”
Faasil, 30, wasn’t always in demand. In 2002, his debut film Kaiyethum Doorathu was universally panned. He took a sabbatical, went to the United States to study and returned to the movies in 2009 in director Ranjith’s anthology film Kerala Cafe.
His mistakes and his glorious innings are of his own making, says the actor. “My father hasn’t backed me in any way and I don’t think anybody has backed me. All I want to do is to make movies that are appealing to people. The day that my movies stop working [with the public] is the day I stop working.”
He also turns producer soon with period thriller Iyobinte Pustakam, directed by Amal Neerad. This director is known for injecting cool into Malayalam films. But being slick and stylish on the silver screen doesn’t come cheap.
“I know it’s a big gamble but I want to do good films. In terms of scale and cost, this is a big one and its story excited me. But to make it happen, we need to pull all our forces together and this is what we are doing.”
In the next few months, he has over four films up for release, including Money Rathnam.
Who: Rima Kallingal
Industry connection: The former model wasn’t born into a film dynasty, but has found love in director Ashiq Abu.
Her must-watch films: 22 Female Kottayam, Indian Rupee, City Of God and Ritu.
It’s not often that you see a woman castrate her lover on the big screen. But former Miss Kerala finalist Kallingal did just that in 22 Female Kottayam. The role, in which she played a spurned nurse, Tessa, altered her career.
“People started taking me seriously as an actress after this one and I won the Kerala State Award for Best Actress. In Malayalam cinema, we have very few roles like that and hundreds of heroines are vying for the same role. It’s not easy for good roles to come by,” said Kallingal.
The actress, who famously shunned gold jewellery when she married director Ashiq Abu in a no-frills ceremony last year, says her dream is to work with directors armed with fresh ideas. “They shouldn’t be scared to make films with a strong woman in the centre. I am always looking for people who are ready to take a chance, take a risk,” said Kallingal.
In the blockbuster Indian Rupee, Kallingal wasn’t the focus (matinee idol Prithviraj dominated the plot), but she managed to hold her own as his practical doctor-girlfriend.
Unusually frank about the issue of married Indian actresses’ appeal dipping after saying ‘I do’, Kallingal finds it annoying that people have begun thinking of her solely as Ashiq Abu’s wife.
“I do not understand this whole dilemma. These days, everything I do is associated with Ashiq. I have worked very hard to be here in the movies, I sweated it out for five years. I have my own principles, my own views about my career … I am still raring to go. And I won’t sit idle. I may direct or I will start my own production company … but I will be around.”
Who: Dulquer Salman
Industry connection: Son of legendary Malayalam actor Mammootty.
His must-watch films: Ustad Hotel, Bangalore Days and Neelakasham Pachakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi.
See him next in: Vikramadithyan and Njan.
Dulquer Salman had big shoes to fill. His father is Mammootty, who has appeared in over 360 Malayalam films and boasts the collective box office power of Bollywood’s leading Khans. So, it’s natural to assume that when his son makes a splash in Malayalam cinema, the launch vehicle would showcase him as the traditional, larger-than-life, virtuous hero. We thought wrong. In 2012, Salman did the unthinkable. He played an uncouth hustler in Second Show, a movie about making quick money led by relative unknowns. There was minimal dancing and singing.
“I didn’t want to use my father’s name. I don’t think I will ever want to use his influence. Never have I gone around asking people ‘do you know who I am?’ Even if it’s to cut a line at the airport. I can’t imagine him [Mammootty] making a few calls to someone so that they make a movie for me. I couldn’t relate to doing something like that,” said Salman in an interview with tabloid! at the time.
He has become better with each film and excels in playing troubled 20-somethings (Ustad Hotel and Bangalore Days) in urban settings. Neelakasham Pachakadal... was a first-of-its-kind road movie in Malayalam about two men embarking on a bike trip from Kerala to Nagaland and resonated with young viewers in Kerala. He doesn’t single-handedly bash villains but prefers to act in movies with a strong emotional quotient. He has shied away from acting in big-budget entertainers and left that space to his father and his contemporary Mohanlal.
Who: Actor and scriptwriter Murali Gopy
Industry connection: Son of Malayalam character actor Bharat Gopy.
His must-watch films: Ee Adutha Kaalathu and Left Right Left.
He calls himself a reluctant actor and finds the phrase ‘new generation cinema’, often used to describe films led by young talent, distasteful.
“What we witnessed in Malayalam movies in 2012 is what I call ‘habit breakers’. These films broke the incumbent movie-viewing habits. Something on these lines happened in the 1980s too, there was a new wave of films that were deviant from what we had seen till then … it’s a cyclical procedure in films that will create new stars, followed by a star system,” said Gopy in an interview with tabloid!. The former journalist was offered his first movie role during an assignment to interview director Lal Jose.
“We vibed well and that’s how my debut film Rasikan came to be. I have never considered myself an actor, I consider my father as the best actor ever and I have rejected offers since the age of 16. I have been selective with my roles. I have only done 12 films so far,” said Gopy.
Choosing quality over quantity seems to have paid off. His role as communist Roy Joseph, aka Che Guevera Roy, in political thriller Left Right Left is one of his finest works. He isn’t conventionally handsome, but 42-year-old Gopy has managed to introduce new techniques of narration through his scriptwriting and acting.
In Ee Adutha Kaalathu, he played an abusive husband who couldn’t handle his sexual impotence and over-compensated with burly behaviour. He wrote the script for this critically-acclaimed film.
“I believe in my kind of films and I like to define my own genre,” said Gopy. He’s currently working on a film with Indrajit Sukumaran and Faasil.
Who: Asif Ali
Industry connection: He’s a self-made actor, who was discovered by festival favourite director Shyamaprasad Rajagopal.
His must-watch films: Sevenes, Salt N’ Pepper, Ordinary and Apoorvaraagam.
See him next in: Sapthamashree Thaskahara and Apothecary.
He doesn’t believe in the length of his role. All he cares about is the impact it may have on the viewer. For instance, in the comedy Ordinary, starring Kunjacko Boban and Biju Menon, Ali played a shabby misfit. He didn’t have the best lines in the film, but he managed to make his mark nonetheless. In Apoorvaraagam, Ali took on a bold role in which he played a college student who blackmailed girls for a living. In Sevenes, he played a student who’s pushed into the world of crime and in the romantic comedy Honey Bee, he played an irresponsible lover to perfection.
“I don’t want to act in cliched love stories... I have never insisted on playing the lead role in any movie. As long as there’s space for me to excel in a role, I take it on,” said Ali in an interview with Surya Televison.