SSSSSSSTOWARDS MORE VISUAL EXPRESSION
 
 
1970 marked a turning point in Malayalam cinema. P.N.Menon, a painter with the fruitful collaboration of scenarist M.T. and cameraman Mankada Ravi Varma made a remarkable film, Olavum Theeravum (The wave and the shore). The search for a native idiom of visual communication could be said to have started with this film.
Reminiscent of the Italian neo-realist films in its stark realism, the film told with immense visual appeal the story of an innocent Muslim girl of Malabar.
         That was also the first authentic statement of the way of life of Malabar Muslims. It was remarkable for its accuracy of Muslim dialect, choice of location and art direction. However, the film's reluctance to part with conventions like songs and melodrama made it miss the mark of excellence. 'Olavum Theeravum', however, serves as an important link to the new decade in Malayalam cinema. Another significant effort was C.Radhakrishnan's "Agni".
          In the 70s efforts were to create conditions conducive to the survival of artistic cinema in Kerala. A group of film enthusiasts had already formed a film society in Trivandrum, the first of its kind in the State. It conducted seminars and discussions on films apart from screening international classics. It encouraged the formation of other film societies throughout the state. As an offshoot of this society came the Chitralekha Film Co-operative, the first of its kind in the country formed by a group of trained technicians with the intention of making artistic films. After a period of practice through documentary film making, the Cooperative attempted their first feature, 'Swayamvaram' (One's own choice) in 1972 with Kulathoor Bhaskaran Nair as Executive Producer and Adoor Gopalakrishnan as Director. Technically superb, the film dispensed with the cliché's of traditional cinema particularly with songs till then considered an essential ingredient in feature film. Although build on a weak narrative, the film was much ahead of all Malayalam films in its cinematic qualities. It launched a major film maker in Malayalam.
          The next year MT Vasudevan Nair came up with his own directorial venture, 'Nirmalyam' (Remains, 1973). M.T. was hesitant to shed all the existing conventions but all the same produced a brilliant first work. Although still coming to grips with the medium, he was sure of his characters and their relationships. Much of his pre-occupation with family relationships found earlier in his screenplays was evident here too.
          In 1974, G.Aravindan who had established himself as the most intellectual cartoonist working in Malayalam them with his serial, "Cheriyamanushyanum valiya lokavum" ("Small Men and Big World") in a Weekly, made his first film, 'Utharayanam' (Throne of Capricon). Aravindan had no formal training in film making but his cartoon serial would have given him an opportunity to play with composition. His cartoon serial looked more like a story-board for a film! Aravindan demonstrated an extraordinary sense of visual expression and composition like his predecessor, Adoor Gopalakrishnan. He was greatly aided by contributions from cameraman M.Ravi Varma and the art director, Namboodiri.
          During the last decade, Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Aravindan consolidated their positions in not only Malayalam Cinema but in Indian Cinema as well. Adoor made significant films like 'Swaymvaram', 'Kodiyettom', 'Elippathayam', 'Mukhamukham', 'Anantharam', 'Mathilukal', 'Vidheyan' and 'Kadhapurushan'. 'Elippathayam' won the British Film Institute Award for the year 1982. Aravindan made films like 'Utharayanam', 'Kanchana Sita', 'Thampu', 'Kummatty', 'Esthappan', 'Pokkuveyil', 'Chidambaram', 'Oridath', 'Vasthuhara' and 'Marattom', films which dealt with diverse themes in a variety of styles.

         
          Along with Adoor and Aravindan, Shaji Karun also could enjoy international acclaim with the help of his haunting films-Piravi, Swam and Vanaprastham. Piravi is the first Malayalam film which got entry in the Canne Film Festival.

          Other prominent film makers who made promising films include John Abraham. K.G.George, K.R.Mohanan and G.S.Panicker, all alumni of the Film and TV Institute of India, Pune and other like Bharathan, K.P.Kumaran, P.A.Backer, Padmarajan, Mankada Ravi Varma and Pavithran. John Abraham who set himself the untouched path of subversive cinema in his first Tamil Film, Argaharthil Kazhuthai, continued in the same vein in his Malayalam Films. Abraham could be credited with demystifying cinema's long evolved conventions and he succeeded really well in blending the theme and form with a dry humour (Cheriyachantae krurakrithhyangal and Ammayariyan). His unexpected demise in 87 caused a setback to the kind of film making that John propounded. Some of the noted Malayalam works of T.V.Chandran in his directing career are 'Alicinte Anweshanam', 'Ponthenmada', 'Mankamma', 'Susanna' and 'Danny'.

          Lenin Rajendran has created some remarkable film like 'Venal', 'Chillu' and 'Meenamasathile Sooryan'. 'Janani' is considered to be one of the best films of Rajivnath who has been adjudged as the Best Director in the national level. Lohitha Das is considered to be one of best screenplay writers of Malayalam Cinema. But he has also proved his mettle directing some excellent films like 'Bhoothakkannadi'. Jayaraj started his career directing mainstream films and later slipped consciously or unconsciously into the arena of art films. Jayaraj whose films have got entry in many International Film Festivals, has directed some immortal films like 'Desadanam', 'Karunam' and 'Santham'. M.P.Sukumaran Nair also could prove his directorial excellence in his film like 'Aparahnam', 'Kazhakam' and 'Sayanam'. Sarath, promising director, whose first film 'Sayahnam' has got seven State Awards.

          Right from the early days, the traditional Malayalam Cinema had different genres like socials, mythological, historical, comedies, wild life adventure and so on but the most favoured one was socials. In the 60s a number of films dealing with the labour movements were made absorbing the political ferment of the time. The 70s saw the sprouting of many film societies spread across the state in moffusil towns and district headquarters which showed international film classics to a semi-urban audience. The state today boasts of the highest number of film societies in any state (about 75). Late seventies witnessed an emphasis on sex in Malayalam Film. Sex encouraged begun to be treated a more open way which encouraged distributors to promote such films outside the state as soft-porn films.
          In the 70s, infrastructure facilities for film making in the state were augmented with the establishment of the state sponsored Chitranjali Studios. Aided by the subsidy scheme of the government and the inflow of 'gulf money' into film making, more films began to be made in Kerala. Location shooting became more popular and the emphasis on realism even in commercial productions was evident. More local artists, technicians and writers contributed to the distinct Malayali flavour of many films.
          The presentation of every day life and its problems itself became the goal of many film makers. The audience also seemed to be content with such banality, judging from the popularity of such films. Sex which began to be treated more openly in the 70s came to be handled more indirectly, more at a subliminal level, in many of these films with a realistic exterior. 80s saw a boom in pulp literature in the state and films made out of serialized stories of these journals found a ready market. A number of such films set in the middle class families which cleverly mixed melodrama and violence succeeded well at the box office. The money accumulated in investment companies began to be diverted for film-making of this nature. Monopolistic tendencies began to be felt in production and distribution and with huge investments without regard to returns made the commercial viability of an average Malayalam film at stake. On the other side of the commercial spectrum, film makers who were making sex and violence-oriented films in the 70s changed their course by making family dramas often dealing with a distant past and most often based on screenplays by Padmarajan and M.T. The duo of Padmarajan and Bharathan seem to be the most decisive during eighties in the commercial success of Malayalam film. Both are prolific in their output. Films based on their screenplays and direction they maintained a certain standard which is well above that of the commercial productions in the rest of the country. Although a sizeable majority of films deal with predictable themes, a few of them have explored alternative subjects like tribal life, pollution, gulf migration, performing arts, biography, women's issues and film making itself.
          The State Government with the limited resources at its disposal introduced a few well meaning schemes like the annual film awards, tax exemption, subsidy and package scheme, all of which have contributed to the growth of film making in the State. With the absorption of more and more trained technicians, mainly from the FTII, Pune, the technical quality of the average Malayalam film also improved considerably. National recognition has been achieved in areas like cinematography and sound. Enterprising producers have attempted wide screen and three dimension processes with tremendous success.
         Although very few commendable efforts have been made in the area of children's film documentaries have received increasing attention from both established film makes and new comers. Chitralekha's early efforts have been followed up by people like Adoor and Aravindan in their personal capacities and also by others. The spurt in the area of documentaries have been facilitated by the subsidy scheme. Biographical seem to be a favourite pre-occupation of the documentary film makers.
          A novel and somewhat idealistic method of film making and distribution was attempted in 1986 by a collective of young film enthusiasts, Odessa movies under the leadership of John Abraham. Their first feature 'Amma Ariyan' (86) was made with contributions from the general public and the film screened on a non-commercial basis through out the State. Odessa also screens film classics and arranges discussions in unexplored areas like fishermen's colonies, mental hospital and the like. But such idealist efforts have to co-exist and even compete with an industry financed, controlled and manipulated by businessmen with no interest in the art and craft of film except for the money that it brings. A film maker like Ravi of General Pictures who financed a number of Aravindan's early film and continues to make Adoor's films is an exceptional a group movement like Odessa. Unlike the Kannada cinema of the 70s and the Bengali cinema of the eighties, Malayalam Cinema does not seem to be very favourable to younger generation of film makers. While the commercial producers are surprisingly willing to take chances by financing younger and inexperienced directors, finance for the emerging film makers with some competence seems unavailable. The National Film Development Corporation engaged in financing and promoting films of promise does not fully sponsor regional film although it produces a number of Hindi films which are more expensive to make and tougher to exhibit. Only recently the corporation started supporting a few projects in Malayalam, that too on language basis. Telecasting of Malayalam film on the national television network also suffers due to the discriminatory policies towards regional films.
          In the exhibition sector, permanent and semi permanent cinema houses have mushroomed throughout the length and breadth of the State, thanks to the Gulf remittance. Movie going has become more frequent due to the increased wages prevailing in villages and the proximity of theaters, even though television and video have made inroads into urban and rural areas.
          The growing recognition that Malayalam film is getting in recent years is evident from the number of Malayalam film featuring in the Indian Panorama section of our International Film Festivals. Every year Malayalam films win national awards and occasionally international awards too. Retrospectives of Malayalam film makers have been held at India's International film festivals and abroad. In taking Indian film to the international front the contributions of P.K.Nair is worth mentioning. He single handedly build up the prestigious Pune Film Archive of India.
          Although efforts to imbibe regional cultural in Malayalam film were there right from the 50s, attempts to evolve indigenous narration and expression became more vigorous in the seventies and eighties. Coming to terms with a technological medium imported from the West by continuous practice and by absorbing the rich performing art tradition of the State, film makers have become more at ease in creating native forms of cinema. Narrative methods of Kathakali have been skillfully adapted in 'Kodiyettam', for example. Films like 'Kodiyettam' and Thumb point to the possibility of a native visual language for Malayalam Cinema. 'Kodiyettam' has proved that such films, if made absorbingly and true to the soil, can gain wide acceptance by the public even if they are bombarded with crude Hollywood imitations and cheap melodrama churned out from popular serial stores. With the reassurance of such acceptance, one may hope that the energies of our film makers will be directed at uncovering local truths and thus universal truth in the manner of a Ray.