The history of Malayala Cinema begins with “Vigathakumaran “(The Lost Child), a silent movie written, produced and directed by J.C.Daniel in 1928. The plot was a social drama, but an economic failure. J.C.Daniel himself and P.K. Rosy played the lead roles in the film along with Johnson and Sunder Raj. J.C.Daniel is considered as the Father of Malayala Cinema.
In 1933 the second silent film in Malayalam “Marthanda Varma” was produced by R.Sunder Raj and directed by P.V.Rao, based on the novel by C.V.Raman Pillai. Due to legal problems regarding the copyright of the novel, the producer had to withdraw the film from theatres. It too was a flop.
“Balan” (1938) was the first feature film with sound track in Malayalam. The film was produced by T.R.Sundaram of Modern Theatres, Salem , and directed by S.Nottani. The movie was based on a short story titled ‘Vidhiyum Mrs Nayarum’ by A.Sundaram; screen play and dialogues by Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai, starring K.K.Aroor, Alleppy Vincent, Master Madana Gopal and M.K.Kamalam. Balan was the first commercial successful film in Malayalam Film Industry.
Soon after Balan, “Njanambika” (1940) and “Prahlada”(1941) was released. But, the next release was after a long gap. In 1948, “Nirmala” directed by P.J.Cherian. Legendary poet G.Shankara Kurup was the Lyricist of Nirmala. At that time most of the artists and technicians were non-malayalis, based on Tamil Film Industry which gave a Tamil flavour to Malayalam Cinema.
Meanwhile in 1947, Kunchacko established Udaya Studio in Alappuzha, and their first film “Vellinakshathram” was released in 1949. The second film production house named Merryland Studio was established in Thiruvananthapuram by P.Subramanyam in 1951.
1951 was a turning point for Malayalam Film Industry. The first superhit film- “Jeevitha Nauka” was released. It was jointly produced by K.V.Koshy and Kunchacko of Udaya Studios. Thikkurrissi Sukumaran Nair became the first Superstar in Malayala Cinema through Jeevitha Nauka. B.S.Saroja paired Thikkurrissi Sukumaran Nair. S.P.Pillai, Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai, Sebastian Kunjukunju Bhagavathar and Pankajavalli were the other notable actors in the film. Jeevitha Nauka was a remake of the Hindi film Jeevan Nayya.
Early 50’s gave two actors to the Malayalam Film Industry. The Evergreen hero Prem Nazir made his entry through “Marumakal” in 1952. The film was directed by S.K.Chari and produced by Paul Kallungal. Versatile Actor Sathyan began his career in “Thyagaseema” in 1951, but his first release was “Athmasakshi” in 1952.
Malayala Cinema got National recognition through “Neelakuyil”, winning the President’s Silver Medal for feature film in 1954. Based on the story by Uroob, the film was produced by T.K.Parekutty of Chandrathara Pictures and directed by the duo P.Bhaskaran and Ramu Kariyatt. Neelakuyil had an authentic malayalm story, original Malayalam music, and the first film to shoot outdoor locations.Lyrics by P.Bhaskaran and music by K.Raghavan; Sathyan, Miss Kumari, Prema, P.Bhaskaran and Master Vipin Mohan played the lead roles in the film.
The first neo-realistic cinema “Newspaper Boy”, released in 1955 was directed by P.Ramdas. It was based on the Marathi film Mandi. Newspaper Boy is considered world’s first commercial film made by students.
Malayala Cinema found a new path in the mid 50’s with the presence of talented filmmakers like Ramu Kariyatt, P.Bhaskaran, K.S.Sethu Madhavan, A.Vincent; writers like M.T.Vasudevan Nair, Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai, Vaikkom Muhammod Basheer, Thoppil Bhasi and Malayattoor Ramakrishnan. Most of the films at that time were based on Malayalm Litrature and Dramas which deals with social realities.
“Chemmeen” of 1965 was the first South Indian Film to bag the President’s Golden Lotus Award for the best feature film. The story was based on Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai’s famous novel with the same name, directed by Ramu Kariyatt. The film was produced by Babu Ismail Sait of Kanmani Films. Screenplay and dialogues by S.L.Puram Sadanandan, Lyrics by Vayalar Ramavarma, Music by Salil Choudhary, Cinematography by Marcus Bartly and Editing by Hrishikesh Mukharjee shows the technical growth of Malayala Cinema. Sathyan, Madhu, Kottarakkara Shreedharan Nair, S.P.Pillai, Sheela, Adoor Bhavani and Adoor Pankajam played the lead roles in the film.
In 1970, P.N.Menon’s “Olavum Theeravum”, based on M.T.Vasudevan Nair’s script was released. It was the first Malayalam film which was shot completely in outdoor locations. Madhu and Usha Nandhini was in the lead roles.
70’s witnessed the rise of New wave Malayala Cinema or the Malayalam Parallel Cinema with Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s “Swayamvaram” (1972) and G.Aravindan’s “Utharayanam” (1974). The New Wave Cinema gave an exposure to Malayala Cinema in International level. John Abraham, Shaji.N.Karun, T.V.Chandran, K.R.Mohan, M.P.Sukumaran Nair etc also made their contributions.
Middle Stream Cinema with a blend of artistic and commercial values also emerged into the Malayalam Film Industry in the mid 70’s. Directors like Bharathan(Prayanam), Padmarajan (Peruvazhiyambalam),K.G.George(Swapnadanam), Lenin Rajendran(Venal) ,I.V.Sasi(Utsavam) were a few among them.
Versatile actors Bharat Gopi, Nedumudi Venu and Thilakan came into the Malayalam film industry in 70’s through the New wave or Middle stream cinema, while Prem Nazir, Madhu, Soman, Sukumaran and Jayan along with Sheela, Jayabharathi, Sharada, Vidhubala, Lekshmi,Unnimary and Chembarathi Shobhana were the crowd pullers in Malayalam commercial films.
Technical experiments were also made in Malayala Cinema in this period. The first Cinemascope film “Thacholi Ambu”(1978), first 70mm film “Padayottam”(1982), and the first 3D film”My Dear Kuttichathan” (1984) was produced by Appachan of Navodaya Productions.
In 1980’s Malayala Cinema became more commercial with the entry of legendary actors Mammootty and Mohanlal ,with Directors like Joshi, Fazil, Priyadarshan, Kamal, Balachandra Menon, Sathyan Anthikkad,Sreenivasan, Hariharan, Siddique-Lal ,Jayaraj, Sibi Malayil, T.K.Rajiv Kumar, Thampi Kannanthanam ,Thulasi Das, and Bhadran.
In late 80’s, Jayaram , Suresh Gopi and Murali made their entry in Malayala Cinema. Jayaram and Suresh Gopi became part of commercial movies, while Murali found his position both in commercial and non-commercial films.
90’s witnessed the stardom of Mammootty as Megastar and Mohanlal as Superstar. Jayaram and Suresh Gopi were heroes next to Mammootty and Mohanlal. Dileep entered the Malayalam Film Industry through “Manathe Kottaram” in 1994. Later on Dileep was known as the “Janapriya Nayakan”. Kunchacko Boban was introduced by Fazil in “Aniyathi Pravu”(1997). Notable directors in this period are Lal Jose, Shaji Kailas, , Rafi-Mecartin, Sunder Das, Rajasenan, Shyama Prasad,V.M.Vinu, Lohithadas and Vinayan . Shobhana and Urvashi was the heroines of mid 80’s to mid 90’s; but Manju Warrier was the star of the decade. Kavya Madhavan made her entry in 1999 in Lal jose film “Chandranudikkunnadikkil” and Samyuktha Varma in Sathyan Anthikkad’s “Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal” in the same year.
Pritviraj, Jayasurya and Indrajith came in 2000’s, followed by Fahadh Fazil, Nivin Poly, Asif Ali, Dulquer Salman, Murali Gopi and Unni Mukundan in late 2000. Directors like Renjith, Major Ravi, Aku Akbar, Amal Neerad, Anwar Rasheed, Ashique Abu, B.Unnikrishnan, Blessy, Jeethu Joseph, Lijo Jose Pellissery, Shafi, V.K.Prakash and Rajesh Pillai made their entry in Malayalam film industry in this period . Samvrutha Sunil, Bhavana, Roma, Remya Nambeeshan, Nithya Menon, and Mamtha Mohandas were the heroines of this period.
In 2006 the first Digital Cinema was made in Malayalam. It was “Moonnamathoraal” directed by V.K.Prakash. Today, almost all movies are shot and exhibited in Digital Format.
New movement in Malayala cinema known as “New Generation Films” have fresh and unusual themes and new narrative techniques. Films like Traffic, Passenger, Chappa Kurishu, 22 Female Kottayam, Friday, Trivandrum Lodge and Beautiful are examples.
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