Saturday, 13 October 2012


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Even much before the arrival of cinema, the people of Kerala were familiar with moving images on the screen through the traditional art form ‘Tholpavakkuthu’ (Puppet Dance). Usually exhibited at festivals of village temples, ‘Tholpavakkuthu’ uses puppets made of leather with flexible joints. These joints are moved using sticks and the shadow of these moving puppets are captured on a screen using a light source from behind, creating dramatic moving images on the screen. Stories from the mythology were told so, with accompanying dialogues and songs with traditional percussions like the Chenda. ‘Tholpavakkuthu’ uses some of the techniques widely used in cinema like the close-ups and long-shots.


Apart from the art of ‘Tholpavakkuthu’, which exhibits the nature of cinema, many of the folk arts and classical dance forms like ‘Kuthu’, ‘Koodiyattam’ and ‘Kathakali’ exhibits very high visual qualities in their form. My be this legacy of Kerala’s visual culture lead the filmmakers of Kerala to take up cinema in a different way, rather than mere plain story telling, than anywhere else in India, and the people of Kerala to appreciate them.

The first Malayalam cinema was produced and directed by, J C Daniel, a dentist by profession who didn't had any prior experience with cinema. His film Vigathakumaran was released in 1928, but failed economically. But it is notable that while mythological films ruled all over the Indian cinema arena, J C Daniel had the courage to produce the first ever Malayalam film with a social theme. The economic failure of Vigathakumaran discouraged him from producing further films.


The ill luck of Malayalam cinema continued. The second film Marthandavarma based on a novel of the same name by C V Raman Pillai, was produced by Sunderraj in 1933. But due to a legal confrontation regarding the rights of the film, the producer had to withdraw the film from cinema halls after few exhibitions. Had it not been for the legal embargo, the film would have had a great impact on the cinema of South India. By Marthandavarma the history of silent Malayalam cinema too came to an end.

The Cinema of Kerala (also known as Malayalam cinema, the Malayalam film industry) is a part of Indian cinema, where motion pictures are produced in the Indian state of Kerala in the Malayalam language. Malayalam cinema is known for its realistic portrayal of relevant subjects in films with less commercial elements. Malayalam cinema has pioneered various technical, thematic and production techniques among films in India. The industry is the fourth largest film industry in India. It is also one of the largest producers of parallel cinema in India.

At first (beginning in the 1920s), the Malayalam film industry was based in Trivandrum. Although the film industry started to develop and flourish only by the late-1940s. Later, the industry shifted to Chennai (formerly Madras), which then was the capital of the South Indian film industry. In the 2000s, the Malayalam film industry returned and established itself both in Trivandrum and Kochi with a major chunk of locations, studios and production facilities.

Guru and Adaminte Makan Abu were the only Malayalam films to be sent by India as its official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film for the Academy Awards in 1997 and 2011 respectively. The first 3-D film produced in India, My Dear Kuttichathan (1984), was made in Malayalam. The first CinemaScope film produced in South India was the Malayalam film Thacholi Ambu (1978). The world's first film with just one actor in the star cast was the Malayalam film The Guard (2001).

History of Malayalam cinema

The early era (1907-1950s)

The first cinema hall in Kerala, with a manually operated film projector, was opened in Thrissur by K. W. Joseph in 1907. In 1913, the first electrically operated film projector was established (in Thrissur again) by Jose Kattukkaran and was called the "Jose Electrical Bioscope". Soon such cinema halls were established in other major cities of Kerala. In the early days, Tamil, Hindi and English films were exhibited in these theatres.

The first film (silent movie, 1928)

The first film to be made in Malayalam was Vigathakumaran, which was released in 1930. It was produced and directed by J. C. Daniel, and for this work he is credited as the father of Malayalam cinema. The shooting of the first Malayalam film, the silent movie Vigathakumaran, was started in 1928; the film was released in Trivandrum Capitol Theatre on November 7, 1930. It was produced and directed by J. C. Daniel, a businessman with no prior film experience. Daniel founded the first film studio'The Travancore National Pictures Limited' in Kerala.

The second film, Marthanda Varma, based on a novel by C. V. Raman Pillai, was produced by R. Sundar Raj in 1933. However, it became stranded in a legal battle over copyright issues and the court ordered the confiscation of the prints. As a result, the second movie's exhibition lasted only four days.

The first talkie (1938)

The first talkie in Malayalam was Balan, released in 1938. It was directed by S.Nottani with a screenplay and songs written by Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai. It was produced at Chennai (then Madras) in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. Malayalam films continued to be made mainly by Tamil producers until 1947, when the first major film studio, Udaya, was established in Kerala, in Alleppey (Alappuzha) by Kunchacko, who earned fame as a film producer and director.

'Balan' cinema's Poster

A scene from 'Balan'


Malayalam cinema has always taken its themes from relevant social issues and has been interwoven with material from literature, drama, and politics since its inception. One such film, Jeevitha Nouka (1951), was a musical drama which spoke about the problems in a joint family. This movie became very popular and was probably the first "super hit" of Malayalam cinema. However, this movie's success was bittersweet. Although its success accelerated Malayalam movie-making, films that were produced after Jeevitha Nouka closely mimicked its structure, hoping to find some sort of "success formula", thus hampering creativity for a long time. Nevertheless, this time was hailed as "the period of giants" in Malayalam film industry, due to the work of film stars Thikurissi Sukumaran NairSathyanKottarakara Sreedharan Nair and Prem Nazir.

A Scene from 'Jeevitha Nauka'

Thikurissi Sukumaran Nair


Kottarakara Sreedharan Nair

Kottarakara Sreedharan Nair in a Historic Cinema

Prem Nazir

In 1954, the film Neelakuyil captured national interest by winning the President's silver medal. Scripted by the well-known Malayalam novelist Uroob, and directed by P. Bhaskaran and Ramu Kariat, it is often considered the first authentic Malayali film. Another notable production was Newspaper Boy (1955), which contained elements of Italian neorealism. This film is notable as the product of a group of amateur college filmmakers. It told the story of a printing press employee and his family being stricken with extreme poverty. The music took a turn,away from the trend of coping Tamil and Hindi song. The poets Tirunainaarkurichy Madhavan Nair - Thirunaiyarkurichy, P BhaskaranO.N.V. KurupVR Varma, rose up in this period as film lyricists. Brother LakshmananDakshinamurtyK RaghavanParavoor DevarajanMS BaburajPukhenthey Velappan Nair etc started a distinct style malayalam music. Kamukara PurushotammanA.M RajaSreenivasK.P UdayabhanuShanta.P.NairLeelaJanakiShusheelaVasanthaRenukaJikki etc were the Singer from the 50s. The drama artist and school teacher Muthukulam Ragavhan Pilla lend many of his skills to cinema in this period.


P. Bhaskaran
Ramu Kariat

Newspaper Boy




M.S Baburaj

Kamukara Purushotamman


K.P Udayabhanu








Ramu Kariat, one of the directors of Neelakkuyil (the other was P. Bhaskaran), went on to become a sucessful director in the 1960s and 1970s. P. Bhaskaran directed many acclaimed and hit films in the 1960s and 70s. The cameraman of Neelakkuyil, A. Vincent, also became a noted director of the 1960s and 1970s. Notable films of this decade include Odayil NinnuBhargavi Nilayam (1964), Chemmeen (1965), Murappennu (1965) and Iruttinte Athmavu (1966). The era of colour films came to Malayalam cinema with its first colour filmKandam Bacha Coat (1961). Chemmeen (1965), directed by Ramu Kariat and based on a story by Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, went on to become immensely popular, and became the first Malayalam film to win the National Film Award for Best Feature Film. Most of the films of the 60s were animated by the nationalist and socialist projects, and centred on issues relating to caste and class exploitation, the fight against obscurantist beliefs, the degeneration of the feudal class, and the breakup of the joint-family system. In 1960s M Krishnan NairKunchacko and Subramanyam were the leading malayalee producers.
Poster of 'Odayil Ninnu'

Poster of 'Odayil Ninnu'

Vijaya Nirmala in Bhargavi Nilayam

Nazir & Vijaya Nirmala in Bhargavi Nilayam

Madhu in Bhargavi Nilayam

Madhu in Chemmeen

Kottarakkara in Chemmeen

Madhu in Murappennu

Prem Nazir in Murappennu

Poster of Murappennu

Iruttinte Atmavu

Iruttinte Atmavu

Poster of Kandam Bacha Coat

Scene from Kandam Bacha Coat

Scene from Kandam Bacha Coat


During the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Kunchacko made significant contributions to Malayalam cinema, both as a producer and as director of some notable Malayalam movies. He started Udaya Studios in Alleppey (Alappuzha) in 1947, reducing the travel to Madras (Chennai) for film crew and actors. This boosted Malayalam film production in Kerala. Many directors sprang up in this period, PN Menon made 'Rosy' and later 'Chemparathi', then Aravindan started work in 1960s to became famous later. Arguably M Krishnan Nair was a most prominent director producer of this period.



The 70s saw the emergence of a new wave of cinema in Malayalam. The growth of the film society movement in Kerala introduced the works of the French and Italian New Wave directors to the discerning Malayali film enthusiasts. Adoor Gopalakrishnan's first film, Swayamvaram (1972), brought Malayalam cinema to the international film arena. In 1973 M. T. Vasudevan Nair who was by then recognized as an important author in Malayalam, directed his first film Nirmalyam, which won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film. G. Aravindan followed Adoor's lead with his Uttarayanam in 1974. K. P. Kumaran's Adhithi (1974) was another film which was acclaimed by the critics. Cinematographers who won the National Award for their work on Malayalam films in the 1970s were Mankada Ravi Varma for Swayamvaram (1972), and Shaji N. Karun for Thampu (1979). John AbrahamK. R. MohananK. G. George, and G. S. Panikkar were products of the Pune Film Institute who made significant contributions.
M.T.Vasudevan Nair

P.J.Antony & Kaviyoor Ponnamma in Nirmalyam

Poster of Nirmalyam
Scene form Aravindan's Uttarayanam
Mankada Ravi Varma


Scene from Thampu

John Ebraham



During the late 1970s, some young artists started seeing Malayalam cinema as a medium of expression and thought of it as a tool to revitalize society. A noted director, Aravindan was famous in Kerala as a cartoonist before he started making films. His important movies include Kanchana Sita (1977), Thampu (1978), Kummatty (1979), Chidambaram (1985), Oridathu (1986), and Vasthuhara (1990). 1970s also saw the emergence of a notable director P. G. Viswambharan with his debut film Ozhukinethire and mythical film Sathyavan Savithri from the same director, which was well accepted. Also, commercial cinema in this period saw several worker class themed films which mostly had M.G. Soman and Sukumaran in the lead followed by the emergence of a new genre of pure action themed films, in a movement led by action star Jayan who is usually considered the first genuine commercial superstar of Malayalam cinema. But this was short-lived, and almost ended with Jayan's untimely death while performing a stunt in a film called Kolilakkam (1980). Nevertheless, he paved way for different films and future actors who proved their talents in both commercial and art genres, the most famous of them being Mohanlal and Mammootty. After Jayan came a new super star Shanker who gave innumerable romantic hits, Manjil virinjapookal being his debut as hero. Nedumudi Venu, Madhu ,Urvashi SharadhaKP UmmerRaviKumarVidhubalaRaghavanAmbikaSai KumarBhasiBhadurSP PillaiLekshmiJagadeeshJayabharathiJagathy srikumarRavi Menon and Innocent were the prominent actors then. MamuttyMohanlal and Suresh Gopi started their life to Superstardom in the seventies.
Scene from Kanchana Sita

Scene from Kanchana Sita
Scene from Kummatti

Scene from Kummatti

Poster of Kummatti

Poster of Chidambaram

Scene from Chidambaram

Scene from Chidambaram










Jayan in his final Film and shot in Kolilakkam

Poster of Kolilakkam

Mohan Lal

Mohan Lal

Mohan Lal

Mohan Lal

Mohan Lal

Mohan Lal

Mohan Lal










Adoor Gopalakrishnan made Elippathayam in 1981. This movie was widely acclaimed and won the British Film Institute award. His other movies include Mukhamukham (1984), Anantharam (1987) Mathilukal(1989), Vidheyan (1994), Kathapurushan (1995), and Nizhalkuthu (2003), I.V. Sasi the path breaker who has directed more than 131 odd films over a span of 34 years made Kanamarayathu (1984). Padmarajan made his early works in this period including the movie Koodevide? (1983). The year 1988 marked the release of Kerala's first super hit soft core film Adipapam which was directed by P. Chandrakumar.




Nedumudi Venu

Nedumudi Venu







P. A. Backer and Bharathan are other names worth mentioning.



Golden age of Malayalam cinema

Most critics and audiences consider the period from the late 1980s to early 1990s as the golden age of Malayalam cinema. The Malayalam cinema of this period was characterized by detailed screenplays dealing with everyday life with a lucid narration of plot intermingling with humour and melancholy. This was aided by brilliant cinematography and lighting as in motion pictures like Perumthachan (1990), directed by Ajayan with Santosh Sivan as the cinematographer. These films are also remembered for their warm background music by composers like Johnson, as in the motion picture Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal (1986) by Padmarajan. The golden age saw big actors like Mohanlal, Mammootty etc.

Thilakan in Perunthachan

Thilakan in Perunthacha

Many of the movies released during this time narrowed the gap between art cinema and commercial cinema in the Malayalam film industry, as in Mrigaya starring Mammootty (1989, directed by I.V. Sasi and written by Lohithadas), Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha (1989), starring Mammootty, Kireedam (1989, directed by Sibi Malayil, starring Mohanlal and written by Lohithadas), Mathilukal starring Mammootty (1989), Carnival, starring Mammootty (1989, directed by P. G. Viswambharan), Amaram starring Mammootty (1991, directed by Bharathan), Kakkothikkavile Appooppan Thaadikal(1988, directed by Kamal) and Sargam (1992, directed by Hariharan).
Mammootty in Oru Vadakkan Veera Gatha

Madhavi in Oru Vadakkan Veera Gatha

Captain Raju in Oru Vadakkan Veera Gatha

Geetha in Oru Vadakkan Veera Gatha

Poster of Kireedam

Thilakan in Kireedam

Mohanlal & Parvathy in Kireedam

Mohanlal y in Kireedam

Mohanlal  in Kireedam

Mohanlal, Thilakan & Kaviyoor Ponnamma in Kireedam

Sibi Malayil


The period had an abundance of movies rich in creative humour from directors like Priyadarshan, Sathyan AnthikkadKamal and Siddique-Lal. The internationally acclaimed] Piravi (1989) by Shaji N. Karun was the first Malayalam film to win the Caméra d'Or-Mention at the Cannes Film Festival. Other notable contributions of this period include His Highness Abdullah (1990) directed by Sibi MalayilAbhayam (1991) directed by Santosh Sivan, and the motion picture Daisy (1988) an expressive depiction of separation and longing set in a boarding school, directed by Prathap K. Pothan.


Sathyan Anthikkadu

Prathap K. Pothan

Some examples are Kattu Kuthira (1990) directed by P. G. ViswambharanBharatham (1991) by Sibi MalayilUlladakkam (1992) directed by KamalKilukkam(1991) directed by PriyadarshanKamaladalam (1992) by Sibi MalayilDevaasuram (1993) by I. V. SasiManichithrathazhu (1993) by FazilPonthan Mada (1993) by T. V. Chandran, and Desadanam (1997) by JayaraajSwaham (1994), directed by Shaji N. Karun, was the second Malayalam film entry in the Cannes International Film Festival, where it was a nominee for the Palme d'Or. Murali Nair's Marana Simhasanam later won the Caméra d'Or at the 1999 Cannes Film FestivalGuru (1997) directed by Rajiv Anchal was chosen as India's official entry to the Oscars to be considered for nomination in the Best Foreign Film category for that year, making it the first film in Malayalam to be chosen for Oscar nomination.


Poster of Manichithrathazhu

Mohanlal & Sureshgopi in Manichithrathazhu

Sobhana in Manichithrathazhu

Mohanlal in Manichithrathazhu

Mohanlal in Manichithrathazhu

Mohanlal & Sobhana in Manichithrathazhu
Sobhana in Manichithrathazhu

Soshana in Manichthrathazhu

Thilakan in Manichithrathazhu

Early-mid 2000s

Slapstick comedy was the predominant theme in the films of this era. C.I.D. Moosa (2003) by Johny AntonyMeesa Madhavan (2002) by Lal Jose and Kunjikoonan (2002) directed by Sasi Shanker are examples. Sequels to a number of successful films were made. These include blockbuster hit Raavanaprabhu (Devaasuram) and the sequels to the 80s hit movie Oru CBI Diarykurippu, named Sethurama Iyer CBI (2004) and Nerariyan CBI (2005), which were huge hits. Many movies during the early 2000s were of low quality. But there where some movies which were examples of exemplary film making like MeghamalharMadhuranombarakaattuNandanamPerumazhakkalam, Kazhcha etc. Dileep emerged as a major star force during this period after the blockbuster, Meesa Madhavan. Malayalam Cinema had a crisis, when a parallel culture of adult-content movies named "Shakeela films" emerged to be the best grossers for more than a year. Malayalam cinema saw a rare dearth of talent. At the same time, Tamil movies saw a surge of new talent in scriptwriters, directors and actors. This resulted in increased popularity of Tamil and Hindi movies in Kerala. Several film theatres were closed in rural Kerala and were converted to marriage halls. But by the last of year 2003, it was a happy season for the industry.

Jagathy Sreekumar

Jagathy Sreekumar

Jagathy Sreekumar

Jagathy Sreekumar

Jagathy Sreekumar

Jagathy Sreekumar

Jagathy Sreekumar

Jagathy Sreekumar

Jagathy Sreekumar

Jagathy Sreekumar




Nedumudi Venu

Suresh Gopi

Suresh Gopi

Suresh Gopi

Suresh Gopi

Late 2000s

Malayalam movies saw a comeback in 2005. New directors such as Lal JoseRoshan AndrewsBlessy and Anwar Rasheed brought back original scripts to Malayalam movies. Notable movies of this era are NandanamMeesa MadhavanKaazhchaUdayananu TharamNotebookClassmatesKeerthi ChakraVinodayathraParadesiRajamanikyamKarutha PakshikalArabikkatha, and Kadha Parayumbol. Many of Malayalam movies are remade into other languages. This era has seen new promising actors like DileepKunchako BobanPrithvirajJayasurya along with stalwarts MohanlalMammooty Suresh Gopi, and Jayaram.

2010s to Present

After several years of qualitative deterioration, Malayalam films saw the signs of some renaissance in the last two years with the release of several experimental films, mostly from new directors. Other films that contributed the most to this renaissance include RituKutty SrankBhramaramPaleri Manikyam: Oru Pathirakolapathakathinte KathaPranchiyettan and the SaintUrumiT. D. Dasan Std. VI BTrafficGaddhamaPranayamCity of GodMelvilasomBeautifulEe Adutha Kaalathu22 Female KottayamNidraDiamond NecklaceVeettilekkulla VazhiManjadikkuruAakashathinte NiramRed Street (by Jayan Pothuval), SpiritUstad HotelThattathin Marayathu etc. It encouraged new generation actors like Prithviraj Sukumaran JayasuryaIndrajithMurali Gopy   with the emergence of promising directors such as Lijo JoseRajesh PillaiAnjali MenonArun Kumar etc..

Pioneered film-making techniques

Malayalam films cater to people living in the South Indian state of Kerala and emigrants from it. The total population of Malayalees, as they are called, is around 4 crore. As of 2002, most Malayalam films without the superstars, were made with a budget of less than Rs 1 crore. (0.25 million USD) Despite the apparent budget constraints, Malayalam cinema has pioneered various technical, thematic and production techniques among films in India and South India. Such films include:

Marthanda Varma (1933):

The first Indian historical drama film. The film was based on the life of Marthanda Varma, the Maharajah of the Indian princely state of Travancore in the mid 18th century. Marthanda Varma was film adaptation of a novel in the same name by C. V. Raman Pillai, making it one of the first Indian film adaptations from literature other than the puranas.

Newspaper Boy (1955):

India's first neorealistic film. The film drew its inspiration from Italian neorealism and was released a few months before Satyajit Ray's debut film Pather Panchali, another neo-realistic film.

Thacholi Ambu (1978):

South India's first CinemaScope film.

Padayottam (1982):

India's first indigenously produced 70 mm film.

My Dear Kuttichathan (1984):

India's first 3-D film.

Amma Ariyan (1986):

The first film made in India with money collected from the public. The film was produced by Odessa Collective, founded by the director of the film John Abraham and friends. The fund was raised by collecting donations and screening Charlie Chaplin's film The Kid.

O' Faaby (1993):

India's first live-action/animation hybrid film.

Moonnamathoral (2006):

First Indian film to be shot and distributed in digital format.

Notable personalities


Malayalam cinema boasts many brilliant film directors, starting with J. C. Daniel, the director and producer of the first Malayalam film, Vigathakumaran (1928). Unlike other Indian films at that time, most of which were films based on the puranas, he chose to base his film on a social theme. Though the film failed commercially, he paved way for the Malayalam film industry and is widely considered the father of Malayalam cinema. Till the 1950s, Malayalam film didn't see many talented film directors. The milestone film Neelakkuyil (1954), directed by Ramu Karyat and P. Bhaskaran, shed a lot of limelight over its directors. Ramu Karyat went on to become a celebrated director in the 1960s and 1970s. P. Bhaskaran also directed a few acclaimed films in the 1960s. The cameraman of Neelakkuyil, A. Vincent, also became a noted director of the 1960s and 1970s. Another noted director of the 1950s was P. Ramadas, the director of the neorealistic film Newspaper Boy (1955).

In the 1970s, the Malayalam film industry saw the rise of film societies. It triggered a new genre of films known as "parallel cinema". The main driving forces of the movement, who gave priority to serious cinema, were G. Aravindan. People like John Abraham and P. A. Backer gave a new dimension to Malayalam cinema through their political themes. The later 1970s witnessed the emergence of another stream of Malayalam films, known as "middle-stream cinema", which seamlessly integrated the seriousness of the parallel cinema and the popularity of the mainstream cinema. Most of the films belonging to this stream were directed by P.N Menon, I. V. Sasi, P. G. Viswambharan, K. G. George, Bharathan and Padmarajan.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a period widely regarded as the Golden Age of Malayalam cinema, a new array of directors joined the stalwarts who had already made a mark in the industry. The Golden Age saw the narrowing of the gap between the different streams of the industry. Directors like K. G. George, Priyadarshan, I. V. Sasi, John Abraham, Fazil, Joshy, Bhadran, P. G. Viswambharan, Kamal, Sibi Malayil, Hariharan, Sathyan Anthikkad, K. Madhu and Siddique-Lal contributed heavily in the Golden Age. Then there were extraordinary screenwriters like M. T. Vasudevan Nair, T. Damodaran, A. K. Lohithadas and Sreenivasan who contributed their part as well.

The 2000s witnessed the decline of quality of Malayalam films. Many directors who excelled in the Golden Age struggled as many of their films continuously failed critically and commercially. As a result the gap between parallel cinema (now known as art cinema) and mainstream cinema (now known as commercial cinema) widened. The 2000s also saw a commercial film formula being created in line with Tamil andBollywood films. Directors like Shaji Kailas, Rafi Mecartin directed blockbusters which had few artistic merits to boast of. Despite the overall decline, some directors stood apart and made quality cinema. Shaji N. Karun, Shyama Prasad and Jayaraj made films that won laurels. Notable directors who debuted in this time include Blessy, Lal Jose, R. Sharath, Renjith, Roshan Andrews, Amal Neerad,  Vineeth Sreenivasan and Lijo Jose Pellissery.

Malayalam film directors have made their mark in the national level as well. Out of the 40 National Film Awards for Best Director given away till 2007, Malayalam directors have pocketed 12, trailed only by Bengali (14 awards). The directors who have won the prestigious award are G. Aravindan (1978, 1979, 1987), Shaji N. Karun (1989), T.V. Chandran (1994), Jayaraj(1998) and Rajivnath (1999). There are several recipients of the Special Jury Award as well: Mankada Ravi Varma (1984), John Abraham (1987), Shaji N. Karun (1995) and Pradeep Nair (2005).


Lead actors

A lead actor is called as a superstar when that person has become a driving force at the box office. Just like other Indian film industries, there are no clear-cut guidelines for decorating an actor as superstar, and this designation is almost always bestowed by the media after an actor proves to be a champion at the box office.

Thikkurissy Sukumaran Nair was the first person in the Malayalam film history to be called a superstar, following the tremendous success of his second film Jeevithanauka (1951), which is touted as the first superhit of Malayalam cinema. Later Prem Nazir, Sathyan, Madhu, Jayan, M. G. Soman, and Sukumaran came to be called superstars. Prem Nazir and Sathyan formed a bipolar industry in which a considerable number of films made in Malayalam in the later 1960s and almost the whole of 1970s starred one of them, until the rise of Jayan. Curiously, the trend was continued in the next era as well, with Mohanlal & Mammootty being established as superstars in the 1980s. Suresh Gopi emerged as a superstar by mid 1990s, following a series of successful movies having police/political themes, most notably Commissioner, directed by Shaji Kailas.

As with most of the other Indian film industries, the Malayalam film industry is driven by male actors. None of the female actors who have been part of the industry have come to be known as superstars, though there have been immensely popular stars like Miss Kumari, Sharada,  Jayabharathi, Vidhubala, Srividya, Shobhana, Revathi, Urvashi, Manju Warrier, Meera Jasmine, Navya Nair, Kavya Madhavan and Samvrutha Sunil.

Many actors have brought laurels to Malayalam films with their performances. As of 2011, Malayalam film actors have won 13 out of the 47 National Film Awards for Best Actor ever given away, including two occasions of double awardees. 13 is the second highest number of award wins by a film industry trailed only by Hindi (19 awards). The Malayalam film actors who have won the award are P. J. Antony (1974), Gopi (1978), Balan K. Nair (1981), Premji (1988), Mammootty (1989, 1993, 1999), Mohanlal (1991, 2000), Suresh Gopi (1998), Balachandra Menon (1998), Murali (2002) and Salim Kumar (2011). Additionally, Malayalam film actors have won several Special Jury Awards as well: Mohanlal (1990), Kalabhavan Mani (2000), Nedumudi Venu (2004), Thilakan (2007).

Malayalam female actors are not far behind. As of 2007, they have won the National Film Award for Best Actress 5 times. The winners are Sharada (1969, 1973, 1979), Monisha (1987), Shobana (1994, 2002) and Meera Jasmine (2004). The actresses to win the Special Jury Award are Jomol (1998), Manju Warrier (1999) and Jyothirmayi (2003). Sharada did win another award in 1979 for the Telugu film Nimajjan; so did Shobana in 2002 for the Indian made English language film Mitr, My Friend.

Notable Current Super lead actors include Mohanlal, Mammootty, Suresh Gopi, Jayaram, Dileep, Prithviraj,  Jayasurya, Kunchacko Boban and Unni Mukundan.

Supporting Roles

In the early times of Malayalam cinema, supporting roles, though mostly donned by established theatre artists, did not have any noted supporting actors. In the 1960s and 1970s several supporting actors like Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair, Adoor Bhasi, Bahadoor, Balan K. Nair, Adoor Bhavani came into the scene. Most of them went on to have lifelong careers. In the 1980s and 1990s many more joined them, notably Thilakan, Nedumudi Venu, Jagathy Sreekumar, Oduvil Unnikrishnan, Biju Menon, Vijayaraghavan, Innocent, Siddique, Jagadish, Kuthiravattam Pappu, Manoj K. Jayan, Murali, Narendra Prasad, Rajan P. Dev, Sukumari, K.P.A.C. Lalitha and Bindu Panicker. Some of them had short careers with title roles as well.

Despite the presence of a number of talented actors, Malayalam films have only won 2 out of the 24 National Film Awards for Best Supporting Actor so far given away, as of 2007. Thilakan (1988) and Nedumudi Venu (1991) are the only actors to win the award. The same is not the case with female actors. They have won 6 out the 24 National Film Awards for Best Supporting Actress given away, trailed only by Hindi (10 awards). The winners are K.P.A.C. Lalitha (1991, 2001), Santha Devi (1992), Urvashi (2006).


Recently Malayalam film industry is getting concentrated in Kochi contrary to the trend in 80's and 90's when Thiruvananthapuram was the base of Malayalam Film Industry. Most of the film shooting is now a days done in kochi and its suburbs.

Film Music

Film music, which refers to playback singing in the context of Indian music, forms the most important canon of popular music in India. The film music of Kerala in particular is the most popular form of music in the state. Before Malayalam cinema and Malayalam film music developed, the Keralites eagerly followed Tamil and Hindi film songs, and that habit has stayed with them till now. The history of Malayalam film songs begins with the 1948 film Nirmala. The film's music director was P. S. Divakar, and the songs were sung by P. Leela, T. K. Govinda Rao, Vasudeva Kurup, C. K. Raghavan, Sarojini Menon and Vimala B. Varma, who is credited as the first playback singer of Malayalam cinema.

The main trend in the early years was to use the tune of hit Hindi or Tamil songs in Malayalam songs. This trend changed in the early 1950s with the arrival of a number of poets and musicians to the Malayalam music scene. People who stormed into the Malayalam film music industry in the 1950s include musicians like V. Dakshinamurthy (1950), K. Raghavan (1954), Brother Laxmanan, G. Devarajan (1955) and M.S. Babu Raj (1957) and lyricists like P. Bhaskaran (1950), Tirunainarkurichy Madhavan Nair, O. N. V. Kurup (1955) and Vayalar Rama Varma (1956). They are attributed with shaping Malayalam film music stream and giving it its own identity. Major playback singers of that time were Kamukara Purushothaman, K. P. Udayabhanu, A. M. Raja, P. Leela, Santha P. Nair, P. Susheela, P. Madhuri and S. Janaki. Many of this singers like A. M. Raja, P. Susheela, Madhuri and Janaki were not Malayalis and their pronunciation was not perfect. Despite that, these singers got high popularity throughout Kerala. In the later years many non-Malayalis like Manna Dey, Talat Mahmood, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle and S. P. Balasubrahmanyam sang for Malayalam films. This trend was also found among music directors to an extent, with outside musicians like Naushad, Usha Khanna, M.B. Sreenivasan, Bombay Ravi, Shyam, Bappi Lahiri, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Salil Chowdhury, Ilaiyaraaja, Vishal Bharadwaj and A. R. Rahman scoring music for Malayalam films. This can be attributed to the fact that film music in South India had a parallel growth pattern with so many instances of cross-industry contributions.

K. J. Yesudas, who debuted in 1961, virtually revolutionized the Malayalam film music industry and became the most popular Malayalam singer ever. Vayalar, G. Devarajan and Yesudas trio also made unforgettable songs like the earlier trio of Kamukara, Tirunainaarkurichy & Brother Laxmanan. Yesudas became equally popular with classical music audience and people who patronized film music. He along with P. Jayachandran gave a major face-lift to Malayalam playback singing in the 1960s and 1970s. Malayalam film music also received heavy contributions from composers and musicians like Johnson, M.B. Sreenivasan, Pukezhenty Vellappan Nair, MS Vishwanathan, Kannur Rajan, Shyam, M. G. Radhakrishnan, Raveendran, S. P. Venkatesh, Mohan Sithara, Ouseppachan and Vidyasagar, lyricists like Sreekumaran Thampi, Yusuf Ali Kechery, Bichu Thirumala, Rameshan Nair, Papanamcode Laxmanan, Chyrinkil M Nair, Baharanikavu Shivakumar and Kaithapram Damodaran Namboodiri, and singers like M. G. Sreekumar, G. Venugopal, K. S. Chitra and Sujatha Mohan. A notable aspect in the later years was the extensive of classical Karnatic music in many film songs of the later 1980s and early 1990s. Interestingly, that particular period is also considered as the peak time for Malayalam cinema itself and is quite widely known as the Golden Age of Malayalam cinema, a period in which the difference between art films and popular films was least felt. Similarly, classical carnatic music was heavily used in several popular film songs, most notably those in films like Chithram (1988), His Highness Abdullah (1990), Bharatham (1991), Sargam (1992) and Sopanam (1993).

At present, the major players in the scene are young musicians like Rahul Raj, Alphonse, Gopi Sundar, Jassie Gift, Deepak Dev, and Biji Pal, lyricists Rafeeq Ahmed, Vayalar Sarath and Anil Panachooran, and singers Madhu Balakrishnan, Afsal, Shewtha, Manjari and Jyotsna, along with stalwarts in the field.

Young composers like Rahul Raj and Gopi Sundar are not only known for their catchy tunes, but also known for bringing in a lot of electronics, digital sound and a variety of genres in Malayalam film songs.

The National Award-winning music directors of Malayalam cinema are Johnson (1994, 1995), Bombay Ravi (1995), Ouseppachan (2008), Ilaiyaraaja (2010) and Issak Thomas Kottakapally (2011). Till 2009, the 1995 National Award that Johnson received for the film score of Sukrutham (1994) was the only instance in the history of the award in which the awardee composed the film soundtrack rather than its songs. He shared that award with Bombay Ravi, who received the award for composing songs for the same film.Ravindran also received a Special Jury Award in 1992 for composing songs for the film Bharatham. The lyricists who have won the National Award are Vayalar Ramavarma (1973), O. N. V. Kurup (1989) and Yusuf Ali Kechery (2001). The male singers who have received the National Award are K. J. Yesudas (1973, 1974, 1988, 1992, 1994), P. Jayachandran (1986) and M. G. Sreekumar (1991, 2000). Yesudas has won two more National Awards for singing in Hindi (1977) and Telugu (1983) films, which makes him the person who has won the most National Film Awards for Best Male Playback Singer with seven awards, closely followed by S. P. Balasubrahmanyam with six awards. The female singers who have won the award are S. Janaki (1981) and K. S. Chitra (1987, 1989). Chitra had also won the award for Tamil (1986, 1997, 2005) and Hindi (1998) film songs, which makes her the person with the most National Film Awards for Best Female Playback Singer with six awards, closely followed by P. Susheela with five awards.

Remakes into other languages

Many Malayalam films have been remade in other languages, including Dindigul Sarathy, Sundara Travels, Seedan, Friends, Ninaithale Inikkum, Perazhagan, Kuselan, Chandramukhi (in Tamil), Classmates,Chandralekha, Nagavalli (in Telugu), Aaptamitra, Manmatha, Bellary Naga (in Kannada), and Garam Masala, Gardish, Kyon Ki, Billu, Bhool Bhulaiyaa, Hera Pheri, Chup Chup Ke, Khatta Meetha, De Dana Dan,Mere Baap Pehle Aap,Dhol (2007 film), Malamaal Weekly, Bhagam Bhag, Bodyguard, Kyon Ki, Hulchul, Yeh Teraa Ghar Yeh Meraa Ghar (in Hindi) and Kaavalan (in Tamil).

Kerala State Film Awards

The Kerala State Film Awards are the most prestigious film awards for a motion picture made in the Malayalam language. The awards have been bestowed by Kerala State Chalachitra Academy since 1998 on behalf of the Department of Cultural Affairs of the Government of Kerala. The awards were started in the year 1969. The awardees are decided by an independent jury formed by the academy and the Department of Cultural Affairs. The jury usually consists of eminent personalities from the film field. For the awards for literature on cinema a separate jury is formed. The academy annually invites films for the award and the jury analyses the films that are submitted before deciding the winners. The awards intend to promote films with artistic values and encourage artistes and technicians.

International Film Festival of Kerala

The International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) is a film festival held annually in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of Kerala. This film festival was started in 1996 and is organised by Kerala State Chalachitra Academy on behalf of the Department of Cultural Affairs of the State Government. The festival is held in November/December every year and is acknowledged as one of the leading film festivals in India.

Film Studios

The Travancore National Pictures was the first film studio in Kerala. It was established by J. C. Daniel in 1926 in Nagercoil, which was then a part of Travancore. Producer-director Kunchacko and film distributor K. V. Koshy established Udaya Studios in Alappuzha in 1947. The studio influenced the gradual shift of Malayalam film industry from its original base of Madras, Tamil Nadu to Kerala. In 1951, P. Subramaniam established Merryland Studio in Nemom, Thiruvananthapuram. The other major studios are Sreekrishna (1952, Kulathoor), Ajantha (1964, Thottumukham), Chithralekha (1965, Aakkulam), Uma (1975, Vellakkadavu), Navodaya (1978, Thrikkakkara) and Chithranjali (1980, Thiruvallam).


Association of Malayalam Movie Artists

The Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA) is an organisation formed by artists of Malayalam cinema to safeguard their interests. It aims to act against piracy, to safeguard the interests of member actors and actresses, and to serve as a common forum to raise concerns and address issues. The activities of AMMA include endowments, insurance schemes, and committees on wages and benefits on revision, fund for research, pensions, education loans for their children etc. for the members. The organization ventured into film production in 2008 with Twenty:20 to raise funds for its activities.

AMMA was involved in the film industry deadlock of 2004 and the alleged denial of work to senior actor Thilakan.

Other organisations

·        Malayalam Cine Technicians Association (MACTA)
·        Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce
·        Federation of Film Societies of India - Keralam
·        Malayalam Film Chamber of Commerce
·        Kerala Film Producers' Association
·        Film Distributors Association, Kerala (FDA,Kerala)
·        Kerala Cine Exhibitors Association
·        Kerala Film Exhibitors Federation
·        Film Employees Federation of Kerala (FEFKA)

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