Malayalam cinema

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Malayalam cinema
India film clapperboard (variant).svg
No. of screens1000 single-screens in Kerala state of India[1]
Main distributorsAashirvad Cinemas
Maxlab Cinemas and Entertainments
Mulakuppadam Films
LJ Films
Friday Film House
Galaxy Films
Revathy Kalamandhir
Merryland Studio
Navodaya Studio
Graand Production
August Cinema
Kalasangham Films
Prithviraj Productions
Produced feature films (2020)[2]
Gross box office (2019)[3]
National filmsIndia: 2.7 trillion (US$38 billion)

Template:Indian cinema Malayalam cinema is the Indian film industry based in the southern state of Kerala, dedicated to the production of motion pictures in the Malayalam language. It is also known by the sobriquet Mollywood in various print and online media (a portmanteau of Malayalam and Hollywood). Malayalam film industry is the fourth biggest film industry in India.[4] The films produced in Malayalam cinema are known for their cinematography and story-driven realistic plots. Works such as Marana Simhasanam and Vanaprastham were screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival.[5][6] Marana Simhasanam garnered the coveted Caméra d'Or ("Golden Camera") for that year.[7][8][9]

In 1982, Elippathayam won the Sutherland Trophy at the London Film Festival, and Most Original Imaginative Film of 1982 by the British Film Institute. Rajiv Anchal's Guru (1997) and Salim Ahamed's Adaminte Makan Abu (2011) were Malayalam films sent by India as its official entries for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Academy Awards. Adoor Gopalakrishnan has won the International Film Critics Prize (FIPRESCI) for his works such as Mukhamukham (1984), Anantaram (1987), Mathilukal (1989), Vidheyan (1993), Kathapurushan (1995), and Nizhalkkuthu (2002).[10]

Other films which achieved global acclaim include Chemmeen (1965), which received a Certificate of Merit at the Chicago International Film Festival, and a gold medal at the Cannes Film Festival for Best Cinematography.[11] Piravi (1989) won at least 31 international honours, including the Caméra d'Or – Mention Spéciale at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, and was screened at the Un Certain Regard.[6][12] Swaham (1994) won the Bronze Rosa Camuna at the Bergamo Film Meeting in Italy.[6][7][8][9] The first 3D film produced in India, My Dear Kuttichathan (1984), was made in Malayalam.[13] The first CinemaScope film produced in Malayalam was Thacholi Ambu (1978).[14]

During the early 1920s the Malayalam film industry was based in Thiruvananthapuram, 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. By the late 1980s, the Malayalam film industry returned and established itself in Kerala[15] with the majority of locations, studios, production and post-production facilities being located in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. Several media sources describe Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram as the hub of the film industry.[16][17][18][19] As of 2018, Malayalam cinema has got 14 awards for the best actor, 6 for the best actress, 11 for the best film, and 13 for the best film director in the National Film Awards, India.[20]


A scene from Vigathakumaran, the first Malayalam feature film

Active Malayalam film production did not take place until the second half of the 20th century: there were only two silent films, and three Malayalam-language films before 1947.[21][22] With support from the Kerala state government production climbed from around 6 a year in the 1950s, to 30 a year in the 1960s, 40 a year in the 1970s, to 127 films in 1980.[21]

Origins 1928

The first cinema hall in Kerala, with a manually operated film projector, was opened in Thrissur by Jose Kattookkaran in 1907. In 1913, the first permanent theatre in Kerala was established in Thrissur town by Kattookkaran and was called the Jose Electrical Bioscope, now Jos Theatre.[23][24][25]

PK Rosy, the first actress of Malayalam movie industry

The first film made in Malayalam was Vigathakumaran. Production started in 1928, and it was released at the Capitol Theatre in Thiruvananthapuram on 23 October 1930. It was produced and directed by J. C. Daniel, a businessman with no prior film experience, who is credited as the father of Malayalam cinema.[26] Daniel founded the first film studio, The Travancore National Pictures Limited, in Kerala.[26] A second film, Marthanda Varma, based on a novel by C. V. Raman Pillai, was produced by R. Sundar Raj in 1933. However, after only being shown for four days, the film prints were confiscated due to a legal battle over copyright.[26]

The first talkie in Malayalam was Balan, released in 1938.[27][citation needed] It was directed by S. Nottani with a screenplay and songs written by Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai. It was produced by Modern Theatres at Salem in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. Balan was followed by Gnanambika in 1940, which was directed by S. Notani. Then came Prahlada in 1941, directed by K. Subramoniam of Madras and featuring Guru Gopinath and Thankamani Gopinath.

Until 1947 Malayalam films were made by Tamil producers. Artist P. J. Cherian[28] was the first Malayali producer to venture into this field and the trend then changed. He produced Nirmala in 1948 with Joseph Cherian and Baby Joseph his son and daughter-in-law in the lead roles as hero and heroine. He also cast many other family members in other roles, breaking the taboo that noble family people do not take up acting. Thus Nirmala became the first film produced by a Malayali, setting many firsts for introducing play-back singing, cinema with a social theme where the entire family could sit together and watch it. Artist P.J. Cherian was the first cinema producer to explore the possibility of music and songs in cinema, and thus became the pioneer to introduce play-back singing in cinema. The lyrics of the film penned by the legendary Malayalam poet G. Sankara Kurup became so popular that song-dance sequences became essential ingredients of the Malayalam cinema.

Vellinakshatram (1949) was the first movie to be made in Kerala and it took shape at the Udaya Studios at Alleppey.


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 that spoke about the problems in a joint family.

In 1954, the film Neelakuyil captured national interest by winning the President's silver medal.[29] It was scripted by the well-known Malayalam novelist Uroob, and directed by P. Bhaskaran and Ramu Kariat.

Newspaper Boy (1955) 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.[30]

The music took a turn away from the trend of copying Tamil and Hindi songs. The poets Tirunainaarkurichy Madhavan Nair – Thirunaiyarkurichy, P. Bhaskaran, O.N.V. Kurup, and Vayalar Ramavarma rose up in this period as film lyricists. Brother Lakshmanan, Dakshinamurthy, K. Raghavan, G. Devarajan, M.S. Baburaj, and Pukhenthey Velappan Nair started a distinct style of Malayalam music. Kamukara Purushotaman, Mehboob, Kozhikode Abdul Kader, AM Raja, P.B. Sreenivas, K. P. Udayabhanu, Santha P. Nair, P. Leela, S. Janaki, P Susheela, B. Vasantha, Renuka, and Jikki were the most prominent singers of the 1950s.[citation needed] The drama artist and school teacher Muthukulam Raghavan Pillai lent many of his skills to the cinema in this period.


Ramu Kariat, one of the directors of Neelakkuyil (along with P. Bhaskaran), went on to become a successful 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 Ninnu, Bhargavi Nilayam (1964), Chemmeen (1965), Murappennu (1965) and Iruttinte Athmavu (1966).

Malayalam cinema's first colour film was Kandam Bacha Coat (1961).

Chemmeen (1965), directed by Ramu Kariat and based on a novel of the same name by Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, went on to become very popular and became the first South Indian film to win the National Film Award for Best Feature Film.

Most of the films of the 1960s were animated by the nationalist and socialist projects and centered on issues relating to caste and class exploitation, the fight against obscurantist beliefs, the degeneration of the feudal class, and the break-up of the joint-family system.[31]

In the 1960s, M. Krishnan Nair, Kunchacko and P. Subramaniam were the leading Malayali producers. Thikkurusi Sukumaran Nair, Prem Nazir, Sathyan, Madhu, Adoor Bhasi, Bahadur, S.P. Pillai, K.P. Ummer, Kottarakara Sreedharan Nair, Raghavan, G.K. Pillai, Muthukulam, Joseprakash, Paravur Bharatan, Muthayya, Shankaradi, Govindankutty, K.R. Vijaya, Padmini, Ragini, Sharada, Sheela, Ambika, Jayabharathi, Arumula Ponnamma and Sadahna were among the more popular actors active in this period.[citation needed]

During the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Kunchacko made significant contributions to Malayalam cinema, both as a producer and as director of some notable 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.[citation needed]

Many directors sprang up in this period. P.N. Menon made Rosy and later Chemparanthi. G. Aravindan and Adoor Gopalakrishnan also started work in 1960s and became famous later.


Adoor Gopalakrishnan is one of the pioneers of Indian parallel cinema.

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 recognised 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 that 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), P. S. Nivas for Mohiniyattam (1977), and Shaji N. Karun for Thampu (1979). John Abraham, K. R. Mohanan, K. G. George, and G. S. Panikkar were products of the Pune Film Institute who made significant contributions.[citation needed]

During the late 1970s, some young artists started seeing Malayalam cinema as a medium of expression and thought of it as a tool to revitalise 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).

The 1970s also saw the emergence of the notable director P. G. Viswambharan with his debut film Ozhukinethire and the mythical film Sathyavan Savithri, which was well accepted.

Also, commercial cinema in this period saw several worker-class themed films which mostly had M. G. Soman, Sukumaran and Sudheer in the lead followed by the emergence of a new genre of pure action-themed films, in a movement led by Jayan. However, this was short-lived, and almost ended when Jayan died while performing a stunt in Kolilakkam (1980).


The Malayalam cinema of this period was characterised by detailed screenplays dealing with everyday life with a lucid narration of plot intermingling with humour and melancholy. This was aided by the cinematography and lighting. The films had warm background music.

In 1981 Fazil directed Manjil Virinja Pookal the film also introduced then Romantic star Shankar (actor) and later actor Mohanlal to the world. Adoor Gopalakrishnan made Elippathayam in 1981. This movie won the British Film Institute award.[citation needed]

In the 1980s Padmarajan was the founder of a new school of film making in Malayalam cinema, along with Bharathan and K. G. George, which created groundbreaking films that were widely received while also being critically acclaimed. Padmarajan was noted for his fine and detailed screenwriting and expressive direction style. Padmarajan made some of the landmark motion pictures in Malayalam cinema, including masterpieces like Oridathoru Phayalvaan (1981), Koodevide (1983), Thinkalaazhcha Nalla Divasam(1985), Arappatta Kettiya Gramathil (1986), Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal (1986), Thoovanathumbikal (1987),Moonnam Pakkam (1988), Innale(1989), Season (1989) and Njan Gandharvan (1991). He wrote several short stories that were unique in content and presentation. His novels handled the darkest emotions and considered as Classics. Most plots were nascent for that age literature. All works were so cinematic and Can be easily visualized to the celluloid version.

K. G. George released films including Yavanika and Adaminte Vaariyellu. This was the period during which script writer M. T. Vasudevan Nair started teaming up with director Hariharan to produce works like Panchagni, Nakhakshathangal, Aranyakam and Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha.

John Abraham's films such as Amma Ariyaan addressed people's issues and raised the finance directly from people.

The period had movies with humour from directors like Priyadarshan, Sathyan Anthikkad, Kamal and Siddique-Lal. Piravi (1989) by Shaji N. Karun was the first Malayalam film to win the Caméra d'Or-Mention at the Cannes Film Festival.[6]

It was the period during which Mammootty and Mohanlal rose up because of the sudden death of Jayan and also after the fall of popular actor Shankar. Ratheesh and Sukumaran also were leading stars in the industry in the early eighties. Later Mammootty has won 3 National Film Awards for best actor. Mohanlal has won 5 National Awards, including 2 for Best Actor,1 special jury award,1 special mention and 1 as a producer.


Some examples are Mathilukal (1990) directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Kattu Kuthira (1990) directed by P. G. Viswambharan, Amaram (1991) directed by Bharathan, Ulladakkam (1992) directed by Kamal, Kilukkam (1991) directed by Priyadarshan, Kamaladalam (1992) by Sibi Malayil, Vidheyan (1993) by Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Devaasuram (1993) by I. V. Sasi, Manichithrathazhu (1993) by Fazil, Ponthan Mada (1993) by T. V. Chandran, Spadikam (1995) by Bhadran, Commissioner(1994) The King (1995) by Shaji Kailas, Hitler (1996) by Siddique and Desadanam (1997) by Jayaraaj. In Harihar Nagar was a hit, and this led to the production of a series of comedy films until 1997, which made Jagadish, Siddique (actor), Mukesh (actor), and Ashokan (actor) very popular for their comedy roles.

Swaham (1994), directed by Shaji N. Karun, was the first Malayalam film entry for the competition 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 Festival.[5] Guru (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.[citation needed]


The millennium started with a blockbuster hit Narasimham starring Mohanlal . In 2001 came the world's first film with only one actor in the cast, The Guard. Slapstick comedy was the predominant theme of the films of this era. C.I.D. Moosa (2003) by Johny Antony, Meesa Madhavan (2002) by Lal Jose and Kunjikoonan (2002) directed by Sasi Shanker are examples. Sequels to a number of successful films were made. Some movies were examples of exemplary film making, such as Meghamalhar, Madhuranombarakaattu, Nandanam, Perumazhakkalam, and Kazhcha. In 2008, Malayalam movie artists came together in the multistar film Twenty:20 to raise funds for the AMMA.[32]


After several years of quality deterioration, Malayalam films saw the signs of massive resurgence after 2010[33] with the release of several experimental films (known as New Wave or New Generation films),[34] mostly from new directors. New Wave is characterised by fresh and unusual themes and new narrative techniques.[33][35] These films differ from conventional themes of the 1990s and 2000s and have introduced several new trends to the Malayalam industry.[36] While the new generation's formats and styles are deeply influenced by global and Indian trends, their themes are firmly rooted in Malayali life and mindscapes.[37] The new generation also helped the Malayalam film industry regain its past glory.[38]

Salim Ahamed's Adaminte Makan Abu was chosen as India's official entry to the Academy Awards to be considered for nomination in the Best Foreign Film category in 2011.

Christian Brothers (2011) was released worldwide with a total of 310 prints on 18 March; it went to 154 centres in Kerala, 90 centres outside Kerala and 80 centres overseas, making it the widest release for a Malayalam film at that time. This record was later broken by Peruchazhi (2014), which released in 500 screens worldwide on 29 August.[39] Drishyam (2013) became the first Malayalam film to cross the 500 million mark at the box office. The film was critically acclaimed and was remade in four languages.[40] Later, in 2016, Pulimurugan became the first Malayalam film to cross the 1 billion mark at the box office.

In recent years, Malayalam films have gained popularity in Sri Lanka,[41] with fans citing cultural similarities between Sinhalese people and Malayalis as a reason.[41]

in November 2020, Lijo Jose Pellissery's film Jallikuttu was selected as India's submission for Oscar for best foreign language film making as third Malayalam film as entry[42]

Pioneering film-making techniques

Newspaper Boy (1955), a neorealistic film, drew inspiration from Italian neorealism.[14][43] Padayottam (1982) was India's first indigenously produced 70 mm film,[44] while My Dear Kuttichathan (1984) was India's first 3D film.[13] O' Faby (1993) was India's first live-action/animation hybrid film.[45]

Amma Ariyan (1986) was the first film made in India with money collected from the public. It was produced by Odessa Collective, founded by the director John Abraham and friends. The money was raised by collecting donations and screening Charlie Chaplin's film The Kid.[46]

Moonnamathoral (2006) was the first Indian film to be shot and distributed in digital format.[47]

Jalachhayam (2010) was the world first feature film shot entirely on a cell phone camera[48] and it was also an experimental film directed by Sathish Kalathil who is the director of Veena Vaadanam, the first documentary film in India shot with the same movie capture medium.

Villain (2017) is the first Indian film to be shot entirely in 8K resolution.[49]

Notable personalities


Malayalam cinema's directors have included 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 based on the puranas, he chose to base his film on a social theme.[50] Though it failed commercially, he paved the way for the Malayalam film industry and is widely considered the "father of Malayalam cinema". Until 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.[43] Ramu Karyat went on to become a celebrated director in the 1960s and 1970s. P. Bhaskaran directed a few acclaimed films in the 1960s. The cameraman of Neelakkuyil, A. Vincent, also became a noted director of the 1960s and 1970s.[51] 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 Adoor Gopalakrishnan and G. Aravindan. People like John Abraham and P. A. Backer gave a new dimension to Malayalam cinema through their political themes. The late 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 PN Menon, I. V. Sasi, P. G. Viswambharan, K. G. George, Bharathan and Padmarajan.[52]

In the 1980s and early 1990s, a new array of directors joined the stalwarts who had already made a mark in the industry. This period saw the narrowing of the gap between the different streams of the industry.[43] 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 significantly . There were also extraordinary screenwriters like M. T. Vasudevan Nair, T. Damodaran, A. K. Lohithadas and Sreenivasan, whose contributions were also commendable.[citation needed]

The 2000s saw a decline in the quality of Malayalam films. Many directors who had 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 and Bollywood films. Directors like Shaji Kailas, Rafi Mecartin and Anwar Rasheed directed blockbusters which had few artistic merits to boast of.[citation needed] Despite the overall decline, some directors stood apart and made quality cinema. Shaji N. Karun, Lenin Rajendran, Shyama Prasad and Jayaraj made films that won laurels. Notable directors who debuted in this time include Blessy, Lal Jose, R. Sharath, Ranjith, Roshan Andrews, Amal Neerad, Aashiq Abu, Dr. Biju, Vineeth Sreenivasan and Lijo Jose Pellissery.[citation needed]

Out of the 40 National Film Awards for Best Director given away till 2007, Malayalam directors have received 12. The directors who have won include Adoor Gopalakrishnan (1973, 1985, 1988, 1990, 2007), G. Aravindan (1978, 1979, 1987), Shaji N. Karun (1989), T. V. Chandran (1994), Jayaraj (1998, 2017) 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).[53][54]

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.[55] Before Malayalam cinema and Malayalam film music developed, the Keralites eagerly followed Tamil and Hindi film songs, and that habit has stayed with them until now. The history of Malayalam film songs begins with the 1948 film Nirmala which was produced by artist P. J. Cherian who introduced play-back singing for the first time in the film. The film's music composer 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.[56]

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. By the middle of the 1950s, the Malayalam film music industry started finding its own identity. This reformation was led by the music directors Brother Laxmanan, G. Devarajan, V. Dakshinamurthy, M.S. Babu Raj and K. Raghavan along with the lyricists Vayalar Rama Varma, P. Bhaskaran, O. N. V. Kurup and Sreekumaran Thampi.[57] Major playback singers of that time were Kamukara Purushothaman, K. P. Udayabhanu, A. M. Raja, P. Leela, Santha P. Nair, Ayiroor Sadasivan, Lalitha Thampi, C. S. Radhadevi, A. K. Sukumaran, B. Vasantha, P. Susheela, P. Madhuri and S. Janaki. Despite that, these singers got high popularity throughout Kerala and were part of the Golden age of Malayalam music (1960 to 1970).

In the later years many non-Malayalis like Manna Dey, Talat Mahmood, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Hemlata, Kishore Kumar, Mahendra Kapoor and S. P. Balasubrahmanyam sang for Malayalam films. This trend was also found among composers to an extent, with film composers from other languages including Naushad Ali, Usha Khanna, M. B. Sreenivasan, Bombay Ravi, Shyam, Bappi Lahiri, Laxmikant–Pyarelal, Salil Chowdhury, Ilaiyaraaja, Vishal Bhardwaj and A. R. Rahman scoring music for Malayalam films.[57] This can be attributed to the fact that film music in South India had a parallel growth pattern with many instances of cross-industry contributions.[citation needed] The late 1950s through the mid-1970s can be considered as the golden period of Malayalam film music in its own identity. Along with the leading music directors, the likes of M. B. Sreenivasan, M. K. Arjunan, Pukezhenty Vellappan Nair, M. S. Viswanathan, A. T. Ummer, R. K. Shekhar, Salil Choudhury and lyricists like Thirunainar Kurichi Madhavan Nair, Mankombu Gopalakrishnan and Bharanikkavu Sivakumar, numerous everlasting and hit songs were delivered to the music lovers. The soft melodious music and high quality lyrics were the highlights of these songs.

K. J. Yesudas, who debuted in 1961, virtually revolutionised the Malayalam film music industry and became the most popular Malayalam singer ever along with K. S. Chithra. The trio of Vayalar, G. Devarajan and Yesudas also made unforgettable songs like the earlier trio of Kamukara, Tirunainaarkurichy and Brother Laxmanan. Yesudas became equally popular with classical music audience and people who patronised film music.[58] He along with P. Jayachandran gave a major face-lift to Malayalam playback singing in the 1960s and 1970s. K. S. Chithra debuted in 1979, and by the mid-eighties, she became the most sought after female singer in South India.

By the late 1970s, the trends in music started changing and more rhythm oriented songs with a western touch came with the dominance of music directors like Shyam, K. J. Joy, and Jerry Amaldev. The lyricists were forced to write lyrics according to the tune in these days and were often criticised for quality issues. However, from 1979 to 1980, the revolutionary music director Raveendran along with Johnson and M. G. Radhakrishnan led the second reformation of Malayalam film music by creating melodious and classical oriented music with the soul of the culture of Kerala. Lyricists like Poovachal Khader, Kavalam Narayana Panicker and Bichu Thirumala in 1980s and Kaithapram Damodaran Namboothiri, V. Madhusoodanan Nair and Gireesh Puthenchery in the 1990s were part of this musical success. Contributions from Kannur Rajan, Bombay Ravi, S. P. Venkatesh, Mohan Sithara, Ouseppachan, Sharath, Vidyadharan, Raghukumar and Vidyasagar were also notable in this period. K. J. Yesudas and K. S. Chitra and singers like M. G. Sreekumar, G. Venugopal, Radhika Thilak, Unnimenon and Sujatha Mohan were also active then. A notable aspect in the later years was the extensive of classical carnatic music in many film songs of the 1980s and 1990s. Classical Carnatic music was heavily used in films like Chithram (1988), His Highness Abdullah (1990), Bharatham (1991), Sargam (1992), Kudumbasametham (1992), Sopanam (1993) etc.

At present, the major players in the scene are young composers like A. R. Rahman, Rahul Raj, Prashant Pillai, Shaan Rahman, Bijibal, Gopi Sundar, Alphonse, Rajesh Murugesan, lyricists Rafeeq Ahmed, Vayalar Sarath and Anil Panachooran, and singers Vineeth Sreenivasan, Shreya Ghoshal, Shankar Mahadevan, Vijay Yesudas, Shweta Mohan, Karthik, Naresh Iyer, Manjari, Haricharan, Vaikom Vijayalakshmi, K. S. Harisankar, Sayanora Philip, Benny Dayal and Jyotsna Radhakrishnan, along with stalwarts in the field.

Young composers like Rahul Raj and Prashant Pillai are not only known for their catchy tunes, but also for bringing in a lot of electronics, digital sound and a variety of genres in Malayalam film scores and songs.[59]

The National Award-winning music composers of Malayalam cinema are Johnson (1994, 1995), Bombay Ravi (1995), Ouseppachan (2008), Ilaiyaraaja (2010), Isaac Thomas Kottukapally (2011), Bijibal (2012) and M. Jayachandran (2016). Until 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. In 2010 and 2011, the awards given to film scores were won by Malayalam films: Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja (Ilaiyaraaja) and Adaminte Makan Abu (Isaac Thomas Kottukapally). Raveendran also received a Special Mention in 1991 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, 2017), 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 Award for Best Male Playback Singer, with eight. The female singers who have won the award are S. Janaki (1981) and K. S. Chithra (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 Award for Best Female Playback Singer awards, six times.

Landmark films

Year Title Director Notes Ref.
1928 Vigathakumaran J. C. Daniel First Malayalam feature film. [60]
1933 Marthandavarma P.V. Rao First copyright case in Indian film industry as well as literature publishing of Kerala. [61]
1938 Balan S. Nottani First talkie in Malayalam. [62]
1948 Nirmala P. V. Krishna Iyer Introduced playback singing in Malayalam cinema. [63]
1951 Jeevitha Nouka K. Vembu First commercially successful Malayalam film at the box office. [64]
1954 Neelakkuyil P. Bhaskaran
Ramu Karyat
First Malayalam film to win a National Film Award. [65][43]
1955 C.I.D. M. Krishnan Nair First crime thriller movie in Malayalam [66]
1955 Newspaper Boy P. Ramdas First neo realistic movie in Malayalam. [67]
1961 Kandam Bacha Coat Shiyas Chennattu First colour film. [68]
1964 Bhargavi Nilayam A. Vincent First horror film. [69]
1965 Chemmeen Ramu Karyat First Malayalam as well as South Indian film to win the National Film Award for Best Feature Film, and the first film to participate in an international film festival. [70]
1965 Murappennu A. Vincent First film to shoot outdoors. [71]
1966 Iruttinte Athmavu P. Bhaskaran First serious attempt at sensitive storytelling. Considered to be the masterpiece work of P. Bhaskaran and Prem Nazir.[clarification needed] [71]
1967 Chithramela T. S. Muthiah First anthology film. [72]
1972 Swayamvaram Adoor Gopalakrishnan Pinoeered "new-wave cinema movement" in Malayalam. First Malayalam film to win the National Film Award for Best Direction. [73]
1974 Kanchana Sita G. Aravindan Pinoeered independent filmmaking in South India.[clarification needed] [74]
1978 Thacholi Ambu Navodaya Appachan First CinemaScope film in Malayalam. [75]
1981 Oridathoru Phayalvaan P. Padmarajan First Malayalam Film won International awards, by winning Best Film and Best Screenplay at 27th Asian Film Festival (1982) [citation needed]
1982 Padayottam Jijo Punnoose First 70mm film in South India. [76]
1984 My Dear Kuttichathan Jijo Punnoose First 3D film in India. [13]
1986 Amma Ariyan John Abraham First Malayalam film produced by collecting fund from public. The only South Indian film to feature in British Film Institute's Top 10 Indian Films list. [77][78]
1993 O' Faby K. Sreekuttan India's first live-action/animation hybrid film. .[79]
1994 Swaham Shaji N.Karun First Malayalam film to compete for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. [citation needed]
1997 Guru Rajiv Anchal First Malayalam film to be submitted as India's official entry to the Oscars to be considered for nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category. [80]
2005 Athbhutha Dweepu Vinayan The film was given an entry into the Guinness Book of Records for casting the most dwarves in a single film, and its lead actor Ajaykumar was given an entry for being the shortest actor to play the lead in the history of cinema. [81]
2006 Moonnamathoral V. K. Prakash First Malayalam digital movie, and first high-definition (HD) cinema to be digitally distributed to theatres via satellite. [82]
2009 Pazhassi Raja Hariharan First Malayalam film to get a home video release in Blu-ray format. [83]
2010 Jalachhayam Sathish Kalathil First feature film shot entirely on a Mobile phone camera. .[84]
2012 Grandmaster B. Unnikrishnan First Malayalam film to release with subtitles (English) in outside Kerala, in other than film festival screenings.
First Malayalam film to release on Netflix.
2013 Drishyam Jeethu Joseph First Malayalam film to cross 500 million (US$7.0 million) gross collection from theatres. [40]
2016 Pulimurugan Vysakh First Malayalam film to cross 1 billion (US$14 million) gross collection from theatres. [86]
2017 Villain B. Unnikrishnan First Indian film to be shot entirely in 8K resolution. [87]
2020 Fourth River RK DreamWest First Malayalam film to be released directly on the over-the-top (OTT) platform. [88]

Kerala State Film Awards

The Kerala State Film Awards[89] are given to motion pictures made in the Malayalam language. The awards have been bestowed by Kerala State Chalachitra Academy[90] since 1998 on behalf of the Department of Cultural Affairs of the Government of Kerala. The awards were started in 1969. The awardees are decided by an independent jury formed by the academy and the Department of Cultural Affairs. The jury usually consists of 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 before deciding the winners. The awards intend to promote films with artistic values and encourage artists and technicians.

International Film Festival of Kerala

The International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) is held annually in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of Kerala. It was started in 1996 and is organised by Kerala State Chalachitra Academy on behalf of the Department of Cultural Affairs of the State Government. It is held in November/December every year and is acknowledged as one of the leading film festivals in India.[91]

Film studios

The Travancore National Pictures[92] was the first film studio in Kerala. It was established by J. C. Daniel in 1926 in Thiruvananthapuram,[93] which was then a part of Travancore. Producer-director Kunchacko and film distributor K. V. Koshy established Udaya Studios in Alappuzha in 1947.[94] The studio influenced the gradual shift of Malayalam film industry from its original base of Madras, Tamil Nadu to Kerala. In 1951, P. Subramaniam[95] established Merryland Studio in Nemom, Trivandrum. The other major studios are Sreekrishna (1952, Trivandrum), Ajantha[96] (1958, Keezhmadu – now extinct), Chithralekha[97] (1965, Aakkulam, Trivandrum), Uma Studio[98] (1975, Trivandrum), Navodaya[99] (1978, Thrikkakkara) and Chithranjali[99] (1980, Trivandrum).


The Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA)[100] is an organisation formed by artists of Malayalam cinema. 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, funds for research, pensions, and education loans for the children of the members. The organisation ventured into film production in 2008 with Twenty:20 to raise funds for its activities.[101]

Organizations such as Kerala Film Producers Association, Kerala Film Distributors Association, Kerala Cine Exhibitors Federation, Hyperlink Film Club and Kerala Film Exhibitors Association have coordinated work stoppages.[102]

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External links

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