I chanced upon a space on the internets that archived, with little regard to copyrights of course, the golden age of Malayalam cinema. What is most intriguing about the existence of such an era is, perhaps ironically, the abrupt nature of its end. From somewhere in the mid 1980s up until late 1990s, the mainstream Malayalam film industry churned out some of the most brilliant and original films that I have watched; and I’ve watched more than just my fair bit to cross compare. These are mainstream films I am talking about, not the admittedly incomparable, not-looking-to-make-money type films that went under the label of Art cinema.
Comedy was big in Malayalam films, and this was an era that did not resort to just cheap slapstick to get the laughs. Intelligent humor, as a (sub)genre, is something that I feel is the gold standard for telling a great film industry from the rest. Not a trivial task, that. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the love for drama, inclining towards an almost Shakespearean love for tragedy, was another dominant theme of the era. Kid you not, some serious tragedy here! Throw in a number of films that refused classification and a number of films in odd genres ranging from metaphysical (oh yeah, you’ll find a very low-tech version of The Matrix revolving around essentially the same metaphysical concepts, made a couple of years before Hollywood would think of it) to psychological thrillers (that MPD flick which, after more than a decade, is still subjected to some intense bastardization in other languages; most recently in Hindi).
Then somewhere in the late 1990s, it was as if the industry collectively went, “Poof! No more good stuff for you, now go watch some mindless crap.” Nope, none of the film makers and actors died; retired; got abducted by aliens; or were shredded by raptors. I checked, really. Apparently, they just decided to act stoopid and produce some godawful excuses for wasting celluloid. Is there something that I am missing? The ability of quality film makers had been demonstrated. The existence of a discerning audience was established. It was a fucking miracle in an oasis of time warped establishment. And then they all just fold. Why? Most strange.
The current state of affairs is such that a major genre in the industry today is soft-porn featuring morbidly obese women. Oh well, things sure can change over a decade.