The ways of the box office are mysterious and unpredictable. Some average films surprise you by drawing massive crowds to theatres, whereas certain critically-acclaimed movies fail to excite audiences. The latter, however, often come to be appreciated years later for their cult following. Here’s a look at a few such films.
Panchavadi Paalam: (1984): Directed and written by K.G. George, based on a short story of the same name by literary humorist Veloor Krishnankutty, it features an ensemble cast. The satire mocks the socio-political scenario in the state in the guise of hilarious caricatures and a farcical storyline. A film definitely ahead of its times, it exactly predicted the recurring disorder in Indian politics — corruption. According to the director, Sreenivasan’s character Kathavarayan, who gets killed in the climax of the movie in a bridge collapse, portrays the plight of the common man. Set in an imaginary Airavathakuzhi panchayat, the movie is a hilarious ride on how warring political groups rally together to construct a new bridge with the support of corrupt officials and contractors. Ironically, though the film remains the director’s most expensive work among his 19 films, it failed to make any impact at the box office. Today of course, it’s been hailed as one of the greatest political satires in Indian cinema.
Irakal (1985): Directed and scripted by K.G. George in the aftermath of the Emergency, it’s a compelling psychological thriller built around a family foundering under the weight of the violence it spawned. It’s the starkness of the characters in that dysfunctional family who have no regard for morality and ethics that haunts you. You get the grim picture of neglect, abuse, and overindulgence. With an ensemble cast, Irakal was never regarded as one of the director’s best works. It’s only much later that the film was feted for its best ever original screenplay. Years later, it got unanimously selected for the prestigious Muttathu Varkey Award. “Never in the history of Malayalam cinema has there been another screenplay that is so taut in its structure and so stark in appeal. It offers a gripping visual tale of an entire culture that could not have been told any better. The script is brilliant in carving out a grim reality, while capturing the sparse poetry, poignancy, and complexity of human life,” wrote one of the judges.
Thoovanathumpikal (1987): Directed and scripted by Padmarajan (based on his book Udakkappolla), the film deals with the complex layers of love and lust in a relationship. A man torn between guilt and love finally succumbs to love in this finely-crafted, beautifully-orchestrated musical in the backdrop of rain. Widely rated as one of the most romantic movies of all times, the film didn’t find the audience it deserved during the time of its release, as it was considered a culture shock for a prudish society. 30 years later, the film enjoys a cult status and almost every aspect of the film—be it Jayakrishnan and Clara or the terrific BGM is revered and celebrated in all its glory.
Varavelppu (1989): One of the finest films from the Sathyan Anthikkad-Sreenivasan stable, Varavelppu dealt with the seldom discussed issues of Gulf Malayalees. And of course, with loads of humour and Mohanlal in fine nick. Despite this, the film unfortunately didn't create the impact it should have had at the box office and a lot can be attributed to the frequency at which their films where releasing during that time.
Season (1989): Arguably one of the finest crime thrillers from Writer-director P. Padmarajan, Season, like most of his films was ahead of its times. With gritty fight sequences, raw and earthy characters, and superb framing, Season gives us a peek into the underbelly of drug dealings in Kovalam. It has one of the best villain-hero confrontations in Malayalam cinema—between the blue-eyed foreigner Fabian and the enigmatic Jeevan. But sadly, it remained an under-performer at the box office. In 1989, deemed the year of Mohanlal, it’s ironic that one of his most iconic characters got side-played by other gems.
Devadhootan (2000): It’s a genre that was unfamiliar in Malayalam cinema at the time—musical mystery horror thriller. Scripted by the talented Raghunath Paleri, directed by Sibi Malayil, the film starring Mohanlal and Jayaprada had the former playing a cranky musician who find himself drawn towards the origin and mystery behind a musical piece he composes. It leads him to an eternal love story. A film layered with mystery, fairy-tale romance and the complexities of the human mind, Devadhootan despite being a critical success was a box-office dud. 17 years later, the film springs up in social media film groups as one of the most underrated films of Sibi Malayil and Paleri.
Bhoothakannadi(1997):Lohithadas’s first stab at direction, the film also remains his finest till date. A poignant, intimate examination of humanity, Bhoothakkanadi is about a clock smith Vidhyadharan who suffers from visual and auditory hallucinations. The magnifying glass is a metaphor for his confounded state of mind—his impaired relationship with reality. A film that was probably too dense for an average movie-goer, Bhoothakkanadi despite receiving high praise from critics and a knock-out act from its leading actor, remained a non-starter at the box office. Today, of course, it has a cult following and is hailed as belonging to the top tier of Malayalam arthouse cinema.
Sadayam(1989):M.T. Vasudevan Nair scripts a deeply emotional and disturbing human drama about a man who kills two innocent lives to save them from a life of misery. With a superb act by Mohanlal, Murali, and Thilakan, Sadayam for all its critical acclaim, remained a non-performer at the box office. 28 years later, it’s been marked as one of the most important films of our times.
Kaiyoppu(2007): This was Director Ranjith going off-track after delivering back-to-back duds and alpha male starrers (Chandrolsavam and Prajapathi). It chronicles the life of a potentially award-winning writer who suffers from writer’s block and the changes he makes to those around him. With a strong socio-political undertone, Kaiyoppu made on a shoe-string budget was a bolt from the blue for an average Ranjith fan. One of the reasons the film failed to make an impact at the box office was that it was released in a shockingly few number of theatres. Today, of course Kaiyuppu is rated as Renjith’s finest, just as it is with the Megastar’s.
Thazhvaram (1989): The Bharathan-M.T. Vasudevan Nair revenge thriller in the backdrop of dusty heartlands, with two scintillating protagonists who rough it out to win the final battle of life was our first film truly in the class of the Spaghetti Western genre. Unfortunate that it failed to draw in the crowds. Now, of course, it’s an annual event, like in the case of Thoovanathumpikal, to celebrate this cult classic—Mohanlal, the BGM, as well as the red-eyed swashbuckling villain.
Comments material that is unlawful, obscene, defamatory, threatening, harassing, abusive, slanderous, racially, ethically or sexually hateful or offensive, or embarrassing to any other person or entity are prohibited.
Fullpicture is an exclusive, comprehensive, online English magazine on Malayalam cinema, put together by a team of experienced journalists who share a passion for everything about Malayalam cinema. The idea is to put out well-written and well-researched features, exclusive interviews,...