Friendship gets revived as a core theme in Malayalam cinema

Today's directors like Jithu Madhavan, Girish AD, and Vineeth Sreenivasan are following in the footsteps of their seniors and portraying friendships from a new perspective.

ByArjun Ramachandran

Published Jun 09, 2024 | 11:05 AMUpdatedJun 09, 2024 | 11:05 AM

Friendship gets revived as a core theme in Malayalam cinema

Malayalam cinema has always welcomed works based on the universal theme of friendship—male and/or female.

Films from the late 1980s and 1990s, directed by Siddique-Lal, Sathyan Anthikad, Priyadarshan, and Rafi-Mecartin have celebrated friendship on the silver screens. In the process, they have helped the actors become popular among the then-youth and eventually rise to stardom.

Interestingly, these directors raised pertinent questions on several social issues while retaining friendship as the core theme of their works.

The 90s was certainly a golden era in the Malayalam industry as it also witnessed bromance bloom through Mohanlal-Sreenivasan and Mammootty-Mukesh hit combinations. The combos delivered some cult films based on friendship/bromance—all interlaced with an underlying message for the viewers.

And now, young directors like Jithu Madhavan, Girish AD, and Vineeth Sreenivasan are following in the footsteps of their seniors and portraying friendships from a new perspective.

3 films on friendship from Girish AD

A still from the film Premalu, which revolves around friendship and love

A still from the film ‘Premalu’. (X)

Recent releases like Premalu, Manjummel Boys, Varshangalkku Shesham, Aavesham, and Guruvayoor Ambala Nadayil have revived the theme of friendship and camaraderie in Malayalam cinema.

For instance, Girish AD has made three coming-of-age films on modern-day friendships and love.

His debut movie Thanneer Mathan Dinangal (2019) was all about the life of eleventh and twelfth-grade students, their friendship, infatuation, fights over their love interest, and a lot more.

He followed it up with Super Sharanya (2020) and Premalu (2024), which, too, became blockbusters.

Interestingly, Gireesh AD’s films speak of friendships in different age groups.

In Thanneer Mathan Dinangal, he presented different phases of the love life of a Plus-two student.

The film struck a chord with the youth because of the camaraderie between the characters played by Mathew Thomas and Naslen, and of course, the realistic portrayal of the life of teenagers besides comedy.

In Super Sharanya, Girish focused on female friendships. The film revolves around the life of Sharanya (played by Anaswara Rajan) and her friendship with Sona (Mamitha Baiju).

The filmmaker brilliantly captured the intricacies of female friendships. The movie also gives a peek into life in ladies’ hostels and the hilarious events that are usually reported in these establishments.

No wonder, the scenes from Super Sharanya are still trending on social media.

Premalu is all about Sachin’s (Naslen) love for Mamitha Baiju’s Reenu.

However, the film establishes a unique bond between Sachin and Amal Davis (Sangeeth Prathap). The two stay together in Hyderabad.

While Amal Davis pursues higher studies, Sachin works at a food joint and tries to impress Reenu.

Amal Davis and Sachin’s camaraderie worked wonders in theatres and left audiences in splits throughout.

Premalu review: Girish AD’s new-age romantic comedy is a pure entertainer

Bromance is back in Malayalam

Prithviraj in Guruvayoor Ambala Nadayil

Prithviraj and Basil’s ‘Guruvayoor Ambala Nadayil’ is the latest example of a Malayalam film with bromance as its core theme. (X)

The recent blockbuster hit, Guruvayoor Ambala Nadayil, follows an unusual friendship between two brothers-in-law, which was never explored in Malayalam cinema.

What made the film click is the bromance between Prithviraj Sukumaran‘s Anandan and Basil Joseph’s Vinu. Their bromance became the talk of the town even three weeks after the film’s theatrical release.

The comedy of errors between the two male leads keeps the momentum till the end.

Prithviraj and Basil shared the screen for the first time in the flick, and they were hilariously terrific. The actors efficiently shouldered the film and delivered a laugh riot as promised.

The behind-the-scenes (BTS) video released by the makers revealed the fun the team had had while shooting Guruvayoor Ambala Nadayil.

Priyadarshan’s Mithunam (1993), a family drama written by Sreenivasan, showcased the rivalry between the brother (Innocent) and the brother-in-law (Jagathi Sreekumar) of the protagonist (played by Mohanlal).

Interestingly, bromance has been a hot topic of discussion on social media because of the films Premalu, Manjummel Boys, Aavesham, and Varshangalkku Shesham (all 2024 releases). Well, it all started with Jithu Madhavan’s debut directorial Romancham (2023).

All the movies were woven around the universal theme of friendship (male friendships in these cases) and camaraderie.

Guruvayoor Ambala Nadayil review: Prithviraj and Basil deliver a terrific entertainer

Manjummel Boys and Aavesham

Fahadh Faasil in Aavesham

Fahadh Faasil in ‘Aavesham’. (X)

In Manjummel Boys, which is based on a real-life incident, friendship takes the front seat.

The survival thriller revived Malayalam cinema by collecting a gross of over ₹200 crore at the global box office.

Directed by Chidambaram, Manjummel Boys is a classic example of a film that can strike a chord with audiences in a vast geographical location.

The real-life incident, the friendship, the reference to Kamal Hassan’s Guna (1991) movie, and the “Kanmani Anbodu” song helped in favour of the film.

Meanwhile, Jithu Madhavan’s latest directorial Aavesham doesn’t have a woman character in a pivotal role. But the relationship between Ranga (Fahadh Faasil) and Amban (Sajin Gopu) was an appealing factor in this mass entertainer.

The two characters share a bond beyond a don and a henchman. In one of the climax scenes, when Ranga feels lonely and laments that he “doesn’t have anyone”, Amban, too, is saddened by his pain.

Manjummel Boys review: A riveting survival thriller that pays heartfelt tribute to Kamal Haasan’s ‘Guna’

Vineeth’s Varshangalkku Shesham

Nivin Pauly in Varshangalkku Shesham

Nivin Pauly in ‘Varshangalkku Shesham’. (X)

Vineeth Sreenivasan is a filmmaker who has only hits to his credit.

His latest movie, Varshangalkku Shesham, follows the journey of Murali and Venu—played by Dhyan Sreenivasan and Pranav Mohanlal respectively—who travel to Madras (now Chennai) to pursue their passion for cinema.

Murali and Venu hail from the Kannur district in Kerala and share a special bond. However, as the film progresses, they are divided by circumstances and ego clashes, only to unite at the end.

Varshangalkku Shesham pays a rich tribute to the 80s cinema. After watching the flick, superstar Mohanlal was all praise for the team for making him nostalgic.

In an interview, Vineeth Sreenivasan said he took references from certain events recounted by his director-scenarist-father Sreenivasan while making the movie.

Interestingly, though all these films were blockbusters, they drew criticism for not including strong women characters in the plot.

“These films were all written by men and hence featured bromance. Interestingly, Girish AD successfully portrayed female friendships (sismance) in Super Sharanya. Sadly, we have a market for movies helmed by male directors. I wish Malayalam cinema explores more female friendships,” a woman filmmaker, on the condition of anonymity, told South First.

Jithu Madhavan, who helmed Romancham and Aavesham, said in an interview that he doesn’t add women characters only for the sake of having them. He clarified that he would “include women’s roles in my film only if the script demanded it”.

Varshangalkku Shesham review: A nostalgic journey to the 80s’ Malayalam cinema

Few more examples

a poster of kumbalangi nights

A poster of ‘Kumbalangi Nights’. (X)

Films like Premam (2015), Oru Vadakkan Selfie (2015), and Kumbalangi Nights (2019), too, narrated stories about friendship and brotherhood.

Premam and Oru Vadakkan Selfie had some hilarious moments between friends.

Alphonse Puthren’s Premam gained cult status soon after its release. At the same time, Prajith Karanavar’s Oru Vadakkan Selfie turned out to be a hit venture, thanks to the comic timing of Nivin Pauly and Aju Varghese.

However, Kumbalangi Nights is a serious film that featured Soubin Shahir, Shane Nigam, Mathew Thomas. and Sreenath Bhasi as brothers.

The Madhu C Narayanan movie is about a dysfunctional family. But the bonding among the brothers helps them rebuild their family.

The other Malayalam films that had bromance as their theme include Arun D Jose’s Jo and Jo (2022), Sudhi Maddison’s Neymar (2023), Nahas Hidayath’s RDX (2023), and Jithu Madhavan’s Romancham (2023).

Aavesham review: A one-man show by Fahadh Faasil

The 90s bromance

A poster of the film Ramji Rao Speaking dealt with male friendship

A poster of the film ‘Ramji Rao Speaking’. (X)

Siddique-Lal and Priyadarshan’s films are known for the strong bond shared between the male leads.

Ramji Rao Speaking (1989), Siddique-Lal’s debut film, featured Mukesh, Sai Kumar, and Innocent as friends, who run a drama troupe. Despite their differences, the three stand for one another.

In the case of Ramji Rao Speaking, Mannar Mathai (played by Innocent) is a financially broken man. But he tries to revive his drama troupe. His encounters with the characters played by Sai Kumar and Mukesh left a lasting impact on the audience.

It was termed a “new generation movie” in the 90s as the filmmakers efficiently blended humour and a serious issue in the right dose.

Films like Harihar Nagar (1990), Vietnam Colony (1992), and Kabooliwala (1994) also had the element of bromance. They simultaneously highlighted the seriousness of unemployment, which was a burning issue at that time.

In Vietnam Colony, the chemistry between Mohanlal and Innocent’s character is an example of situational comedy.

Mohanlal and Sreenivasan shared the screen in many films. Their works focused on many social issues but had bromance as the key element.

Sathyan Anthikad’s Sanmanassullavarkku Samadhanam (1986) is one of the first films that featured Mohanlal-Sreenivasan’s combo.

In the movie, Gopalakrishna Panicker (Mohanlal) wants to vacate the tenants so he can sell the house and repay his debts. Sreenivasan appears as sub-inspector Rajendran, a friend of Gopalakrishna Panicker, who later turns into a foe.

Their conflicts, as Rajendran shifts his loyalty towards the tenants, presented with a dash of humour, made the film a hilarious watch.

The other most popular films of Mohanlal and Sreenivasan include Nadodikkattu (1987), Pattanapravesham (1988), and Akkare Akkare Akkare (1990)—sequels released in consecutive years.

Also Read: Kunchacko Boban and Fahadh Faasil collab for Amal Neerad’s next, first look out

Mohanlal-Sreenivasan’s combo ruled the roost

Nadodikkattu has the hit combo Mohanlal-Sreenivasan

‘Nadodikkattu’ has the hit combo of Mohanlal-Sreenivasan. (X)

Nadodikkattu was directed by Sathyan Anthikad and written by Sreenivasan.

It is about Dasan (Sreenivasan) and Vijayan (Mohanlal), two unemployed youths looking for jobs, getting duped by Gafoor (Mamukkoya). On the pretext of giving them jobs in the Gulf, Gafoor leaves them stranded in Madras.

Interestingly, Dasan and Vijayan end up joining the CID team after they help the police nab a team of drug peddlers. However, all this is presented comically, unlike an investigative thriller.

Nadodikkattu is one of the classic movies from the combination of Sreenivasan-Mohanlal and Sathyan Anthikad.

Pattanapravesham also has investigation as a key element but is presented as a comedy of errors, which Mohanlal and Sreenivasan pull off with ease.

Their onscreen chemistry also worked wonders in Chandralekha (1997). The comedy-drama, directed by Priyadarshan, deals with Appukuttan Nair (Mohanlal) and Noorudeen (Sreenivasan), who find ways to lead a good life.

Appukuttan also appears as Alfie, the husband of Chandra (Bhanupriya) who gets paralysed after an accident. What follows after Appukuttan enters Chandra’s life is a laugh riot.

The comedy scenes between Mohanlal and Sreenivasan are a huge takeaway in Chandralekha.

Ayal Kadha Ezhuthukayanu (1998) is another blockbuster featuring Sreenivasan and Mohanlal.

Directed by Kamal, it featured Sreenivasan as a newly appointed tahsildar and Mohanlal as Sagar Kottapuram, a novelist with eccentric behaviour.

In an interview, filmmaker Kamal said the team did its best while penning comedy scenes as they intended the viewers to laugh throughout the film.

Similarly, the hit combination of Mohanlal and Mukesh resulted in hilarious films like Boeing Boeing (1985), Vandanam (1989), Kakkakuyil (2001), and Oru Marubhoomikkadha (2011). The two actors are well known for their comic timing.

Mammootty and Lal’s combination in Thommanum Makkalum (2005) is also a good example of male friendship in Malayalam cinema.

On that note, cheers to friendship and Malayalam cinema!

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