More pride, less prejudice — The resurgence of ‘Malayalam Padam’ in Tamil pop culture

In the Tamil subculture of the 2000s, 'Malayalam Padam' was synonymous with the then-thriving 'B-grade' or 'softcore pornography' films.

ByAvinash Ramachandran

Published Apr 07, 2024 | 10:00 AMUpdatedApr 07, 2024 | 10:00 AM

The resurgence of the Malayalam cinema in Tamil Nadu's pop culture

Unprecedented in the digital age, where everything is exaggerated, hyperbole is the law of the land, especially in the world of cinema. Everything is “one-of-a-kind”, “first-time-ever” or “historic” and these proclamations are taken with more than just a couple of pinches of salt.

However, using seemingly hyperbole to call the recent Malayalam blockbuster Manjummel Boys (2024) an unprecedented success might actually be the understatement of the year.

But let’s take a closer look at this phenomenon and talk about the inadvertent effect Malayalam cinema in 2024 with films like Bramayugam (2024), Manjummel Boys, and Premalu (2024), fondly called “Premayugam Boys” have imprinted in the psyche of Tamil Nadu’s theatre-going audience.

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

The early 2000s

It was the early 2000s, and growing up in the nineties and early noughties meant that the never-ending unfiltered and adulterated barrage of information and opinions aka social media did not yet influence popular culture.

It was when cinema was the primary source of popular culture in Tamil Nadu. Ask anyone of that era what a “Malayalam Padam” meant to them, and 8 times out of 10, you would see a snigger, a sheepish laugh or a look of manufactured anger.

In the popular Tamil Nadu subculture of the 2000s, “Malayalam Padam” was synonymous with the then-thriving “B-grade” or “softcore pornography” films.

Even though it was a short-lived phenomenon, its impact was so strong that for years after, the term “Malayalam Padam” was used with either a sense of derision or milked for comic effect in Tamil films.

As a TNBCM (Tamil Nadu-born Confused Malayali), it wasn’t easy for yours truly to weather this storm. One couldn’t say they watched a Malayalam padam with family without someone breaking into laughter or some other looking at you and judging your entire bloodline.

Also Read: Fresh concepts+Young filmmakers+Overseas collection = Superhit Malayalam films

Lack of OTT 

Dulquer Salmaan in Banglore Days

Dulquer Salmaan in ‘Banglore Days’. (X)

It is also important to realise that the nineties and noughties neither had social media nor OTT. So, access to Malayalam classics wasn’t as easy as today.

Theatres screened films that brought people to their establishments, and in the early 2000s, the “Malayala Padam” brought more audience albeit discreetly.

During that phase, there were theatres in Tamil Nadu that exclusively screened such movies, and it became a rite of passage for many youngsters of that age to sneak into such a theatre and watch a softcore film.

These youngsters grew up into the 30-year-olds and 40-year-olds of today, and there is no doubt that they, too, propagated the label of “Malayalam Padam.”

But Drishyam (2013), Bangalore Days (2014), and Premam (2015) started shaping the landscape of Malayalam cinema for a Tamil audience that embraced the idea of social media.

Equipped with a smartphone in their hands, the discerning audience started feeling represented in these cosmopolitan films that had liberal references to Tamil Nadu and Tamil cinema.

While these successes were extraordinary, they were also one-offs. Also, most of these films ran in the big cities of Tamil Nadu but never permeated into other cities and towns in the state.

For that to happen, it wasn’t enough that extraordinary successes occurred. That needed an unprecedented success story.

Also Read: Malayalam movies enjoy a dream run at Tamil box office

Manjummel Boys, an unprecedented success

A still from the film Manjummel Boys

A still from the film ‘Manjummel Boys’. (X)

A story for the ages, that would change the landscape of how Malayalam cinema was perceived in the entire state.

A story that will enable Tamil Nadu to start celebrating Malayalam films and their stars just like how Kerala exalts Tamil Nadu’s homegrown superstars. And Manjummel Boys did that exactly.

It was the final hit of the one-two-three punch that started with Bramayugam, and continued with Premalu, to break all existing walls between Malayalam cinema and its reception outside Kerala, especially in Tamil Nadu.

Who knew that this evolution would be initiated by a one-movie-old filmmaker who is named after a temple town in Tamil Nadu? What Chidambaram managed to do with Manjummel Boys is open the floodgates for Malayalam cinema to have far-reaching imprints on the psyche of the mainstream Tamil audience.

Everything fell into place for the flick to become the watershed event in the Malayalam-Tamil film subculture. It was released at a time when Tamil cinema was going through a lean phase with just a handful of films making a measurable impact at the box office in the entire first quarter.

The film, set in Kodaikanal and featuring a bunch of recognisable Tamil actors, has a smattering of Tamil in the dialogues, and of course, Kamal Haasan’s Guna (1991) and the brilliant placement of the iconic “Kanmani Anbodu” number.

Also Read: ‘Kanmani Anbodu’ song redefines friendship in ‘Manjummel Boys’

Change of viewpoint

Mohanlal in Drishyam

Mohanlal in ‘Drishyam’. (X)

Now, the majority of the audiences in Tamil Nadu acknowledge Kerala as a breeding ground for quality cinema rather than just nonchalantly labelling it as a hub for softcore pornography.

The seeds of this movement were sown through the proliferation of OTT options that allowed audiences to revisit the classics to understand the rich legacy of Malayalam cinema.

People went back to see the Malayalam films of various Malayalam actors who made an indelible mark in Tamil too.

People started seeking quality Malayalam films and recognised their ability to represent the country on a global stage.

The pandemic allowed more exploration of Malayalam cinema, and through the OTT platforms, it just cemented the industry’s status of consistently delivering singular yet quality films that kickstarted trends rather than following them.

The content spoke louder than the stars, and many Malayalam filmmakers started finding a dedicated following in Tamil Nadu, and across the country.

All we can hope is these successes are not one-offs, and a few years down the line, when another teenage TNBCM talks about a Malayalam padam that was watched with his family, that youngster is met with an appreciative stare and is told, “Yeah, I watched it with English subtitles. Nalla Padam, la?”

Also Read: Post-‘Aadujeevitham’, Prithviraj Sukumaran becomes an indispensable actor in Malayalam cinema