Malayalam cinema saw a major boost in quality in the 2010s with the emergence of fresh and exciting voices along with gifted actors and other technicians, changing the landscape of Indian Cinema altogether. Among many prominent names, from the director’s perspective, Lijo Jose Pellissery has definitely been the frontrunner with an exciting body of work, making him one of the finest in the country in contemporary times. “Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam” (2023) is his most recent film, released this year with an open-ended nature that gives the viewer room to think and decipher rather than spoon-feeding them. This film is a pure gift in the new year from a cinematic genius like Pellissery, along with marking his first collaboration with the three-time National Award-winning acting legend Mammootty, whose performance is a pure treat to watch and experience in this film. So, for fans of films that are fresh and out-of-the-box with surrealist motifs and also have a lyrical quality, this list may be helpful in order to find films of a similar essence. Without any further delay, let’s look at the films you may add to your watchlist if you liked “Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam” (2023):
Mani Kaul remains one of the most prominent figures among the Indian New Wave filmmakers that gained prominence in the 1970s. His ability to brilliantly play with the formal language of Cinema is commendable; he has made some really fascinating films, and “Duvidha” (1973) remains a testament to his skill. This film is based on a Rajasthani folktale that revolves around a ghost who falls in love with a newly-married bride of an itinerant merchant, takes the shape of her husband, and begins to live with her. “Duvidha” (1973) uses a very interesting and unique storytelling approach through various cinematic devices, primarily with the perfect blend of still and moving images with dialogues, voice-over narration and a soundtrack that makes for a highly engaging watch and takes on the themes of love, desire, identity, and duality with a folklorish appeal given to the treatment of the subject material and is reminiscent of the oral roots of human and also Indian history. Furthermore, this 1973 film was later remade by acclaimed actor turned filmmaker Amol Palekar in his star-studded film “Paheli” (2005), starring Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukherjee in the lead roles.
G. Aravindan is also among the stalwarts of Indian Cinema, whose artistic vision and innovation with respect to cinematic language have influenced major filmmakers, Lijo Jose Pellissery among them, and his films have showcased this, especially in “Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam” (2023), where the frames are reminiscent of films by G.Aravindan. Also, that film has a nod—or, nowadays, an Easter egg—to “Kummatty” (1979). This film revolves around a folk character, Kummatty, who possesses the power of shape-shifting and can transform people into animals and objects. “Kummatty” (1979) is a masterwork in filmmaking which upon its recent discovery with its restoration, even garnered praise from the legendary Martin Scorsese. This film talks about the themes of identity, delving into the absurdity and complex nature of human beings with a very delicate and subtle dose of humor. Furthermore, the magnificent music and score by Rajeev Taranath are definitely worth mentioning, which are hauntingly charming and elevate the dreamlike effect of the film.
Om Dar-B-Dar (1988)
Kamal Swaroop remains among the most underrated filmmakers who, even till now, has not got the recognition he deserves. “Om Dar-B-Dar” (1988) is perfectly reflective of an artist of immense talent, and the film itself is of a different breed altogether. Even though the film was released at various prestigious international film festivals, garnering major praise, it did not see a commercial release in India during that time. Rather, after 26 years, the film saw a release in 2014. “Om Dar-B-Dar” (1988) is among the most original and unique films that came from India, with pathbreaking use of filmic grammar through a non-linear approach that itself cannot be categorized into small brackets of genres. It can be a complex film to decipher and has charm enough for multiple viewings; it’s almost like a surrealist dream with some quirky sarcasm and absurd humor, panning out as a satire on the state of the nation. Although interestingly, Kamal Swaroop himself has said that this film is the story of Lord Brahma and was written based on dreams and images that are way beyond words. Furthermore, this film inspired a generation of filmmakers, and its presence can be felt in major works; a prominent example is the song “Emosanal Attyachar” from Anurag Kashyap’s “Dev.D” (2009), which draws major influence from parodic song “Meri Jaan A” from “Om Dar-B-Dar” (1988).
The Double Life Of Véronique (1991)
If one looks back at the masters of Cinema, the legendary Polish auteur Krzysztof Kieślowski remains one of the most prominent, along with being among the most humanistic filmmakers. “The Double Life of Veronique” (1991) places itself between two of his most-known masterpieces, the 1988 miniseries “Dekalog,” which consists of ten films (each with a runtime of around one hour), and the pathbreaking “Three Colors” trilogy. The film follows two identical-looking women, Weronika and Véronique, both played by Irène Jacob; where one is a Polish soprano, and another is a French teacher. Kieślowski translates this central narrative in a highly meditative and meticulous way to the big screen that evokes a sense of melancholia and empathy and probably has one of the finest and most hauntingly enigmatic climactic scenes in the history of Cinema. Through the use of highly symbolic imagery, the filmmaker manages to evoke a sense of ambiguity and mysticism while also possessing a very lyrical quality. “The Double Life of Veronique” (1991) also makes one observe the themes of identity, duality, and the human soul through its exploration and questioning of the concepts of fate and free will.
Holy Motors (2012)
In recent times, there have been few films that are as original and fresh as Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors” (2012) from the genesis of the idea itself. It is purely a visual and aural feast and a stunningly cinematic experience with a highly challenging narrative that is totally bizarre and filled with madness at the same time as being a self-reflexive take. Carax uses a unique structure and a series of vignettes featuring Monsieur Oscar (played by Denis Lavant), who takes on various roles, from beggar to actor to assassin to father, and many more. “Holy Motors” (2012), through its absurdity, brings out a compelling vision of Cinema that explores, through a surrealist vision, the concepts of identity, performance, and Cinema itself.
A Lijo Jose Pellissery Special (5 Films)
This will contain some of the most impressive films of the director himself that one should definitely give a try, and that will further help to understand the themes, style, and psyche of the director through his meticulously crafted films.
After making his debut in 2010, Lijo Jose Pellissery made his first landmark film in terms of artistic brilliance in 2013, with his film “Amen” (2013), also starring Fahadh Faasil. Furthermore, it showed the ripples of the talent possessed by the filmmaker, with a thought-provoking film revolving around the concepts of faith and humanity and using a non-linear narrative style brilliantly, which makes for a highly engaging watch.
Angamaly Diaries (2017), Ee Ma Yau. (2018), And Jallikattu (2019)
After a major debacle in 2017, Pellissery finally came up with his striking and unique voice, which marks the genesis of his major filmmaking career with the brilliant crime drama “Angamaly Diaries.” His prowess over cinematic grammar can be seen in this film, which features one of the most talked-about film climaxes of the recent past. “Angamaly Diaries” is filled with quirky and well-written characters, with a fair dose of dark comedy, and perfectly captures the essence of the place. Furthermore, it is also a treat for the eyes and taste buds of the viewers, mainly due to the flavorful depiction of the local delicacies.
After this path breaking crime film, which showcased the massive talent and control Pellissery has over his craft, there was no turning back for Pellissery. He then delivers back-to-back brilliant films with the brilliantly chaotic dramas Ee Ma Yau (2018) and Jallikattu (2019), both of which reflect upon the very nature of human beings through a lens filled with sarcasm and have plenty of room for making one chuckle while reflecting upon the innate nature of human beings.
After these back-to-back successes, both in terms of popular and critical appeal, Pellissery shifts gears and ventures into a much more experimental phase dealing with the themes of magic realism. The 2021 film “Churuli” marks this shift, and it is then followed by “Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam” (2023). Although the 2021 film received quite a polarized response, from a personalized viewpoint, it is a fascinating watch that gives a unique cinematic experience along with having a very enchanting effect associated with it.
Furthermore, these films can be a little obscure in nature, as it is reflective of the uniqueness and surrealist nature of a film like “Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam” (2023). Some of the above-mentioned films are timeless and have immense significance in the history of filmmaking. These films further showcase the wide horizon of the language of Cinema, which is like a stream, constantly evolving with time.