From Lisa to Ezra – The fearful ghosts which ruled Malayalam screen
The horror movies of Malayalam have a long story to tell. From Bhargavi Nilayam of early 1960s to Ezra of 2017, Malayalam cinema has retold several horror stories. Ghost stories, lady ghosts and exorcises have been performed for many decades in Malayalam cinema, without much changes. Yet ghost stories and paranormal fantasies have always fascinated cine goers, though most of them love to believe that ‘Ghosts don’t exist’.
Wind gives the first gesture in most ghost movies
In most of the ghost stories and movies, wind appears as an invisible character. He is present everywhere, and conquer every screen moment. Yet he stays invisible as a ghost. Wind gives an illusion of arrival of ghost and stimulates fear in the minds of audience. High frequency background music, sudden sounds and laughs give next gestures of ghost’s arrival before the audience. White dress (Sari in most cases, as women ghosts are more frequent) given to ghosts is almost a century old, and can be seen as their uniform. Ghosts have ruled silver screen with stories related to bloodsheds and revenges. In most cases, she comes to take revenge on those who mercilessly killed her – this formula still goes on in Malayalam cinema. It’s the case of other language horror movies as well.
Nowadays horror movies are very frequent in Malayalam cinema. Almost all horror movies have a formula – a string of incidents connected with love, songs, ghost and laughs. Also in most cases, the ghost enter some pivot character of the movie, and the second half of the movie is fully concentrated on how exorcise is conducted to drive her out. In short, all ghosts fail or give in at the climax of every Malayalam film.
Bhargavi Nilayam – The mother of all Malayalam horror stories
Of course, it’s the first successful film of this kind. The movie starring Prem Nazir and Vijaya Nirmala was released in the year 1964. Similar to other emotions, if fear is also used for entertainment purposes, it brings success – that’s what the huge success of Bhargavi Nilayam taught filmmakers. Over the years, the film earned a cult classic status as well. Old isolated homes at the verge of destruction remind us of Bhargavi Nilayam – isn’t it? That’s the impulse created by this movie in the minds of Malayalis. The film offered some freshness in presentation, and also gave a good love story to Malayali audience.
A series of horror movies later ruled Malayalam screen in the 1960s and 1970s
Malayattur Ramakrishnan’s novel titled Yakshi was made to reel life by Sethu Madhuvan, with Sathyan in the lead role. Sheela’s Yakshaganam also appeared on screen in the 1970s. Vayanadan Thampan also scared audience a lot, and the movie is still remembered for the performance of Kamal Hassan who played the role of a 100-year-old warlord who lures and kidnaps girls for doing black magic.
Prem Nazir played lead roles in many horror movies since Bhargavi Nilayam happened. Ee Ganam Marakkumo and Lisa released in late 1970s need special mention. Lisa is one of the best horror films ever made in Malayalam cinema, which scares audience till now. She writes her name in blood on doors. A series of murders and investigations which followed it made Lisa a must-watch horror thriller in the late 1970s. Kaliyankattu Neeli is yet another movie following the same formula released at the same time. The film title itself challenged cine goers to buy ticket and fear themselves.
When ghost stories clicked among Malayali audiences, new formulae were also introduced connecting ghost stories with robberies. Karimpoocha is one of such instances which told lovers can never be parted. Pacha Velicham also belongs to same genre giving the same message. Srikrishna Parunthu starring Mohanlal in the lead role is one of the highly acclaimed horror films released in mid- 1980s.
Ghost stories have always conquered cine goers’ hearts, and that may be the reason why at least one or two ghosts ‘arrive’ every year. Pacha Velicham, Veendum Lisa, Viswasichalum Illenkilum etc are some of the horror films in the 1980s. Mammootty’s Adharvam emphasized on black magic. Movies like Kalpana House brought in a few more fresh flavours and bind with audience giving them a youthful touch. Brahma Rakshas also had some spine chilling moments.
Horror movies with comedy as main element
Kamal’s Ayushkalam starring Jayaram and Mukesh can be categorized in comedy genre, and it was a fresh take of ghosts in Malayalam cinema. In this movie, the ghost was male (female ghosts excuse please) with a golden heart, who later comes back to find the reason behind his death. This formula was rediscovered several times on Malayalam screen, where comedy was given the first preference, and the movie seen as an entertainer to make crowd laugh. Pretham released last year is one such instance, where a serious subject was handled with comedy as second factor.
My Dear Kuttichathan and Sakshaal Sreeman Chathunni also belong to this genre, but both these movies earned friendship with kids easily.
Manichitrathazhu – The most popular horror/fantasy film with a comic touch
This cult classic released in 1993 has been remade to many Indian languages. The movie also remains the hot favourite of many Malayalis, and still hold close to heart after 25 years of making. With a comic touch, Manichitrathazhu unfolded the mystery of ghost, fantasy and also succeeded to give a modern look by giving scientific explanation to ghosts and everything. The movie broke several box office records, and remains one of the best movies of the careers of Mohanlal, Sobana and Suresh Gopi. The iconic Nagavalli scene of Sobhana and spine chilling climax were entirely different from all horror movies ever shown on Indian screen. The strong script, comedy elements, stellar performances, fantasies and psychological explanations were the real strengths of this fantasy film.
Akasha Ganga, Devadoothan, Anandhabhadram and many more
Revenge of a pregnant lady who was burned alive was well shown in Akasha Ganga. The film directed by Vinayan was loved by Malayali audience. Sibi Malayil through Devadoothan told Malayalis that intense love can withstand death and it is immortal. Though the movie released in year 2000 was critically well acclaimed, it met with financial failure. Anandhabhadram which told the story of Shivakavu (Siva temple) and Digambaran was entirely different from other horror films. The film directed by Santosh Sivan was loved for its visuals, and the stellar performance by Manoj K Jayan as Digambaran.
Indreeyam with Vani Viswanath as lady ghost, Meghasandesham which told about religions and customs, Pakal Pooram with comic flavours, Vinayan’s Vellinakshatram, Mohanlal’s Viswayathumpathu, Mammootty’s Drona etc are some of the horror films in the recent times. Ee Bhargavi Nilayam, Summer Palace, Saudhamini, Moonnamathoral, Aparichithan, Yakshiyum Njaanum etc are a few more.
In the past 10 years, more than 20 Malayalam movies with horror label
Though many horror films were released in the recent times, only a few managed to gain attention. In Ghost In – with comic elements, Vinayan’s Dracula, Geetanjali – sequel of Manichitrathazhu etc gained attention. Jayaram played lead role in similar movies exploring fresh subjects – Kana Kanmani, Winter, Adupuliyattam to mention a few. Last year, Jayaram’s Adupuliyattam and Jayasurya’s Pretham emerged as box office winners. However Oru Murai Vanthu Parthaaya starring Unni Mukundan and Prayaga Martin was also average. Prayaga Martin who appeared as a ghost in Oru Murai Vanthu Parthaaya, was quite different from other Malayalam ghosts. Though she comes to take revenge on those who kills her, she forgives everything and disappears on Unni Mukundan’s marriage night.
Ezra starring Prithviraj is the latest hit film in Malayalam cinema belonging to horror genre. The film excluded comedy elements completely. Instead it added many suspense elements, and thrilling moments which made the movie a box office hit.
The films built on paranormal activities have been built on a few basic concepts. True or not, all of us love to believe so. Yet I wonder why most of horror movies surround around female ghosts, why not male ghosts. Is it to add masala flavours to movies? Though there are a few exceptions like Ezra, directors mostly recycle the formula of female ghosts for entertaining audience. It’s not the case of Malayalam cinema only. Almost all trades of horror movies have a female ghost as a central character. Let us wait for some changes and fresh ghost topics in future.