The exponential rise of streaming platforms during the pandemic has given a boost to regional films. The consumption of content has increased manifolds and has touched unprecedented highs. Although regional cinema already had a vast audience, the tragic times have further broadened its penetration. Films from the South have gained traction due to innovation in narration and layered character exposition. The number of quality Malayalam movies, both, on Netflix and Prime Video, is a testament to the growing voice of independent artists. Filmmakers like Liju Jose Pellissery and Jeethu Joseph keep pushing the bar and create cathartic experiences for viewers. The streaming platforms together house some of the best movies India has produced in recent times.
The non-Malayalam speaking populace today doesn’t mind the two-inch barrier of subtitles, and moreover, the platforms also offer dubbed audios in Hindi and English. The combination of all these factors has prompted us to present to you a list of the best Malayalam movies to stream on Prime Video. The picks have been stretched to be eclectic to be inclusive of diverse tastes without compromising the quality. Don’t shy away from name-dropping in the comments below. Happy reading!
10. Ayyappanum Koshiyum (2020)
Old Hindu scriptures contain great verses and wisdom about ego and its effect on men. The ancient teachings point towards a solitary, unchangeable result for men consumed with it – destruction. ‘Ayyappanum Koshiyum’ (i.e., Ayyapan Nair and Koshy) is about two men who let their egos control their decisions and proceed to make sure the other person is destroyed. The mutuality of their condition extends beyond their personality to their dark pasts, the secrets of which are still buried somewhere deep within.
As they clash (just like the Ayyapan and Koshiyam of Hollywood some weeks from now), the world witnesses an epic battle fueled by patriarchal ideas about masculinity and the goal of manhood. Koshy, on one hand, struggles with his supposed inferiority in the relationship with his father. Powerful figures of authority often challenge us as children to become more like them and prove ourselves, compelling us to remain in a constant state of insecurity. Ayyapan, on the other, is a proven alpha, demonstrated by his history of violence for righteous causes, as we are led to believe. The breach of his trust jolts his ideals of taking a moral high ground and teaching Koshy a lesson.
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Despite its sumptuous philosophical vastness, ‘Ayyappanum Koshiyum’ is a thoroughly entertaining watch, elevated by two fierce performers at the peak of their game. Prithviraj and Biju make for a fearsome couple and stand for everything that is wrong with our society.
Watch Ayyappanum Koshiyum Here
9. Virus (2019)
As the world fights a tragic pandemic, the makers of ‘Virus’ transport the viewer back to another lesser-known but equally significant fight against the invisible enemy in Kerala. The Nipah virus outbreak in 2018 startled and shocked the State. Those anxious days are dramatized in ‘Virus’, right from the first indexed case to the last, and the efforts of medical professionals, government officials, and the people to contain the outbreak.
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There are several personal stories of characters losing their loved ones intertwined with the main narrative. Aashiq Abu’s simplicity keeps affairs within reach and mostly comprehensible to the general masses. His emotional connection with his viewer is through the enduring resolve of the human spirit driven by compassion. ‘Virus’ is an engrossing and moving retelling and a timely reminder that together we can scale the insurmountable and do the unthinkable.’
Watch Virus Here
8. Trance (2020)
‘Trance’ stars the mercurial Fahadh Faasil as Viju, a struggling motivational speaker in Kanyakumari living with his depressed brother. Kunju. His suicidal tendency and heavy reliance on substances keep Viju on his toes. His worst fears are realized when he finds Kunju hanging from the same fan his mother hung several years ago. Viju shifts to Mumbai and stumbles upon an old acquaintance, who sends a job his way. Little does he know about the true value of what he actually trades when he accepts the doomed offer.
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‘Trance’ explores various themes such as substance abuse, mental illness, and the growing penetration of illusory spiritualism. It is an indictment of men trying to play God and commercializing the faith of hopeless people living both in abject poverty and opulence of wealth. Faasil’s central act is the lifeblood of ‘Trance’. His ability to shape-shift from the easygoing and jolly Viju to the inured and indifferent Joshua is remarkable. The film ebbs and flows with Viju and his journey towards oblivion and a place where he loses himself. ‘Trance’ will leave you in tears by the end, heartbroken over the banality of and ease with which a troubled man slips into depression and is further isolated by greedy businessmen who never shy away from making a quick buck, no matter what the cost.
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Watch Trance Here
7. C U Soon (2020)
‘Searching‘ was a sensation when it released first. It successfully created a niche category of films completely set in a digital world. The onslaught of similar films has been relentless ever since and the fever has also caught up with Indian cinema. ‘C U Soon’ was envisioned due to the constraints in place due to the pandemic. Directed by Mahesh Narayanan, the film revolves around Jimmy Kurien and Anu Sebastian, a girl he befriends on a dating app. The flirtation soon enough blooms into a romance that brings the two together. At first, Anu’s strict upbringing seems an innocuous stereotype but turns out to be a macabre event that risks her life. Fahadh Faasil and Roshan Mathew star as cousins Kevin and Jimmy and Darshana Rajendran plays Anu. The taut storyline hardly wastes any second. The crisp editing keeps new events in the film engaging and also induces a dream run-time that any film aspires for.
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‘C U Soon’s social commentary on human trafficking brings to light the tragedy and trauma that many young girls face today. Without familiar faces and support, they’re entrapped by vultures like Joseph and forced into selling themselves. The sequence where Kevin goes through Anu’s exchanges with her sister is the highlight of the film. ‘C U Soon’ offers an enduring blend of socio-political awareness and crafty storytelling and optimizes its limited settings to unlock a whole new avenue for Indian cinema.
6. Unda (2019)
‘Unda’ means “bullet” in Malayalam. The film was conceived out of a newspaper clipping that reported the unthinkable blunder by the State administration in Chattisgarh of not providing sufficient ammunition to a police unit stationed in a Maoist-infected area to facilitate elections. The film explores similar issues to the ones highlighted in ‘Newton‘ but is told from a different perspective.
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Mammootty stars as Mani, a SI who leads the unit in the focus. ‘Unda’ is politically aware and critically represents various weaknesses in our administrative system and the casual manner in which public duty is dispensed. There is a gamut of social issues which are compassionately discussed in the film. ‘Unda’, for most parts, remains true to the events of its bizarre real-world inspiration and raises opportune truths about our democracy that need sincere attention from the concerned stakeholders.
Watch Unda Here
5. Drishyam 2 (2021)
With about 18 minutes remaining, Officer Thomas quips, “I feel this is the beginning of something”. And he’s not wrong. Jeethu Joseph and Mohanlal’s much-anticipated sequel to ‘Drishyam’ released in 2013 is worth its weight in gold, although it takes its own sweet time to unravel Georgekutty’s miraculous escape. ‘Drishyam 2’ continues in the same universe and six years after ‘Drishyam‘ ended. Georgekutty has moved from being a small-time cable repairman to owning his own movie theatre and producing a film with a renowned screenwriter. His family is still recuperating from the events of that night and feels weighted and guilty over what transpired. The police, which now has the cooperation of jealous locals, secretly continues IG Thomas Bastin’s ‘personal mission’ to bring down Georgekutty. Unbeknownst to them, Georgekutty is already five steps ahead.
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‘Drishyam 2’ introduces a small, yet critical number of new players in the game. Jose, Vinayachandran, a gravedigger all culminate fractiously to serve the story. There’s a great level of deception on director Joseph’s part. Details that might not seem important actually are; there are certain leads that look like leads but aren’t. Joseph scatters the missing pieces of his omniscient puzzle in different parts of the runtime. The buildup is a tad sluggish, especially for the first hour. Our patience, though, is rewarded with a finely tuned story that lacks the panache of its illustrious predecessor but tackles more weighty themes about crime, punishment, and the atonement of guilt.
Watch Drishyam 2 Here
4. Helen (2019)
Survival dramas that blend thrills with flawless character development are rare. More often than not, the energy and focus of the plot shift towards the survival story to the hilt. Filmmakers typically follow the genre formula of isolating the protagonist and introduce fresh elements in how they overcome adversity. ‘Helen’ functions on an experimental script that deviates from the norm. Right from the very first scene to fleeting moments in between, director Mathukutty Xavier (debut) sets the scope of Helen’s interpersonal relationships and her foundational character. Xavier details her interactions and establishes her skillset and destiny that will eventually save her. The unfurling of the story is unique because of how well thought out the little things are.
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The film’s thematic fabric is strong. Helen’s relationship with her father forms its emotional core and benefits greatly through Anna Ben and Lal’s chemistry and understanding of their characters. Aju Varghese, despite a short-lived stint, is another standout performer and plays a completely different role than his previous films. Despite the predictability of its genre, ‘Helen’ imposes its superiority with an intricate and meticulously planned script and endearing performances.
Watch Helen Here
3. Ee. Ma. Yau. (2018)
Eesho Mariyam Yauseppe/Ee. Ma Yau. means Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in English. Liju Jose Pellisserry’s story is set in a small coastal town of Chellanam in Kerala and showcases the efforts of a son (Eeshi) to uphold his promise to his dead father (Vavachan) to afford him a grand funeral. The satirical cadence of ‘Ee. Ma. Yau.’ is a blend of absurdist comedy and raw melancholy. The meditative piece explores divinity in death through surrealist events and characters, like the two angels who play cards while everything around them disrupts into chaos; Pennamma, who blurts out uncouth insults as she weeps beside Vavacharan’s body; and the incessant downpour at the time of the burial. There are definite annotations about death inspired by The Seventh Seal, like the mid-credits scene. PF Matthews, who wrote the script, has a host of novels around the subject to his credit.
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Pelliserry’s circus of death marches to his subtle and strange tunes and is more of a horror show where everything goes wrong than a glamorous exhibition we expect it to be due to the very first shot. The typically large cast is led by a terrific CV Jose, the mourning Eeshi whose hopes of honoring his dead father’s wishes collapse after he insults the local vicar. Jose creates a beautiful balance between the angst, hopelessness, and heartbreak that Eeshi experiences in different forms. Vinayakan is another standout performer as Ayyapan, the only rational voice in the film’s ocean of chaos and drunkards. ‘Ee. Ma. Yau.’ is the mantlepiece of modern Malayalam cinema filling the long-standing vacuum of a timeless classic.
Watch Ee. Ma. Yau Here
2. Kumbalangi Nights (2019)
‘Kumbalangi Nights’ is Madhu Narayanan’s directorial debut and stars Shane Nigam, Soubin Shahir, Sreenath Bhasi, and newcomer Mathew Thomas as four brothers united by blood and distanced due to personal differences in Kumbalingi, a small village in Kerala. Their discord is so intense that Bonny (Bhasi) chooses to stay away from the house entirely, only coming back when Franky (Thomas) returns from school. Saji (Shahir) and Bobby (Nigam) often quarrel amongst themselves and do little or no work without any sense of responsibility. The film draws the family closer on the back of events, both fortunate and unfortunate, while also bringing in new members. Fahadh Faasil, who also co-produces, stars as the antagonist Shammi, who struggles with his own identity and stature as the man of the house.
Syam Pushkaran recounts his days spending vacations in Kumbalingi. His writing makes the town a character in itself with its own life, magic, and misery. The picturesque town boasts of a beautiful marriage of lush greenery and bioluminescent water bodies. Cinematographer Shyju Khalid captures the town at its best, while director Narayanan and the talented cast bring out the worst in human nature.
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‘Kumbalangi Nights’ has a strong female representation, unlike many of its contemporaries. Baby is emblematic of the modern woman, combining her cultural upbringing with a strong character and defiance. Simmi, even in her domestic demeanor and docile disposition, stands up to her misogynist husband when times demand it. Through these level-headed women, Narayanan also explores and accentuates the inherent patriarchy and the “macho image” that men grow up in our culture. Shammi’s character, apparently named after the hero Shammi Kapoor, suffers from his obligation to act tough and as the savior of the women, which forces him to resort to extreme violence.
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The camaraderie of the brothers and the mental effect of the family as a unit on the individuality of the institution’s benefactors progresses visually with more smiles and unity under the roof. When Franky replies “Really?” in astonishment to Nylah’s remark of their house being beautiful, there’s an instant change in perception. Saji brings along Vijay’s widow and her newborn to complete the bond that truly fulfills their house home. The brothers together take down Shammi at the end, something which wouldn’t have been possible without their cumulative efforts.
‘Kumbalangi Nights’ is a film that sets you free and at the same time, brings you closer to yourself and others around you. Also, you’ll not stop crooning “Cherathukal” for days to come after the film.
Watch Kumbalangi Nights Here
1. Jallikkattu (2019)
‘Jallikkattu’ is not about the related controversial sport traditionally celebrated in Tamil Nadu. The film is born out of a manic buffalo hunt in a small Keralan village that engulfs its entire population. But really the film is more about the ‘man v. beast’ showdown that is still the same today. Liju Pelliserry’s choreographed chaos in his typical tradition of using rambunctious dialogue and carefully curated long shots trails the dissolution of man and his civil sensibilities acquired over millions of years of evolution into something he himself fears – the beast. The gap is literally bridged in the exhilarating climax but is more subtly exploited through ‘Jallikkattu’s rich subtext and underlying themes. For instance, the masculine showdown between Kuttachan and Antony following the intense, teasing buildup is a microcosm of the film’s predominant theme. The slightly larger scuffle between factions of men – that is originally a singular group – to hunt the wild beast down is another. The observant social critique proves women the more prudent of the species. While the men burn down forests, demolish its ecosystem, and pull down trees, the women stay home and are further tortured by the monstrosity that runs uninhibited within those involved in the chase.
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Even in its short run time, ‘Jallikkattu’ flows kinetically and fiercely owing to a combination of Prasanth Pillai’s magnificent soundscape – a mix of tribal beats, animal cries, fighting men, and the setting itself – Girish Gangadharan’s immersive and visceral imagery, and Liju Pellissery’s polished vision and conviction.
Watch Jallikattu Here