New generation films is a Malayalam film movement developed in the early 2010s, characterized by fresh and unusual themes and new narrative techniques. Films of the new wave differ from conventional themes of the past two decades and introduced several new trends and techniques to the Malayalam film industry. While the new generation formats and styles are deeply influenced by global trends, their thematics are firmly rooted in Malayalee life and mindscapes.
The new generation also helped to revive the Malayalam film industry in the early 2020s when the industry was hit with the effects of COVID-19 pandemic.
The rise of new generation movement can be traced back to the films such as Traffic (2011), City of God (2011), Salt N' Pepper (2011) and Chaappa Kurishu (2011), which helped define the movement. A few young writers and directors successfully brought new trends in fields such as acting, cinematography, editing, scripting and music; and the industry witnessed the emergence of new talent. In the beginning, most of the new wave films were modestly budgeted, thus supporting experiments by new directors, between Rs. 2 - 3 Crores (compared to the average Malayalam commercial film budget of Rs. 6 - 8 Crores) and have more than recovered their investment.
Unlike the general trend in the Malayalam films, most of the new directors were young. Director Aashiq Abu, one of the most talked-about new generation film-makers in Malayalam, introduced several new wave films and technicians. Actor-producer Jayasurya who had debuted into the industry in 2002, had begun creating his own signature in the new-wave of cinema through phenomenal acting performances in films such as Beautiful and Trivandrum Lodge. Jayasurya had also broke the image barrier of performing in lead roles for a mainstream actor or star, by essaying several character roles and antagonist roles all which were critically acclaimed. Actor-writer Anoop Menon was another emerging personality in the beginning of New Generation Era.
Erosion of the so-called "superstar" system in popular Malayalam films coincided with rise of the new wave where screenplay got rooted-to-reality, closer-to-life and lead characters became ordinary men and women. Influx of new actors, the absence of superstars, rise of metro-centric/urban and middle-class themes and different story-lines were also noted in the wave. While formats and styles of the new directors are deeply influenced by the global trends, their thematics were firmly rooted in Malayali life and mind-scape. A recurrent trope in these new narratives is accidents, coincidences, casual encounters and chance meetings that set in motion an unexpected chain of events affecting the lives of the characters drifting in the urban flotsam. The frequent use of Malayalam influenced by English is also noted in the films. The use of latest technology has added speed to the process of change in the industry. More advanced technology and innovative techniques are being experimented and the industry has become more open to trying out new ideas.
Until the beginning of new wave, most Malayalam films had rural themes portraying the "essential goodness" and "unspoilt beauty" of villages. The focus of the films also shifted from the conventional masculine, handsome, virtuous and invincible hero to more humane characters. Another notable feature is that stories shifted to depict more non-male characters as lead. Movies featuring gender minorities and homosexual leads is another definitive characteristic of this era of Malayalam cinema. The depiction of women has also changed in the New Wave films beyond recognition. The leading ladies often flirt openly, drink in public, and make lewd comments. A number of female-oriented films like 22 Female Kottayam, Rani Padmini, Uyare, The Great Indian Kitchen were also the part of the new wave.
The new wave soon ignited a debate about the era of superstars coming to an end with Malayalam cinema witnessing a radical change. In the 1980s, stars mattered, though not as much as in the 1990s and 2000s, when Malayalam cinema was practically dictated by the then superstars of the industry. The stranglehold of superstars that was stifling any new experimentation, complemented by the autocratic control of Malayalam film industry organisations over all areas of the industry was seen as pushing the industry to the wall. Unlike Mohanlal, Mammootty has done more films with directors of new wave movement, mostly being the directors' debut movie.
Actors like Thilakan, Nedumudi Venu, Prithviraj Sukumaran, Jayasurya, Kunchacko Boban, Indrajith Sukumaran, Biju Menon, Indrans, Pratap Pothen, Suraj Venjarammood, Harisree Asokan, Kunchan, Lal, Saiju Kurup, Jaffar Idukki, Baburaj, Lena etc. who began their career before the new wave were also noted for their hard-hitting performances in the new generation films.
Screenwriters like Syam Pushkaran, Dileesh Nair, Bobby–Sanjay, Unni R., Santhosh Echikkanam, Anjali Menon, PS Rafeeque, P. F. Mathews, S. Hareesh, Murali Gopy, Gopan Chidambaram, P. Balachandran, Shahi Kabir, Muhsin Parari; Cinematographers such as Shyju Khalid, Sameer Thahir, Madhu Neelakandan, Abinandhan Ramanujam, Jomon T. John, Renadive, Little Swayamp, Anend C. Chandran, Pappu, Shehnad Jalal, Vinod illampally; Musical Artists Bijibal, Rex Vijayan, Jakes Bejoy, Prashant Pillai, Sushin Shyam, Gopi Sundar, Rahul Raj, Shaan Rahman, Rajesh Murugesan, Shahabaz Aman, Vishnu Vijay, Justin Varghese; Editors like Vivek Harshan, B. Ajithkumar, Saiju Sreedharan, Mahesh Narayanan, Praveen Prabhakar, Manoj, Noufal Abdullah, Deepu Joseph etc. were also made significant contributions to New Wave Films.
The following are some of the films widely considered as new generation Malayalam films:
As per critics, the new wave of activity in Malayalam cinema is reminiscent of the 1980s, regarded as the golden age of Malayalam cinema, when mainstream films bridged the gap between arthouse and commercial movies, led by a team of talented writers and directors. In the 1980s, Malayalam films witnessed some positive changes through directors like Padmarajan and Bharathan, who made path-breaking films. These films too broke the norms which were considered the prerequisite for a commercial entertainer, and traversed a new path between popular and parallel cinema.
There is a general consensus that the New-Gen movies draw a lot of inspiration from other film industries. They depict lives of people living in 21st century Kerala through a very realistic lens, it's often said that most of its success is due to the freshness these narratives possess in comparison to traditional Malayalam movies.. New-Gen Malayalam movies tend to feature more nucleus families and urban lifestyle, rather than the depiction of traditional joint families from villages. This and the adult themes present in a lot of movies has gained the New-Gen movies the criticism that they're primary targeted towards young people.
The new wave films are criticized for explicit language and provocative themes, often "under the guise of bold or modern". Malayalam actor Jayaram has talked about his disinterest towards the new generation films publicly, he has heard to be saying the new wave films lacks its appeal towards a family environment as the inappropriateness of mannerisms in certain films, beyond a PG-13 is very awkward to someone who expects to watch a family film such as most of the conventional Malayalam movies were, which did not need a specific rating.
The New generation received criticism from some conventional film-makers. They accused that plagiarized versions of foreign films are being presented under the guise of New Wave experiments. While admirers of the New Wave of Malayalam films call it the "Jasmine revolution", critics refer it as the "multiplex revolution". "Some films that are fresh in thought and execution have clicked at the box office," says veteran director Sibi Malayil. "But I am against referring to them as New Wave Cinema. Changes were always there in Malayalam films. But most of these so-called new-generation movies revolve around the themes that deal with life in a metro city. These films are getting a good response in tier-I cities only".