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A new crop of writers and filmmakers has brought about a refreshing change in Malayalam cinema.

Which was the last Malayalam movie worth watching? For many years, this was a difficult question to answer, even for a keen follower of Kerala's cinema. The golden age, presided over by directors and writers such as MT Vasudevan Nair, T Damodaran, Bharatan and Padmarajan, had ended by the late 1990s. Mediocrity, tired cliches and cheap humour had almost become acceptable. In the 2000s, several theatres across Kerala shut down or incurred heavy losses as audiences stayed away, preferring a well-made Hindi or Tamil movie.

But over the past three-four years, a new crop of filmmakers and writers such as Anjali Menon, Aashiq Abu, Ranjith Sankar and Anoop Menon, among others, has brought about a refreshing change. The industry has sorted out its economics. Budgets and production costs are more realistic, target audiences are wooed and films promoted aggressively online. Emboldened by the safety net of satellite TV rights, young filmmakers are exploring unconventional themes.

"Changes that happened five years ago in Tamil cinema are happening now in Kerala. Today, a Malayalam movie can be made with just Rs 1.5 crore, with an almost-guaranteed return of Rs 1 crore. This has made many filmmakers and producers a lot braver," says Kozhikode-based film critic Rakesh P S.

Scripts are no longer tailor-made for the two superstars ó Mammootty (61) and Mohanlal (52). Both have recently been seen in roles that suit their age, something they had been wary of. Would Mohanlal have played a wheelchair-bound senior citizen, like Prof Mathews in Blessy's drama Pranayam (2011), five years ago? Or would Mammootty have done a "villainous" character such as the one he portrayed in Ranjith's murder mystery Paleri Manikyam (2009)? Perhaps not. "The era of 'superstardom' is over. So is the fixation with stories about feudal lords, family feuds or slapstick comedy. The focus is now on good stories, often revolving around urban life," says Rakesh.

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