Malayalam cinema

A sleepy town, pork and black humour add up to Malayalam box office sensation ‘Angamaly Diaries’

Lijo Jose Pellissery’s movie stars 86 new faces, has a strong script, and an evocative setting. The result: a hit.

Angamaly is a very small town in Kerala. The only reason anyone had heard of it until a few weeks ago was because of its proximity to the Kochi International Airport. The townspeople can bid their anonymity goodbye: the movie Angamaly Diaries, which was released on March 3, has created a box office stir and is holding strong despite competition from other releases.

Lijo Jose Pellissery’s film follows six young men and their adventures in setting up a pork business. The setting is the seventh character. Pellissery gives a palpable sense of the town’s flavour, spicing up his narrative with intricate details of the local culture, culinary habits, music, humour and dialect. Every single actor – 86 in all – is a newcomer, and already, lead actor Antony Varghese is being hailed as the latest sensation in town.

The 38-year-old director has previously directed the emotional drama Nayakan, the comic thriller Double Barrel and the musical Amen. Pellissery’s professional journey has been as unconventional as his movies. After a Master of Business Administration degree and a six-month stint as a salesman, Pellissery walked out of work one morning (at precisely 11.30 am, according to him) and bid goodbye to the tucked-in shirt and office cubicle existence. He has never regretted it, he told Scroll.in.

How did ‘Angamaly Diaries’ come about?
After Double Barrel, I worked on a few ideas that didn’t materialise. That is when I remembered an old project that my friend Chemban Vinod Jose [the script writer] had discussed with me. It was about the place Angamaly and its peculiar culture, which involved pork, wine, crime and black humour. I loved the first draft even though it was long. We edited and re-wrote the script, which was shaped into what finally came out as Angamaly Diaries.

Chemban is from Angamaly and I am from Chalakudy, which is not too far from there. Since the culture and spirit of our towns share a lot of things in common, there was an instant connection. Most of the incidents in the film are based on real events, but we added fiction to make it more entertaining. When our friend, producer Vijay Babu of Friday Film House, took an instant liking to the idea and gave us the go-ahead, the film happened for real.

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Angamaly Diaries (2017).

The movie has been out for over a month, and is still holding strong against big-name starrers, such as Mammotty’s ‘The Great Father.’
We are glad that the audience has accepted this film, and I hope it inspires a lot of people to come forward with their out-of-the-box ideas and bring glory to Malayalam cinema. The response we have had from around the world tells me that it all depends on how well you tell a story. When the storytelling and presentation are right, faces don’t matter.

Malayalam cinema has been not just about stars but also about a social message. Is there one in ‘Angamaly Diaries’?
Honestly, I don’t believe in giving social messages through cinema. Filmmaking is not about preaching. It’s a creative process.

Angamaly Diaries has global appeal only because it’s about a human story in a place and the realisation of the fact that it could happen anywhere in the world. That is why people connect with it. A good friend of mine said to me, “The more local, the more global.”


Your film comes at a time when the Malayalam industry faces allegations of nepotism. Star kids and relatives are being promoted and others overlooked.
You have to make sure that you cast for the script. I try to find the exact face that comes to mind when I read the script, not the other way around. Whoever fits the part – be it your neighbour, a friend or an actor – should be in the film.

Stars don’t necessarily sell a film. My last film was bigger film, and required a familiar face to bring the kind of funding the project required. It was my long-time dream to make a film with an all-new cast, but then I had to find a script and setting where I could confidently take that step. In Angamaly Diaries, the town is the protagonist. I wanted to give the audience the experience of taking an auto rickshaw ride through the fun, folly and festivity of the town.

I would love to see a lot of new talent coming to the industry. New technicians and new actors simply mean new talent, and that is how each industry grows.

Antony Varghese as Vincent Pepe. Courtesy Friday Film House.
Antony Varghese as Vincent Pepe. Courtesy Friday Film House.

Is this a great time for fresh ideas in Malayalam cinema? There was Rajeev Ravi’s ‘Kammatipaadam’, about Dalits and gangsters in a Kochi slum. There was Dileesh Pothan’s ‘Maheshinte Prathikaram’, about a man who gives up wearing footwear until he has avenged a humiliation.
Yes, some fantastic films are being made in Kerala at the moment. The Malayalam film industry saw its golden period in the 1970s and early ’80s, with such filmmakers as Padmarajan, KG George and Bharathan. Then it nose-dived. The films didn’t work for some reason. Now it’s catching up, and the future looks promising. Maheshinte Prathikaram is my personal favourite from last year.

So is there a trend towards new-generation cinema?
There is no such trend. If a thriller works, everybody starts making thrillers. There’s just good cinema and bad cinema. Sometimes, it’s good cinema, but the audience still rejects it. All you need to do is to create the cinema in which you believe. Don’t lose heart even if it doesn’t work. Just move on. You can always make it better the next time.

What would be your advice to young directors out there?
Cinema is about making what you visualised when you read the script. Be adamant about getting it right on the screen. Compromises don’t make good cinema. Filmmaking has never been so technology-friendly in the past. All you need is a great idea and a good camera phone to show the world what you can do. Gone are the days when you had to worry about costs. Make a film with your friends. If you have an idea, just go ahead.

Lijo Jose Pellissery (left).
Lijo Jose Pellissery (left).
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London then and now – As experienced by Indians

While much has changed, the timeless quality of the city endures.

“I found the spirit of the city matching the Bombay spirit. Like Bombay, the city never sleeps and there was no particular time when you couldn’t wander about the town freely and enjoy the local atmosphere”, says CV Manian, a PhD student in Manchester in the ‘80s, who made a trip to London often. London as a city has a timeless quality. The seamless blend of period architecture and steel skyscrapers acts as the metaphor for a city where much has changed, but a lot hasn’t.

The famed Brit ‘stiff upper lip, for example, finds ample validation from those who visited London decades ago. “The people were minding their business, but never showed indifference to a foreigner. They were private in their own way and kept to themselves.” Manian recollects. Aditya Dash remembers an enduring anecdote from his grandmother’s visit to London. “There is the famous family story where she was held up at Heathrow airport. She was carrying zarda (or something like that) for my grandfather and customs wanted to figure out if it was contraband or not.”

However, the city always housed contrasting cultures. During the ‘Swinging ‘60s’ - seen as a precursor to the hippie movement - Shyla Puri’s family had just migrated to London. Her grandfather still remembers the simmering anti-war, pro-peace sentiment. He himself got involved with the hippie movement in small ways. “He would often talk with the youth about what it means to be happy and how you could achieve peace. He wouldn’t go all out, but he would join in on peace parades and attend public talks. Everything was ‘groovy’ he says,” Shyla shares.

‘Groovy’ quite accurately describes the decade that boosted music, art and fashion in a city which was till then known for its post-World-War austerities. S Mohan, a young trainee in London in the ‘60s, reminisces, “The rage was The Beatles of course, and those were also the days of Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald.” The likes of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were inspiring a cultural revolution in the city. Shyla’s grandfather even remembers London turning punk in the ‘80s, “People walking around with leather jackets, bright-colored hair, mohawks…It was something he would marvel at but did not join in,” Shyla says.

But Shyla, a second-generation Londoner, did join in in the revival of the punk culture in the 21st century. Her Instagram picture of a poster at the AfroPunk Fest 2016 best represents her London, she emphatically insists. The AfroPunk movement is trying to make the Punk culture more racially inclusive and diverse. “My London is multicultural, with an abundance of accents. It’s open, it’s alive,” Shyla says. The tolerance and openness of London is best showcased in the famous Christmas lights at Carnaby Street, a street that has always been popular among members of London’s alternate cultures.

Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)
Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)

“London is always buzzing with activity. There are always free talks, poetry slams and festivals. A lot of museums are free. London culture, London art, London creativity are kept alive this way. And of course, with the smartphones navigating is easy,” Shyla adds. And she’s onto something. Manian similarly describes his ‘80s rendezvous with London’s culture, “The art museums and places of interest were very illustrative and helpful. I could tour around the place with a road map and the Tube was very convenient.” Mohan, with his wife, too made the most of London’s cultural offerings. “We went to see ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Opera House and ‘The Mousetrap’ by Agatha Christie. As an overseas graduate apprentice, I also had the pleasure to visit the House of Lords and take tea on the terrace.”

For the casual stroller along London’s streets today, the city would indeed look quite different from what it would’ve to their grandparents. Soho - once a poor suburb known for its crime and sex industry - is today a fashionable district of upmarket eateries and fashion stores. Most of the big British high street brands have been replaced by large international stores and the London skyline too has changed, with The Shard being the latest and the most impressive addition. In fact, Shyla is quite positive that her grandfather would not recognise most of the city anymore.

Shyla, though, isn’t complaining. She assures that alternate cultures are very much alive in the city. “I’ve seen some underground LGBT clubs, drag clubs, comedy clubs, after midnight dance-offs and empty-warehouse-converted parties. There’s a space for everybody.” London’s cosmopolitan nature remains a huge point of attraction for Indian visitors even today. Aditya is especially impressed by the culinary diversity of London and swears that, “some of the best chicken tikka rolls I have had in my life were in London.” “An array of accents flood the streets. These are the people who make London...LONDON,” says Shyla.

It’s clear that London has changed a lot, but not really all that much. Another aspect of Indians’ London experience that has remained consistent over the past decades is the connectivity of British Airways. With a presence in India for over 90 years, British Airways has been helping generations of Indians discover ‘their London’, just like in this video.

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For more information on special offers on flights to London and other destinations in the UK, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.