Aadujeevitham to Mathilukal: Hits and misses in Malayalam film adaptations

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The Malayalam film industry has seen some remarkable successes in bringing novels to life on the big screen.

Since the announcement of the Prithviraj-starrer 'Aadujeevitham', debates have raged on whether it would capture the same magic as Benyamin’s novel. Even now, with the movie released, the question still lingers for many: did the movie do justice to the book? Adapting a book into a movie is no cakewalk; however, the Malayalam film industry has seen some remarkable successes in bringing novels to life on the big screen. Let's dive into some of the hits and misses in film adaptations within Malayalam cinema.

Mammootty and Adoor Gopalakrishnan while shooting the movie Mathilukal.

Masterpieces on Screen
‘Mathilukal’ is one of the masterpieces. This gem starring Mammootty, directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan, beautifully brought Vaikom Muhammad Basheer's novel to life. It's like they plucked Basheer's novel straight from the pages and onto the screen. From the portrayal of Basheer's imprisonment to the poignant exploration of love and longing, every aspect of the film stays true to the spirit of the book, earning it critical acclaim and numerous awards.

Then there's this movie called 'Daivathinte Vikrithikal,' directed by Lenin Rajendran. It's based on M. Mukundan's book with the same title. Lenin and Mukundan teamed up for the screenplay, which probably explains why the movie is just as good as the book. This acclaimed film has won numerous awards and is widely regarded as one of the finest adaptations of a Malayalam novel to date.

Similarly, ‘Paleri Manikyam: Oru Pathirakolapathakathinte Katha’ masterfully retains the mystery essence of T.P. Rajeevan's novel that delves into Kerala's first recorded murder case. Directed by Ranjith and featuring Mammootty in a compelling role, the film seamlessly translates the suspense and intrigue of the novel onto the screen. It stays faithful to the core narrative while adding visual depth and cinematic flair, resulting in a gripping cinematic experience that resonates with audiences.

‘Namukku Parkkan Munthirithoppukal’ directed by Padmarajan is another shining example. Based on K.K. Sudhakaran's novel Nammukku Gramangalil Chennu Rapparkkam, the film captures the essence of the original story's romance and tragedy with remarkable fidelity. Padmarajan's sensitive direction and nuanced storytelling bring the characters to life, evoking the same emotions and sentiments that endeared the novel to readers. With its dreamy narrative, divine-like music and background scores, no wonder why the movie remains a cult among many.

‘Ore Kadal’, based on Sunil Gangopadhyay's Bengali novel ‘Hirek Deepti’, also stays true to the emotional core of the source material. Director Shyamaprasad's sensitive handling of the complex relationships and existential dilemmas portrayed in the novel ensures that the film retains the same depth and resonance that made the book a literary classic.

Mohanlal plays Ramesan Nair in 'Thanmathra'. Photo | Imdb

While not directly based on a novel, the movie ‘Thanmathra’, directed by Blessy, draws inspiration from Padmarajan's short story ‘Orma’. Blessy's sensitive portrayal of the protagonist's struggles and the impact of Alzheimer's disease on his family stays true to the spirit of Padmarajan's story, resulting in a deeply affecting cinematic experience.

And who can forget ‘Chemmeen’? This classic adaptation of Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai's novel, directed by Ramu Kariat, made history as the first South Indian film to win the Indian President's Gold Medal for Best Film. It's a captivating exploration of coastal folklore and beliefs.

Misses in Translation
But not every adaptation hits the mark. Take ‘Leela’, directed by Ranjith, based on a short story by Unni R. While the story was widely embraced in its literary form, the film failed to capture its essence, drawing criticism from audiences and even the author himself. Then there's ‘Njaan’, starring Dulquer Salmaan, based on T P Rajeevan’s ‘K T N Kottur -Ezhuthum Jeevithavum’, which struggled to find its footing with its overly complicated intellectual approach, leaving audiences perplexed rather than engaged.

Neelavelicham movie
Neelavelicham movie poster. Photo: Instagram/Rima Kallingal

Oh, and ‘Akam’, based on Malayattoor Ramakrishnan's ‘Yakshi’! Despite an earlier successful adaptation, this newer version directed by Shalini Usha Nair, starring Fahad Fazil fell short, lacking the engagement and clarity of its literary counterpart. Also, ‘Neelavelicham’, the recent adaptation of Vaikom Muhammad Basheer’s classic short story of the same name, failed to resonate with many audiences. Despite Aashiq Abu's attempts to inject charm into the film, it didn't live up to the expectations of readers seeking a perfect retelling.

So yeah, adapting novels into movies is indeed a mixed bag of hits and misses. But we'll always have those classics to revisit.

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