The second half of the 1960s was a period during which a group of devoted youngsters were very active in the world of Malayalam cinema. These young men had got the opportunity to see highly-acclaimed international films, participate in international film festivals and study in film institutes.
‘Chitralekha Film Society’, the first of its kind in Kerala, was established in 1965 under the leadership of Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Soon, more film societies were set up in different towns of Kerala as a venue for exhibiting good movies and for facilitating enthusiastic discussions about movies. It was in the background of this awakening that Malayalam cinema became endowed with a novel sensitiveness in the 70s.
Though commercial cinema was making its triumphant march forward, there was still a tremendous vacuum as far as the more discerning viewer was concerned. Malayalam cinema had nothing to offer to satisfy his needs. In the 1970s, the New Wave Cinema or Parallel Cinema made its entry to fill this void. In 1972, the release of Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s movie Swayamvaram took Malayalam movie goers by storm because it was such a far cry from mainstream cinema.
Swayamvaram won four national awards. It got the awards for the best film and best director at the 20th National Film Awards. Its heroine Saarada won the best actress award, and cameraman Mankada Ravi Varma won the best cinematographer award.
Likewise, noted littérateur M. T. Vasudevan Nair entered the world of silver screen with his phenomenal talent for scriptwriting. His movie Nirmalyam (Yesterday’s Offerings) won the national award for the best movie and its lead actor P. J. Antony won the national best actor award, the first by a Malayalee.
In 1977 Adoor released his second movie Kodiyettam (Flag Hoisting) which too managed to grab international attention. Bharath Gopi won the national best actor award for that movie.
Another moviemaker who rose to prominence during the 1970s was G. Aravindan. His movies like Uttarayanam (Moving from South to North, 1974), Kanchana Sita (The Golden Sita, 1977), Thambu (The Circus Tent, 1978) and Esthappan of 1979 drew attention at the international level.
Aravindan’s movies were so different from mainstream cinema that they turned upside down the notions people had held about movies.
1970s also saw the emergence of many other gifted artists like John Abraham, P. N. Menon, K. G. George, K. P. Kumaran, P. A. Backer, and Pavithran, and that of experts in film technology like cinematographers Shaji N Karun, Mankada Ravi Varma and sound editor Devadas. In the world of Malayalam film music also, it was in the 1970s that music directors like P. B. Srinivas, M. S. Viswanathan, V. Dakshinamoorthy and M. G. Radhakrishnan; singers like K. J. Yesudas, P. Susheela, Jayachandran, S. Janaki, Madhuri; and lyricist Sreekumaran Thampi could use their talents and find their right niches in the film industry. Among actors, M. G. Soman got his first break in 1973 through the movie Gayathri, and Sukumaran got his through the movie Nirmalyam (Yesterday's Offerings).
Popular moviemakers Padmarajan and Bharathan, who later made movies which blurred the dividing line between commercial cinema and art cinema, entered the movie arena around this time. For veteran directors Joshy, Hariharan, and I. V. Sasi also, the 1970s was the period that ushered them in.