Kerala is a tiny state and the people there speak one language – Malayalam. But, the number of dialects there are, and the variety of usages in different regions of Kerala is simply startling. Growing up in a Malayali community in the Middle East exposed my siblings and me to a variety of these dialects. But most of all, it was all about the Pathanamthitta, Thiruvalla, and Kottayam accents. So we called each other edo, thaan, thante. All this, of course, was not palatable to our cousins back home. It sounded rude and just distant to them. Why? Because we are from Thrissur—the land of kidaavu, gedi, and ishta.
And if you really believe what you see in the old Malayalam movies of the 80’s, the land of enthoottu and shavi. Thankfully, Innocent came into the scene and made things more realistic. And no, what you hear in Thoovanathumbikal is not Thrissur slang. And I don’t know what happened to Mohanlal’s Thrissur slang as soon as the movie got serious with Clara and all. For a long time, there was no focus on this diversity of dialects. And I speak specifically about the movie industry.
I cannot say much about Malayalam literature; at least not with a lot of confidence. I am aware of Madhavikutty’s distinct style of writing where she explored the “Palakkadan shaili” and of course there is Vaikom Mohammed Basheer who wrote in the typical mappila colloquial style. But I digress.
Let me focus on a medium that I know a thing or two about. The late 90’s and early 2000’s saw Dileep’s Ernakulam dialect and Jayaram’s Preumbavoor style of talking. It injected warmth and humour into the family dramas that were produced at that time. The “Namboothiri” style of dialog delivery was used for the “illam” “mana” and “tharavaadu” plots. Or there would be a comedian using that dialect. Who can forget the Jayaram-Kalabhavan Mani scene from Dilliwala Rajakumaran? We still had most “serious” characters still speaking in that accent that you don’t hear anywhere in Kerala, except for on the big screen. I think it was a residual form of Malayalam. Something that was left over from the professional theatre troupe days and something that was infused because of the general focus of the Malayalam film industry in Chennai. It was not as theatrical as the Sathyan-Naseer-Sheela days, but it was not quite natural yet. Then there was temporary (thankfully) phase of experimentation with the Thiruvananthapuram slang. I like to call this the Rajamanikyam/Suraj Venjaramoondu phase.
Some character actors were smart enough to make their colloquial slangs into their USPs and enjoy popularity. We had the inimitable Kuthiravattom Pappu and his Kozhikodan style, Mammukoya and his Mappila style, and Innocent and Philomena and their Thrissur style. Jagathy was very versatile. He would easily switch between the southern Kerala dialects, Valluvanaadan dialect, and anything else that you threw his way. Once again, very few “hero/heroines” would speak any of these dialects. There were a few attempts. Remember “Kilichundanmaambazham”?
These days, with the revival of Malayalam movies, we see a trend of embracing all the local dialects. The made-for-screen Valluvanadan slang is slowly giving way to the way how we REALLY speak. You get to sample Biju Menon’s Palakkadan bhasha in “Ordinary” and style in “Thattathin Marayathu”. There was a sincere attempt in “Indian Rupee” and a lovely presentation in “Bavuttiyude namathil”. Then there are the buddies and teams from Fort Kochi and Vypin. And the Tessas from Kottayam and the Pranchiyettans from Thrissur. The beauty of these films is that the slangs and lingos are carried right through the length of the movie.
I wonder how a Delhi-based or a Mumbai-based Malayalam story would pan out in the current situation. The Malayalees in Delhi, for example, stumble by in broken Malayalam with a generous slathering of Hindi in there. Unlike the earlier movies that were based in these cities, would directors and scriptwriters work on the local language aspect as well? How would it be presented? Would the audience accept it? Now, I am really curious. In the meantime, if there are any scriptwriters who are basing a story about a Malayalee family living in Kuwait, I have a language recommendation for you. Abbasiyah accent!