In the death of filmmaker KG George on Sunday, Malayalam cinema lost one of its most astute chroniclers of the human condition. The films that George wrote and directed between the 1970s and the 1990s continue to influence directors and writers for their profound themes, frank handling of sensitive subjects and realistic performances.

George died on September 24 in an old age home. He was 77. Some of his highly regarded works are available for viewing: Yavanika (Disney+ Hotstar), Ee Kanni Koodi (Disney+ Hotstar) and Lekhayude Maranam Oru Flashback (Prime Video). However, some of the prints are of poor quality, as are the subtitles.

In Yavanika, George examines the dynamics of a touring drama troupe through the prism of a murder mystery. In Ee Kanni Koodi, the death of a sex worker exposes the hypocrisy of all the men she has encountered, from her feckless husband to her supposed benefactor.

Lekhayude Maranam Oru Flashback is George’s bold version of the events leading to actor Sobha’s suicide at the age of 17. George doesn’t stint from implicating the people responsible for the death of his young heroine, from her parents to her husband.

These are cerebral crime dramas, in which the point isn’t to provide thrills, create needless suspense or lay out a trail of red herrings. Rather, George is more interested in the workings of the human mind, the interplay between social institutions and the individual, the role of the family in influencing wrongdoing. In focusing on the writing and psychological characterisation while also making accessible films, George, along with his peers such as Padmarajan and Bharathan, created a bridge between mainstream and arthouse Malayalam cinema.

One of George’s finest movies is Irakal (1985), or Victims. It’s a singular study of the making of a psycho, but without the exploitative moments or glorification that we see in, say, Bharathiraaja’s Tamil-language Sigappu Rojakkal (1978). Irakal is available on Eros Now.

The film follow the moral descent of Baby (KB Ganesh Kumar). As the youngest son of wealthy rubber estate owner Mathews (Thilakan), Baby is entitled, indolent – and bored. He fantasises about turning into a serial killer. Walking around with a blood-red twine, Baby fixes his unnerving gaze on his potential list of victims. It’s a matter of time before dreams become reality.

Thilakan in Irakal (1985).

George’s brilliant script locates the source of Baby’s morbid feelings within his family, which has primed him for the life he wants to lead. In a twisted way, Baby is less hypocritical than his self-serving kin.

His brothers Koshy (PC George) and Sibi (Sukumaran) are exemplars of a feudal order hinged on the exploitation of natural resources and workers. Upon hearing that Baby has been bullying students at his college, Sibi smirks, tell us the truth about what happened, it will be fun to hear.

Baby’s sister Annie (Srividya) has abandoned her husband to pursue her own pleasures. As the cruel and rapacious family patriarch, Matthews leads by example.

Unlike the Corleone clan in The Godfather, this family unit is neither romanticised nor vilified. Rather, George traces the behaviour of Matthews and his brood to social hierarchy, the arrogance that flows from prosperity, and the cynicism that is a necessary aspect of running a business. Baby’s mother has given herself over to religion, but the parish priest (Bharath Gopi) proves to be an ineffective counsellor. Annie’s hapless husband (Nedumudi Venu) gets a bitter taste of the Matthews way when the marriage runs into trouble.

A sinister background score by MB Sreenivasan accompanies Baby on his dark deeds. It’s telling that Baby targets people less powerful than him. There appears to be an opportunity at redemption in Baby’s affair with the working-class Nirmala (Radha). But here too, George, plainly and powerfully, depicts the class difference that characterises this relationship.

Among the films heavily influenced by Irakal was Dileesh Pothan’s Joji (2021). Joji laboured a point that George deceptively makes simply: to understand the source of evil, sit down for breakfast with your family members.