The other day, my cousin and I were planning to go for a movie. My cousin, Shambhu, is a ‘Madrasi’ – he’s doing his medicine at a Chennai Medical College and was back home on vacation. He asked me about the latest flicks running in the local theatres. I recommended ‘Cocktail’. I’d seen the movie and loved it. “Er… Is that even a movie?” he asked. I gave him a brief outline about the Jayasoorya, Anoop Menon starrer. He butted-in before I could complete.
“Whoa… whoa… Dude, I’m talking Tamil/Hindi movies here. NOT crap Malayalam flicks. Didn’t I tell you that I’ve stopped watching ’em?”
I wasn’t too shocked — the typical Chennai Champ, our friend was just throwing attitude. He’s certainly going to retract his statement once I gave him a brief idea about the movie, and its suspense. Or so I thought.
Turns out that Shambhu meant every word of what he said. He’d rather sit at home and watch Sun TV rather than drag his ass to the theatres to “waste fourty bucks for a drab three-hour weepathon”.
“Malayalam movies are dead, period. And I don’t attend funerals,” he gave me a hand-gesture, Rajni-iShtyle.
If my cousin — a once-hardcore-Mammootty-fan could go thus far (Rajni’s wigs are way better than Mammookka’s, he quips these days); there’s indeed something seriously wrong with our Industry. And my cousin’s just one among the many (almost-countless) naysayers.
So what’s wrong with the Malayalam Film Industry?
- Lack of Good Films in the market – Let’s face it, Malayalam movies are simply not appealing any more. Apart from masterpieces like ‘Pranjiyettan and the saint’, how many films good films can you count in the past few years? Three, or maybe four max. There ends it. Ours was a film industry which churned out films that consistently featured in the Indian Panorama and went on to win national and even international film awards. But that’s history now. Talented filmmakers are still there, but they’re simply not coming up with good movies or not working on movies at all. We’ve also entered the ‘rip-off’ culture. Directors like Priyadarsan have ripped-off in the past, but they’ve done it with elan. Current rip-offs like ‘Anwar’ and ‘Cocktail’ may be doing good in the box office, yet many critics have panned them. Commercialization is a tsunami that has taken the industry by storm. So we’ve sequels of previously-successful movies (think Balram v/s Tharadas, Sagar Alias Jacky, In Ghost House Inn) and pure commercial crop (Puthiya Mukham, Robin Hood et al). Our producers are pulling all stops in making films succeed. They end up burning their fingers badly and ruining our industry too.
- Increased Failure Rate – The few good movies that make it to the theatres suffer fatal losses. On an average, less than ten percent of the movies releasing in theatres set the cash registers ringing. With increased production costs, and plummetting revenues, producers find it hard to make ends meet. Many producers shut shop and move on to other businesses. The ones that have moved on are the lucky few, there are many others who’ve taken to the streets, forced by debtors to pawn their very clothing. All for the sole ‘mistake’ of financing a film. Wary of accumulating failures, the community of producers is fast-dwindling.
- The Superstar System – Our ‘superstars’ could certainly learn a lesson or two from Amitabh Bachchan and Rajnikanth. While Bachchan-saab endears audiences with his charismatic charm and humility in KBC4, Rajnikanth walks and talks amid commoners as if he were a nobody. Our superstars go on to throw attitude and slap people in public. I’m a huge fan of our superstars. But many of their actions have crossed the limit. They must stop ghost-directing movies, and leave their attitude aside, while acting in movies. With their overwhelming attitudes out of the picture, Malayalam moviedom would go a long way in sculpting a success-story.
- Competition from other languages – This excuse has forever come to the rescue of our directors explaining why their films were panned. One could have argued against it in the past. Not any more. Hindi, Tamil and English are making hay in Kerala, while the sun of our film industry is on the wane. These industries are not doing exceptionally well themselves. Bollywood and the Tamil Film industry are also seeing plenty of losses. But our viewers find time to watch these flicks. I can safely say that smart marketing is the reason. Tamil and Bollywood movies have the budget to afford extravagant scenes shot in exotic locales, a liberty our flicks can’t afford. Coupled with brilliant actors and directors, these movies rake moolah in our shores, overshadowing our shoddily-sculpted movies. It also hurts the Malayalam movies have a limited market, when compared to these exquisitely-mastered flicks.
- Piracy – Bootlegging is as old as movies. And it suits the laidback Malayalee attitude. The typical Malayalee is way too lazy to drag his/her ass to the theatres. He’d rather have the movie on his television screen, even if it’s of a shoddy quality. When a new Malayalam movie does its television premiere in a festive season, the entire family crowds around the 32″ LCD TV, to watch the flick in HD, complete with stereophonic sound. With the arrival of torrents, piracy has gone an extra mile. You can now lay your hands on the Blu-Ray rip of a two-month old movie, in three-hours time. What more does the Malayalee want?
One should actually give the industry a pat-on-the-back for having survived all these odds. We still have producers (many of them actors themselves) who are willing to foot the bill for a movie, half-sure that they’d go knee-deep in debt, once it’s out. As long as the dwindling, never-acknowledged community of producers exist, our industry shall live on. Perhaps, they’ll find a work-around, perhaps we might get to see many a ‘Pranjiyettan’on the screens from now on.
No, our Industry is NOT dead yet. And let’s pray that it shall never ever die.