Categories
Movies Viewpoint

Is the Malayalam Film Industry Dead, yet?

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Categories
Narration Viewpoint

A Reporter’s Diary

For a while, Journalism was my dream career.

It all started with ‘We the people’ – the famous talk show from NDTV 24×7.  I started watching the show on my English teacher’s recommendation. Barkha had a lot in common with DP, or so felt my twelfth-grader-self. Like  every other hat-tip from the teacher, I took her words seriously. Soon, I was hooked into the show. The way Barkha interacted with the audience, the way she carried herself and the way she articulated… only a journalist could put herself across that way. I wanted to be like Barkha.

The adulation for Barkha had me worshipping Prannoy Roy himself. Without realizing the fact, I was gradually getting addicted to television journalism. From Anderson Cooper to Larry King, from Spencer Kelly to Rajiv Makhni, from Rajdeep Sardesai to Arnab Mukherji, from Nikesh Kumar to Venu; I knew (and respected) them all.

By the end of 2006, even as I deliberately fell prey to the booby-trap named ‘Engineering’, I yearned to be one among my idols. I wanted to be a a journalist.

Before I knew it, Engineering was over and I was as clueless (and jobless) as I were before joining Engineering. Even the CAT dream – which kept me alive for long, went awry. That was when the idea of journalism shone before me once again. A job offer from the fast-growing regional-web-portal beckoned me with both arms. The pay wasn’t great – even call center employee friends of mine made more. Not that I cared. Miniscule as it was, I wanted the pay. I had the occasional expense to take care of, and it was far more than what I needed.

Before I knew it, I’d  become a reporter.

As the proverbial cliche goes, I swept cleaner than the average-new-broom. I knew for one that it would take years to sculpt a Prannoy Roy. At least I was doing what I was passionate about; I was writing to my heart’s content. Google Analytics said that 20% of this web portal’s viewers were from America, Europe and the Gulf Countries. The world read what I wrote.

My first news story was about the absence of buses plying through a particular route in the city. I researched a lot for my first story. Reticent by nature, I struck up a conversation with as many people as I could, for ‘perspective’. From autodrivers minting money from the situation to schoolchildren directly affected by it, I spared no one in my quest for the ‘perfect story’. At the end of the day, I offered myself a smile as I noticed my story adorn the front page in the web portal.

I loved my job. My coworkers were the best I could ask for, fun-loving and friendly. Office politics was unheard-of. Everybody was friends with each other. We even had a ‘Chief Fun Officer’, who would be in charge of fun-activities, planning many a lighter moment. I adored fellow-members of my editorial. Our editor was a man with the heart of gold. They were like my siblings. We would even hang out after a long day’s work, discussing life, politics and literature over cups of tea.

We had the weekly editorial meeting where each of us discussed our stories. Our accolades were explained to us, and our mistakes were pointed out. It was a learning experience with a difference. The editor’s words evoked a feverish passion in us; it was his call for us to go that extra mile. Many of us followed suit, the others faced the music.  Each of us had our respective ‘beats’. We would write stories about the particular beat, on days assigned to us. Meeting deadlines was the key. Then there was number of stories — we had to write a certain number of stories a month. Explanation would be sought for, if the deadline was not kept. If you strive and set the bar high for your peers, good for you. You stand the chance of getting an appraisal. It was competitive world out there.

Quoting my editor, I was the quintessential ‘armchair journalist’ — a term I learned to loathe. I hated large public gatherings — I was always left solitary in the crowd. The lack of a vehicle proved an obstacle to travel to places far and wide, for reporting.  I found myself in a spot. Despite efforts from my part, I couldn’t arrange a vehicle every time, and that had me relying on buses. I learned the bitter lesson that a story ceases to remain a story, once it has passed its time. Journalism for me was a race against time. If there was a function or a meeting, I had to rush to the venue in a jiffy. I had to fish out my (dysfunctional) camera and click pictures (The portal trusted the photographic skills of us, poor reporters). I had to filter relevant points from truckloads of crap; I had to find points amid mindless rhetoric.

Who said Journalism was an easy job?

Each journalist carries a bulky-baggage of responsibilities and expectations. In these days of new media, anyone can be a journalist; you just need to have a solid eye and a strong pen. But the buck does not end there. The challenge lies in putting across what you see/hear to the masses. A journalist weaves the story for a reader. How/What the reader perceives depends on how the journalist puts it across – the responsibility is tremendous, I realized. Journalism is all about getting yourself noticed. If you didn’t have it, you lost it. What? The eyeballs.

All good things must come to an end. I’d had my share of journalism, and it was time to move on. As I walked out of my (erstwhile) office, collecting my last paycheck, I did feel that smack of pain — the pain of eventuality, the pain of leaving something you love…

I miss being a journalist.

But I’m a writer. NOT a journalist.

Categories
Musings Narration

My Vote

I’ve been in a dilemma ever since I was ‘enfranchised’  – The dilemma of choosing the right candidate.

Image Courtesy: lakelandlocal

I’m a sucker for elections. They bring out the news-junkie in me. Normally, I wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about politics, but the ‘citizen’ in me gets a wake up call the day they announce elections. I used to closely follow elections be it local, state or even national right from childhood. I’d keep myself glued to TV and keep myself updated about election proceedings. The democratization of internet made things easier for me.

When I collected the Voter’s ID card (which had my name misspelled and my address wrong), my hands trembled in excitement. I didn’t mind having a wrong address or a wrong name printed on a prestigious identification document — I was too ecstatic to notice.

But the ecstacy didn’t last long; I now had a major responsibility on my head — I had to choose my leader. And my vote did make a difference. Now, that unnerved me. I was never a man of quick choices. I had to analyse things down to the last detail before I take any decision. ‘Voting’, essentially a ‘decision making process’, wasn’t really my cup of tea, I realized.

Before I knew it, I was part of the process – The 2009 General Elections had arrived. But thankfully, my constituency was endowed with an intelligent and charismatic candidate and I heaved a sigh of relief. The elections were over, the candidate I voted for won and went on to be a Union Minister. I was happy.

Only until the dates of the Local Body Elections were announced.

Now, I was in a fix.

Especially considering the fact that I do not owe allegiance to any political party as such.

Technically, choosing the ideal candidate for a local election is way easier than the same for a state or parliament election, since the representatives would be friends or at least acquaintances. I knew one of the candidates, the incumbent – she knew me from childhood and used to strike an occasional conversation with me when I was a kid. Apart from her, I hadn’t seen or heard about none of the candidates before. Hence, I thought I’d make an informed decision.

Thus, I commenced the process of background-search.

The brief stint with journalism helped. In classic Tehelka style, I conversed with as many people as possible, in my quest to find the right candidate. I had narrowed down on three candidates, avoiding many of the independants. Independant candidates were either people with deep pockets trying to evade tax, or jobless passers-by trying their hand at a political career.

Mine being a ‘women’s ward’, all candidates in my ward are females – and three of my ‘choices’ were poles apart. From a ‘practicing lawyer’ (read: jobless housewife with LLB) to a ‘people’s mascot’ (read: yet to pass tenth grade), the spectrum was quite wide, indeed. Despite the differences, I couldn’t reach a conclusion regarding whom to vote for.  Conflicting opinions, conflicting evaluations… If one candidate had a good point, she would have a vicious negative too. If another candidate had good track record, glaring allegations of corruption propped up.

The end result? I was as clueless as a third grade kid as I woke up on the election day.

All the research and the thought-process went astray. I wasn’t this confused when I started. I’d have made a better decision, had I not gone for the lengthy evaluation. Lesson Learned: Too much information spoils the vote.

As we stepped foot into local government school, I slyly asked mom:

“Who’re you voting for, Amma?”

“You know who, mone,” Mom smiled. Mom was going to vote for her friend – the incumbent candidate. I decided to follow suit. After all, this person was educated, young and had enough experience ‘representing’ our ward before. We waited outside the voting room.

After Dad and mom cast their votes, it was my turn. Excitement and patriotism filled every cell of my body — it was my ‘responsible citizen’ moment. I airily walked in, flashed my ID Card (even though they didn’t ask for it), got my finger ‘marked’, signed. The lady at the desk pressed a switch. A beep button emanated from the Electronic Voting Machine. It was all set to receive my vote!

Picturing myself as Ranbir Kapoor from ‘Rajneeti’, I walked to the EVM in slow motion. I could hear the Mortal Kombat Theme playing in background. ‘Choose your destiny’, I almost heard that weird voice giving me the options, as my eyes focussed on the gleaming-white panel of the EVM. It was time.

I pressed the button.

The beep sound was music to my ears. My vote was registered — I was a certified ‘responsible citizen’. Treating myself with a smile, I gave another look at the EVM just to see the red light blinking near my candidate’s name.

The light didn’t blink.

Is the machine faulty? Has it been tampered with? I’d only seen reports of widespread rigging on tv, as I was stepping out. I was enraged. Why do responsible citizens like me have to suffer all the time? I’m going to file a complaint with… OMG.

A light did blink. Another light.

It was the second light from top – the light beside that candidate whom I’d eliminated from my list.

I wasted my vote.

If it weren’t unconstitutional, I’d have ransacked the whole room that very moment. My face turned red — I could actually feel the heat in my cheeks. I was a  criminal. I wasted my vote. I WASTED MY VOTE!

I looked helplessly at the presiding officer. She glared back at me. I asked myself, could this be a mistake with the voting machine? But I knew the answer myself. It wasn’t. I pressed the wrong button, in all the excitement.

Dejected, I trudged out of the room. Another person walked in, as I stepped out of the door. I felt envious – that guy’s going to make the right choice. I was not.

Dad and Mom quizzed me about my vote?

I remained silent. I had the right to do so. Secret ballot.

P.S.

The results came today. The candidate I vote for won – by a miniscule margin.

Yours truly is King Queenmaker. 🙂

Categories
Technology Viewpoint

The Curious Case of Collective Attention Deficit Disorder

It’s a bright, sunny morning. Airily filling up your lungs with a (city variant of) the fresh morning air, you rev up your car and drive to work. As you’re half-way through, you notice a very obvious vibration from your jeans pocket – it’s the usual suspect, the mobile phone. You pick up the call – it’s your soulmate. She rants on and on about the brand-new outfit her dad purchased for her…But you’ve no clue as to what she’s talking about, do you?

Ah, yes. You’re driving – but did you just notice a city bus shave off the side-view mirror and the side-beeding of your car? Oh, okay, you were on the phone.

Yeah, right.

Later that evening, you watch one of those art-house flicks at the friendly-neighborhood multiplex – with your girlfriend as arm-candy. Suddenly, the screen goes dark – it’s apparently a part of the movie which is standard art-house flick material. You jerk your arm into the pant pocket and jerk out your office BlackBerry – can’t miss those mails from your US-based Boss, can you?  It took you a long ten seconds to realize that your arm-candy wanted to make, err, ‘better use’ of the ‘dark break’. You take five more seconds with the BB, before you give in to the girl.

Any of these situations ring a bell?

The second one might be a tad too far-fetched (it’s true though – scene from PVR Mumbai, circa December 2009. ‘Avatar’ was the ‘arthouse flick’, however). But the issue is indeed  a grave problem we all have faced at some point in time

Welcome to the new millennium of Collective Attention Deficit Disorder.

Image Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/brookhavenlab/

Patients with ‘Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder’ would find it difficult to focus on a particular task over a period of time. They get bored with the task fast, and quickly move on to other tasks. They have high tendencies of procrastination and exhibit escalated physical movement.

Today, this disorder is spreading rapidly, directly proportional to the growth of technology in our lives.

It’s necessary evil. We’ve accustomed ourselves to a ‘fast food culture’. We just cannot wait – we want instant results. Be it in any field – we rue traffic blocks, for they don’t allow us to reach our destinations on time. We curse slow computers, ’cause they don’t help us complete our task on time. Our bosses want tasks to be done in unrealistic deadlines. And in this survival of the fittest era, you can’t afford to budge.

Reading is a direct casualty of ADD – first it was hesitation to read long books. Thus, abridged versions were born. Then, people didn’t have time to read even abridged versions; short stories and blogs became the order of the day, for a while. Then came twitter, smashing all existing ‘literature’ with its 140 tiny characters. No, twitter and microblogging is yet to win over traditional publishing – but at this rate of exponential growth, that too could happen.

Even ‘Google’ has moved with the times, pun intended, with Google Instant, for lazybones like us reluctant enough to press the enter key on our keyboard. Remember ‘Google Wave’? It had the ‘revolutionary’ technology that directly posted what we typed (making the ‘enter’ button redundant again) – thus ‘increasing productivity’. In fact, Google’s obsession for fast results was evident by their hiring of the guy who made YouTube instant.

Alright, what’s wrong with shifting attention spans?

Simple – you’d end up wrecking your mind. Accept the fact, we’re not made of Dual Core processors – at least the males amongst us. Women have been multitasking for a while, but they too have a limit. Quoting a friend of mine, “Multitasking IS screwing many things at once.” You may not realize it – but you will, over time. Every time you indulge in more tasks than you can, simultaneously – your mental capacity takes a toll. Your mind’s like any machine – it needs rest. Give it some cool-off time, will you?

With short attention spans, you’d simply reach nowhere.

Here’s a DIY test:

Lay your hands on one of those short stories. Any simple story would do – it shouldn’t be too long. Get a stopwatch, set it on zero. Now, open the first page of your book and start reading – remember to switch on your stopwatch when you start. Once the story is over, note the time spent to read the story. Now that the story is over, choose a second short story of roughly the same length and complexity as the original one. Repeat the process – with one difference. Switch on the music – it should be your favourite track, and read the short story. Record the time taken.

Needless to say, you would have taken at least 50% more time, when you read the story with music on. And trust me, you wouldn’t even remember a lot about the second story – you’d just have a broad idea of what happened. You wouldn’t have enjoyed the music either.

Enough proof, innit?

So how do you tackle this attention deficit disorder?

The sad reality is, there’s no definite solution. You just cannot dump your blackberries and iPhones into the dead sea – they’ve irrevocably become a part of your life. But you can always try to give your full attention to one task at a time. While you are at a critical task, avoid interferences – you’d have the mental push to reply to that text – and if you intend to do that, you may certainly go to hell. 🙂 Spend some time with yourself each day – take a walk, enjoy the beauty of the stars and the night sky (don’t forget to leave that confounded mobile handset in your couch as you go about it. :P). Try meditation and yoga – with time, you’d be more focussed and productive.

Attention definite disorder is necessary evil – but you can’t afford it to ruin your life. Push it to the wall and leave it there. Go about your life, focussed and ready.

And yeah, give that new BlackBerry/iPhone a miss. it ain’t worth it.

P.S.
You CERTAINLY suffer from CHRONIC attention deficit disorder if you did not complete reading this post. 😛

P.P.S.
Watch this video.