The end of Malayalam movies as a cinema going culture
Malayalam cinema during Pandemic and the complete lockdown period:
In 2020 during the lockdown we experienced it; we had craved for new Malayalam movies and almost an entire year went by in the Malayalam cinema with just a couple of OTT releases. The OTT releases during this period included the experimental movie ‘C U Soon’ by the talented director Mahesh Narayanan and ‘Sufiyum Sujathayum’ which was more like a book reading experience presented into a movie. Even post lockdown also the cinema halls remained shut for a long time even after the government announced the relaxation of lockdown rules and the opening of cinema halls by Jan 5th, 2021. Film exhibitors association met with the Chief Minister of the state Shri Pinarayi Vijayan and put forward conditions such as reduction on GST on ticket charges, exemption of entertainment charges for a fixed period, and waiver of electricity bills in excess of Rs 50,000 as the cinemas had remained closed for in excess to 9 months, in order to be able to operate the movie halls again. The government has accepted most demands and has agreed for the movie halls to be operated with a maximum 50% occupancy only.
The Movie halls finally open :
By Jan 11th 2021, the movie theaters were made operational and to conduct all regular shows barring only the second show (9PM - 11.30PM), a timing that was much preferred by families. A couple of movies of which the production was already complete before or during the lockdown periods, were all released slowly and steadily as the shows were allowed. However, it failed to draw the audience back into the movie halls mainly because of 2 reasons that the people were still wary about visiting a movie theater from where they can get infected by the Corona Virus and the time when the families prefer to watch movies, the second show slot was not allowed to be operational yet.
The Second show factor :
By early March 2021 the Second shows (9PM - 11.30PM) were also allowed to be operational in theaters and the theater owners and the distributors hoped it will re-align the slackness in the business, due to which reason an array of movies were pushed down into the theaters one after another in a huddled-up manner onto the audience. The distributors hoped to make up for the slackness during the festival season of Vishu. Big budget movies like Kunjali Marakkar, which was well ready for release more than a year ago in the pre-covid era, also were scheduled to be released during the Vishu hoping the same. However, ‘Kunjali Marakkar’s release was further postponed when the producers and distributors felt that the crowd had not started returning in a steady manner to the movie halls yet. Of the 40 odd movies that were released in Malayalam during 2021, barring the OTT releases which were under 10, there were only 2 movies of which at least the production cost has been recovered, leaving aside the terminologies, hit and super hits, which were all quite far off. The movies which fared reasonably well in the theaters were only the Mammootty starrer ‘The Priest’ and the relatively lower budget movie ’Operation Jawa’.
The OTT Platforms and Malayalam cinema :
However, during these times and even during the lockdown times a couple of movies were released on the OTT platforms which fared very well and were instantly made the talk of the town as people received it with wide-open arms. The movies were critically acclaimed for their better quality and content. The most notable movies among them being 1) The Great Indian Kitchen, 2) Drishyam - 2, 3) Love, 4) Joji. In the OTT platforms itself Amazon Prime was able to provide to the audience movies that were well accepted while Netflix disappointed with the kind of Malayalam movies that it presented to the audience. 'Irul' was one such movie streamed in Netflix which disappointed the audience thoroughly, in spite of the cast that included even Fahad Fazil, this movie wanted to be a lot but failed in all fronts miserably making it the worst Malayalam movie of 2021. A new OTT platform called Neestream was launched primarily for presenting Malayalam movies alone. Neestream came into being as movies like ‘The Great Indian Kitchen’, which was undoubtedly the best Malayalam movie to have come out in 2021, was refused by the OTT biggies Amazon Prime and Netflix. As a result, the movie was released on the fresh platform Neestream and the movie drew up widespread appreciation from all over the country with its unique and strong way of presentation. Some actors like Fahad Fazil almost started concentrating mostly only on OTT releases where he has better chances to show off his real caliber and where the content of the movies can be made much more superior than the movies made for the masses or for the theaters. Due to this reason the Exhibitors association even went to the extent of threatening him with a possible ban of the exhibition of his movies in the movie theaters. Whatsoever that could be some things just cannot be stopped and the changes are inevitable as time passes and as technology evolves. The show will go on indeed with or without the movie stars or without the exhibiting venues. OTT will determine the shape of Malayalam movies to come in the future. Malayalam cinema has the potential to become the next Korean cinema in the world if the OTT screening is utilized and only movies with genuinely good content like 'The Great Indian Kitchen's are appreciated and approved and the incompetent ones like 'Irul' are discouraged from even attempting and rejected to be screened on them.
The Second wave of Covid :
By the first week of April the second wave of Covid hit hard down on Kerala and the pandemic fear gripped the audience that resulted in a very slackened response for the movies released on Vishu on April 14th. The fear as well as the covid numbers kept climbing till it burst all out and open post the legislative assembly elections in the state. The state saw unprecedented numbers and another lockdown was looming around the corner. By April 19th the state government announced night curfew in the state with the cinema halls, malls, and multiplexes having to shut operations by 7.30 PM. This also meant that the most profitable show timings the 6PM -9PM (First show) and the 9PM -11.30PM (Second show), for the multiplexes and other movie halls have gone straight out of the window. Today, as we stand on the 24th of April 2021, weekend lockdowns have already been announced and furthermore, full-fledged lockdowns may be a possibility that cannot be ruled out. Among all these conditions the Malayalam cinema industry looks like it’s gaping blankly into uncertainty. The future of Malayalam movies through the regular cinema-going culture looks extremely bleak and may stop for good forever with repeated hits on it.
The possible future of Malayalam Cinema :
The pandemic and Covid are predicted to be here to stay and with the virus mutating into various strains, the effectiveness of the vaccines also remains uncertain at least in the minds of the citizens. The Malayalam movies that had just started into production in a full-fledged manner have been stalled again as the crew members of various units have been hit badly with covid infection and spread. The movie halls are seen to be operating for only the day shows with less than 5 people as the audience on average for most shows. Under these circumstances what can we gather as a possible trend and way forward for the Malayalam or probably most movie industries of the world? Below are certain observations that can be gathered up by any common person plainly based out judgments arrived from common sense.
✦ Most of the movies that had been in production will slowly shift to OTT release in order to avoid further losses on them.
✦ The movie halls may fail to be operational for good since they will cease to be profitable.
✦ The movie halls may be converted into convention centers or so to make good of the investments already done on them.
✦ The Big Budget movies may be completely out of production as it will cease to be profitable anymore, without the theater audience.
✦ OTT will become the most popular medium to watch movies with better internet infrastructure across the world and the audience having gotten more used to the trend already during the lockdown and pandemic times.
✦ The quality of the content of cinema will increase much more since the peer pressure to please the masses will cease to exist.
✦ The cinema professionals and actors will have to settle for much lesser remunerations since the industry as such not being as profitable as before and the scale of the movies having been reduced drastically.
✦ The Superstar concept may cease to exist and just about anyone with real talent will be given more chances to exhibit it through the more modest movies screened in OTT platforms (The best example being ‘Thirike’ a modest movie streamed in Neestream)
✦ Malayalam movies will be more appreciated on a national as well as global level, with the OTT streaming equipped with excellent subtitles, the language will cease to be a constraint to follow the wonderful content of Malayalam movies for Non-Malayalees.
✦ The movies will be more independent of the censor rules and there will be more bold content and screenplay without having to worry too about the censoring guidelines since the applicability is lesser when it comes to OTT screening.
✦ DVD's will vanish, and the only medium through which the viewers will watch the movies will be satellite channels, Internet sites and OTT.
While the above observations are just speculations, one thing is for sure. The Malayalam movie industry is changing for the better. To be away from the theaters, due to which the pressure was to make the movies like ‘Pulimurugan’, ‘Lucifer’ or the upcoming Mohanlal starrer ‘Araattu’ all in the name of making movies for the masses and low-class audience, which the kind of movies are meant more for Telugu audience and not for the regular Malayalee audience’s taste or their movie appreciation levels. The shift to OTT will see the Malayalam movie standards rising to be the best in the country and more chances for it to be appreciated on global levels. Let us just say that this change was inevitable and it came about at the right time and Covid just had to be a reason for improving the standards of Malayalam movies.