The Malayalam cinema industry has been on a complete shut down since the Covid 19 pandemic began spreading its claws in the country. However, the film makers and cinema enthusiasts are hopeful about a bright future for the cinema when the pandemic is finally contained and the theaters are reopened. This spirit of optimism was reverberated in the webinar ‘Malayalam Cinema after Covid’ conducted by Malayala Manorama. Though film makers and producers shared their multiple concerns about resuming shooting, releasing movies and the threat that the traditional theaters face from OTT platforms, they expressed confidence that Malayalam cinema would bounce back with renewed strength. They said in unison that Malayalam cinema wouldn’t get limited to the tiny screens of mobile phones or laptops and that the audience would return to the theaters, as enjoying movies with family is a least expensive means of entertainment for the common people.
OTT not an alternative
“Many workers who depend on cinema for their livelihood are on the verge of suicide. Producers who spend crores of rupees for multiple projects are struggling hard. Netflix has seen around 43% increase in the number of their subscribers. Meanwhile, Amazon Prime registered around 50% surge in their viewers. This definitely shows that more people are shifting to OTT platforms. There is also an opinion that film makers who do parallel cinema could now depend on OTT platforms rather that opting for traditional theatrical releases,” said Unnikrishnan.
However, the veteran film maker brushes it aside saying that it would be difficult to convince the OTT platforms about the quality of the content than assuring the theater owners. He didn’t, however, completely dismiss the idea that job opportunities would diminish with the tremendous development of technology in the movies. “Earlier, people protested against introducing computers in certain sectors. Now, people are trolling that attitude. But, there is a possibility that growth in technology could curb job opportunities,” noted Unnikrishnan.
Bored of home cinema experience
Sathyan Anthikad (director)
The film maker doesn’t have any doubts about Keralites’ ability to bounce back after a tragedy. So, he hopes that this period of struggle too shall pass. “Theaters would become active again. It is not right to say that people would now depend only on OTT platforms to enjoy cinema. How many houses here have home theater facilities? Most OTT platforms purchase movies that have star value and amazing success rate. They do not show interest in promoting other movies. Let there be good cinema just to be released on the OTT platforms. The makers should make profit as well. But, there is no point in saying that the future lies in such platforms. People have begun getting bored watching movies at home. Audience may return in huge numbers when the theaters are finally opened. Covid is just a temporary phenomenon. It may even stay here for longer than we had expected. But, it surely isn’t unconquerable,” hopes Sathyan.
No technology is bigger
The veteran director notes that not just Indian cinema but the global cinema is facing challenges due to the Covid 19 outbreak. He points out that the much awaited movie directed by celebrated Hollywood director Christopher Nolan and the latest movie in the James Bond franchise too are postponed due to the pandemic. He said that the overseas rights of his forthcoming movie Marakkar Arabikadalinte Simham were sold for huge amount. Priyadarshan clarified that the movie would be released only when the situation would allow it to earn profits. But, he expressed concerns about when that would happen. For him, the only thing one could do right now is to wait, even though no one knows for how long.
“I own 2 theaters which are managed by the PVR. They are not paying me any rent since March. They say that they would be able to pay half of it even when the theaters reopen after the Covid 19 threat subsides. They say that a seat has to be left vacant between two people and hence the income would be half,” said Priyadarshan.
He said that even though around 5000 theaters are reopened in China, people haven’t really been visiting them as old movies are shown again. They have already seen those movies in the OTT platforms. He observed that the audience would come to the theaters only if new movies are released.
“People love enjoying mass movies amidst a crowd in the theater. Meanwhile, small movies could be released on the OTT platforms. There is no need for the theaters to get intimated by this. No technology is greater than what we already have,” noted Priyadarshan.
No work from home for cinema
Ranji Panicker (Screenwriter, actor)
“The most important challenge for the cinema industry is to solve the personal struggles of the artists and technicians. It is vital to find ways to help those who are struggling. This is a unique situation that none of us have faced in our lives. So, there aren’t any readymade answers to how we are going to face it,” said the screenwriter.
Renji said that the film makers, writers and technicians were facing unprecedented challenges. He noted that the industry should join hands with the government to form welfare funds. Besides buying provision and medicines, people have to find money for their children’s education as well.
“Everyone would stand together to reduce the expenses by cutting down our salaries. However, work for home is not practical in cinema and many other fields. How can a junior artist or a production boy sit at home and work”? asks Renji Panicker.
Need for reducing expenses
M Renjith (President, Kerala Film Producers Association)
“The ordinary workers in the cinema industry are in poverty. It is extremely painful that those who became successful in cinema aren’t contributing even a small amount for them. Even if the theaters reopen, actors including super stars should watch the movies in theaters to assure the audience that everything is safe. If the production cost isn’t cut in half, then the number of movies made in Malayalam too would go down. It isn’t clear whether we could sell the overseas rights anymore as the situation has drastically changed. But, movies of Priyadarshan, Sathyan Anthikad and Renji Panicker have become super hits even when there weren’t any digital rights. We should deem cinema as the biggest entity. This is not the time to engage in petty fights or rivalries,” Renjith made his stand clear.
Need for good content
Vijay Babu (producer, actor)
“Even though my movie Soofiyum Sujathayum will be released through an OTT platform, I will definitely make movies for the theaters. However, I will also support the new platforms if they are good. As a content creator, I have no problems making movies for any platform or mode. I think the OTT platforms would never pose a challenge for the theatrical experience,” said Vijay.
Vijay observed that the audience would return to the theaters only if they feel the theaters are safer. It would happen only in stages. He added that big budget movies starring screen icons like Mammootty and Mohanlal could attract audience to the theater. However, he expressed doubts whether such big budget movies would be immediately released in theaters. He is neither sure whether people would come to the theaters to watch small movies. Vijay echoed some of the most important concerns of the producers in the webinar.
Sreebala K Menon (Director)
Sreebala clearly observed that from thinking about movies and entertainment people began thinking only about survival. She revealed that she was supposed to begin the shooting of her new film in April this year. However, she hasn’t been able to go out of her house due to the lockdown.
“As far as I am concerned, the reality changed after Covid. I am sure the realities of the audience too might have changed. 66 movies are currently in various stages of production. All those movies deal with themes that existed before Covid; but they would be released in a post Covid reality. Wouldn’t the real life experiences too change then?” asks Sreebala.
Sreebala isn’t sure whether she could use the screenplay that she had already written, in the post Covid world. “How will I film crowded places now? We cannot shoot a crowd when the reality is to observe social distancing. Similarly, how can the artists act with masks on their faces? Moreover, can they really appear on screen without wearing masks,” Sreebala has her doubts.