Malayalam cinema grabs the spotlight in foreign countries

Dubai: The GCC countries including the UAE have become a gold mine for the Malayalam movies. Muhammad Rafiq Kulangara, a native of Kasargod who has been working in this field for many years say that latest Dulquer Salmaan starrer Kurup continues the winning streak of many Malayalam movies like the blockbuster Lucifer, in the Gulf countries.

Lucifer, directed by superstar Prithviraj and starring screen icon Mohanlal in the lead role was a major milestone in the history of Malayalam cinema. Not just in Kerala, but the movie that was released in 2019, had become a mega blockbuster in many foreign countries too. While it raked in Rs 42 crore in the Gulf, Lucifer collected Rs 4 crore from North America and Rs 4 crore from other countries. Lucifer grabbed the record for being the first Malayalam movie that registered a whopping collection of Rs 50 crore from abroad. The grand success of Lucifer had put the spot light on Malayalam cinema in countries other than the GCC nations.

This movie became the reason for hundreds of Keralite expatriates to try their hands in film distribution, especially in countries like Canada, United States, Singapore and Australia.

Earlier, distribution of Malayalam movies in a foreign land was a discreet profession that hardly revealed any scope of the business. With the advent of Comscore, the collection reports of a movie began to get revealed. Besides, the twitter tracker too played a pivotal role in disclosing the incredible scope of this business.

Before Lucifer, Malayalam movies like Premam (2015), Pulimurugan (2016), 2 Countries (2015) and Jacobinte Swargarajyam (2016) too had become big hits in the Gulf.

GCC: Home away from home

The Gulf countries are popularly known as a home away from home for the Keralites. As other entertainment activities are expensive, most Malayali expatriates go for the movies or enjoy a delicious meal at a restaurant, with their families, on the weekends. In fact, the collection of Malayalam movies in the Gulf is almost equal or more than what it collects in Kerala. However, the real numbers weren’t revealed as the distribution was limited to just a single company for years. Besides, until 2015, only those movies that have become successful in Kerala were distributed there.

However, from 2016 onwards, many Keralite entrepreneurs began investing in the distribution business. This helped the producers to earn more money from overseas distribution alone. Mohanlal’s Pulimurugan collected a whopping Rs 1.25 from overseas distribution after the movie became a blockbuster in Kerala. Meanwhile, newcomers World Wide Films had purchased the overseas rights of Odiyan for Rs 3.5 crore. Lucifer collected Rs 8 crore and Mohanlal’s much anticipated Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham got Rs 12 crore.

Indian cinema had done an annual business worth Rs 600 crore in the Gulf region in 2017 – 19. Movies in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Punjabi, Marathi and Urdu languages are mostly distributed in the Gulf countries. Interestingly, Bollywood movies are loved by the Arabs too. More than 50% of the total collection is from the Bollywood films followed by Malayalam movies with a share of more than 25%. Malayalam cinema generates business worth around Rs 150 crore in the Gulf countries. In 2019, Lucifer won the Comscore award for the Indian movie that registered the biggest collection in the Gulf countries.

Opening new venues

In a historic announcement, Saudi Arabia opened the doors of movies theatres in 2018. Saudi offers an incredible scope for the movie business as a country which is home to the greatest number of Keralite expatriates. With 30 movies and more than 300 screens, Saudi overtook UAE in the box office collections of English – Arabic movies. Meanwhile, Indian films too have been garnering amazing popularity here. While 7000 tickets were sold in Saudi for Lucifer in 2019, it rose to 9000 tickets for The Priest in 2021.

Now, Dulquer Salmaan’s Kurup has broken all records by selling more than 15,000 tickets in Saudi Arabia. Here, the cost of a ticket is 65 Riyal which is equivalent to Rs 1300. Meanwhile, in other Gulf countries it would be between Rs 600 – 700. Currently, with around 30,000 admissions, Tamil movie Master starring Vijay in the lead role holds the record for the most watched Indian movie in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, experts predict that Saudi would soon overtake other Gulf countries due to the sheer number of Keralites who live in the Kingdom. Theatre owners say that Saudi nationals too enjoy Malayalam movies.

Lately, Keralites have been migrating, in large numbers, to Europe and America, widening the scope of Malayalam cinema in countries like the Unites States, Canada, European nations, Africa, Australia, Singapore and New Zealand. Earlier, movies were purchased for just Rs 1-2 lakhs to be exhibited in Canada. However, now, new distributors are willing to pay millions of rupees for the distribution rights. Experts welcome this trend of new players entering the scene to break the monopolies of just one or two companies.

Interestingly, the distribution division of the prominent Zee Group had distributed Lucifer in North America. After Lucifer collected 6 million dollars at the box office, major Tamil and Telugu distributors too are vying for the distribution rights of Malayalam movies. The same could be said in the case of Singapore and Australia too.

Enquiries for super hit Malayalam movies come from countries like Russia and South Korea where lots of Malayalis go for higher studies. As the overseas demand for Malayalam movies has sky rocketed, many producers are now selling the distribution rights for Gulf countries to companies that are based there, while selling the rights separately for distribution in other countries.

Meanwhile, Australia based Wingless Entertainment and KW Talkies that is based in Canada have now begun purchasing the rights wholly for countries outside the GCC. The producers too express interest in such deals as they can earn amazing profits.

Business lessons from Kurup

Until Kurup released, business experts weren’t sure whether the theatres would become active like before as the OTT platforms have been garnering audience. The excellent marketing techniques of Dulquer Salmaan’s marketing team including projecting the trailer of the movie on the Burj Al Arab in Dubai played a significant role in creating an international demand for the film. The sudden move to release Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham in theatres points to the audience’s interest in enjoying movies on big screen.

Kurup has collected more than Rs 20 crore from the overseas market withing four days. Meanwhile, the film will be released in Australia and New Zealand next week. It has collected Rs 16 crore from the GCC countries alone. Interestingly, Kurup has overtaken Marvel’s superhero movie The Eternals to grab the first position in the box office. Meanwhile, the total collection in India is already past Rs 20 crore.

Malayalam cinema has grown into a lucrative business that is attracting investors and distributors from all over the world. The producers could easily cover the investment amount by selling the overseas rights, OTT and satellite rights, before the release itself. Suresh Gopi starrer Kaaval bankrolled by Joby George is a recent example of this. The incredible success of Kurup in the overseas market has been attracting more Malayali investors into this field. As per the latest reports, more than three new distribution companies would be inaugurated in the Gulf region in the near future. 

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