A con artist and a murderer who ran away and a legendary sea captain have heralded the rebirth of the Covid-hit Malayalam film industry in the past three months. The main actor of Dulqar Salman, Kurup, made over Rs 50 crore in the world and the Mohanlal starrer Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea saw an opening of over Rs 20 crore the first week (huge by Mollywood standards). They revived the industry when half of the state’s estimated 700 theaters reopened on October 25 (Marakkar, however, failed because he could not recover his budget, which is said to be Rs 100 crore). Two consecutive years of flooding (from 2018) and more than 18 months of Covid-19 closure resulted in industrial losses estimated at over Rs 800 crore.
When Kerala reopened its 700 screens, including multiplexes, with 50% capacity on October 25, they saw more hits like the star of Asif Ali Kunjeldho, Ajagajantharam with Antony Varghese and Joju George and Kunjako Boban headlining Bhimante Vazhi.
But with the fear of Omicron taking over Kerala and a high positivity rate of over 7%, the film industry fears another lockdown is brewing. Fifty films, with a combined budget of over Rs 400 crore, are expected to be released within the next 90 days. They include the star of Mohanlal Brother dad (January 26) directed by Prithviraj, B. Unnikrishnan directed the thriller Mohanlal Aaraatu (February 10), Ashiq Abu Naradhan (January 27) Roshan Andrews’ Greet (January 14) with Dulqar, Vineeth Srenivasan’s Hridayam (January 21) and Rajeev Ravi’s Thuramukham (January 20) with Nivin Pauly.
The gloom is such that even the well-received OTT superhero film Minnal Murali failed to boost the industry’s mood. Minnal Murali was originally slated for a theatrical release, but the extended Covid-induced lockdown in the state forced producer Sophia Paul and director Basil Joseph to embark on a live release. Netflix bought it for Rs 37 crore, which is the highest streaming rights for a Malayalam movie ever. “Minnal MuraliThe success of has prompted many producers to think about alternative strategies for their films. But we make films for theaters; watching it on a small screen will never offer the true cinematic experience to the public, ”emphasizes filmmaker Siddique, who has achieved some of the greatest successes in Malayalam cinema.
According to industry sources, many new filmmakers and low-budget film producers are now considering the possibility of an OTT release for their films.
“It’s a tough time for the film industry. We can’t afford another foreclosure, but we have no choice but to follow the guidelines, ”says G. Sureshkumar, one of the leading producers. He says the heavy losses could wipe out many small production houses. In 2019, around 192 films were released in Malayalam; in 2020, only 43 films.
“We cannot predict what the situation will be in the next few days. If the number of Omicron increases in the state, we may have to postpone the release again, ”says B. Unnikrishnan, director of the highly anticipated Aaraatu and Secretary General of the Kerala Cinema Employees Federation (FEFKA).