Malayalam cinema is in the midst of a disturbing crisis. Many films have failed to do well, production costs have mounted, trade bodies within the industry are at loggerheads, and there is competition from films in other regional languages.
Controversies between the exhibitors and distributors may lead to the suspension of film production and no new releases in the coming days.
Mounting production costs are a concern for producers, particularly since the returns don't match.
"After investing crores of rupees, we are at times treated like pariahs even on our own sets. It is indeed surprising that even caterers and taxi drivers (who service the industry) have unions. How can they be regarded as technical crew? Every actor is hiking his/her price frequently. And after all these problems, only a handful of the 80-odd films released annually are hits," says Saji Nandyat, a prominent producer and distributor.
Nandyat blames new producers who are ready to dance to the tune of the stars and big names in the industry.
A producer who did not want to be named, agrees. "Gone are the days when producers used to call the shots, at least when the film was under production. Now we are supposed to give the money they ask for without questioning."
The situation has been deteriorating for a while now, and it is mainly revenues from satellite rights (the money that TV channels pay when buying the rights to broadcast the film) and audio-video rights that are keeping the industry afloat.
The popularity of the stars associated with the film, and sometimes its director, determine the amount paid for satellite rights. This reinforces the hankering for big stars because even if the film has not done well in theatres, it breaks even thanks to the amount earned from TV broadcasts.
Since only established stars command good money for satellite rights, there is no motivation for making experimental films or those without noted names in the cast. Such films could become box-office successes and earn decent revenues, but such instances are rare.
This has resulted in films being made that show no concern for quality but have big names on the marquee.
The distributor and exhibitor trade bodies have also locked horns. Film exhibitors (or theatre owners) are enraged with a government decision to revoke the maintenance charge on every ticket. They are also reportedly opposing the grading system that the government is planning to introduce to categorise theatres according to the services they provide.
In protest, they have refused to accept new Malayalam releases.
This has put the distributors in a spot. While films that have already been released will continue to run in theatres, there were no Malayalam releases this week.The producers are also planning to stall the shooting of films in the coming days, which will bring the Malayalam film industry to a standstill, making a bad situation worse.