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Malayalam movie industry now faces a box office slump


New Delhi: The stream of hit Malayalam movies of the last few years has thinned to a trickle, with barely three movies seeing box office success this year. Other than RDX, 2018 and Romancham, there has been nothing of note this year, worrying filmmakers about the commercial viability of their projects.

Unlike during the peak of the pandemic, streaming platforms also appear less inclined to spend freely to acquire Malayalam films, especially since there is no guarantee they will fetch viewers.

This shift has put smaller films in a precarious position, many of which are bearing the brunt of other filmmakers demanding too much for what they consider viable projects.

It is common for Malayalam films to be made on budgets of 8-10 crore, and those deemed hits to earn 15-20 crore at the box office.

“Audience tastes have changed drastically and like filmmakers in other languages and industries, there is a struggle to judge what may work with people here as well. Plus, what you may have thought would draw viewers a year ago, may not find the same appeal anymore,” said Mukesh Mehta, founder of Malayalam film production and distribution company E4 Entertainment.

Other language films such as Pathaan (Hindi) and Jailer (Tamil) have worked well in Kerala as well, which shows there is an undeniable appetite for movies, Mehta said.

Comparisons with other language industries do not bode well.

Mehta said Hindi and Telugu films that often end up collecting upwards of 100 crore are not only eating into the business of Malayalam films, but also make the latter’s 3.5-4 crore earnings seem paltry.

“There has to be a substantial gap between releases of even other languages now, and filmmakers must look for periods when there is no opposition instead of focusing on holiday weekends,” Mehta pointed out.

Streaming platforms are also no longer buying Malayalam films with the same enthusiasm, though the language had broken out with discovery in non-native markets during the pandemic.

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“Malayalam films used to be known for their distinct and unique content. If they start copying stars from the Telugu or Hindi industry, there will be nothing to set them apart,” independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai said.

Over the past few months, top Malayalam stars such as Mohanlal have attempted historical action films such as Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham that failed to draw audiences to theatres. Not only do such movies lack the budgets of Telugu or Hindi cinema, actors in more commercial industries are already known for such films.

Further, a lot of filmmakers who had planned projects based on assurance of satellite and digital sales, are not getting the prices they demand, while several small films are bearing the brunt of OTT platforms, spending a significant chunk of their annual budgets on bigger titles. Overall, OTT acquisition rates for Malayalam films have dipped by nearly 50% over the past few months.

“It is a period of great confusion for filmmakers who must go back to the drawing board and think of what audiences want. Then it’ll sell on any platform,” Mehta said.

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Updated: 09 Sep 2023, 12:18 AM IST



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