The formal approval for the Cochin International Airport Ltd. came 20 years ago in March 1993. Until then a sleepy town with a few industries, Ernakulam metamorphosed into Kochi, a bustling metropolis straining at the leash to leap into the big league. Kochi is, now, home to the State’s film and TV industry, the real estate boomtown set to turn smart very soon, Kerala’s hub for backwater and eco-tourism and host to much more that happened in the last 15-20 years. In this series we celebrate change and the city's change-makers.

For the Malayalam film industry, ‘K’ no longer stands for Kodambakkam. It is the bustling city of Kochi that has emerged as the new capital of Mollywood over the last decade and more.

Actor Mamootty’s dialogue in the movie ‘Big B’, ‘Kochi pazhaya Kochi alla’ (Kochi is no more the old Kochi) captures to perfection the sweeping changes that have turned the city into the most sought after destination for movie makers.

Almost 90 per cent of work related to Malayalam cinema today happens in Kochi. Gone are the days when filmmakers rushed to Chennai to either dub or do sound recording for their films. Modern recording and dubbing studios dot the landscape of Kochi, handling almost three-fourth of the pre- and post-production work. Industry estimates show that, on an average, five to eight films are shot in the city every day.

Production controllers no longer waste time scouting for locations outside. The city’s geography offers everything that a director wants for the film. Soaring real estate value of the city also saw the industry fraternity turning to Kochi for realty investments. Most big names of the Malayalam film industry either own a palatial house or an apartment in Kochi.

Better road and air-connectivity also helped the city emerge as the ‘film centre’ of the State.

The seeds of this transition were sown by an all-rounder from the industry. It was the farsightedness of the passionate film lover in Lal of Siddique-Lal fame that turned the city into a one-stop destination for filmmaking from the early 2000s. A mimicry artiste, director, actor, producer and distributor, Lal was one of the early birds within the industry who recognised the growing potential of Kochi.

His studio, Lal Media, started rolling on July 12, 2001 at a rented building in Kaloor encouraging producers and filmmakers to shift their base from Chennai to Kochi. Filmmakers until then depended on leading studios in Chennai or the government-owned Chitranjali in Thiruvananthapuram to do song recording and post-production work.

Lal’s pioneering efforts came at a time when many of his colleagues were scouting for risk-free investment options. In Lal’s own words, “it was the sheer excitement of learning about sound and its various dimensions” that propelled him to start a studio in the city.

“I was also fascinated by the fragrance associated with the studio that I experienced in my capacity as assistant director to noted director Fazil in ‘Nokkethadoorathu Kannumnattu’. I used to wait outside the dubbing studio in Chitranjali for hours to do re-recording and dubbing, as it was booked round the clock in those times. We used to get in when another team took a break and then dub for half-an-hour before they turned up. Chitranjali was big and getting an entry was an achievement in those times,” he says.

Lal Media began functioning with the song recording of Lal’s own production ‘Kalyanaraman’.

“The music director duo Berny-Ignatius, my sound engineer Vinod P. Sivaram and editor V. Sajan used to work round-the-clock to complete the recording. ‘Bamboo Boys’ starring Kalabhavan Mani and the late Cochin Haneefa was the first movie that was dubbed here. The industry gradually gained confidence in my studio and there was no looking back afterwards,” he says.

Lal’s enthusiasm in expanding his studio became a reality in January, 2005 when he shifted to a permanent location in Padivattom near Palarivattom. “We could not meet the demand at our limited facility in Kaloor and the new building helped in taking the venture in to a new level,” he adds.

The business acumen in the actor also saw him producing some of the popular hits including ‘Thenkashipatanam’ (2000), ‘Kalyanaraman’ (2002), ‘Chathikatha Chanthu’ (2004), ‘Thommanum Makkalum’ (2005) and ‘Chanthupottu’ (2006). “The profits from the movies that I had produced helped in the setting up and developing my studio,” he says.

Lal’s fascination for acquiring the latest technology in the entertainment industry never withered and he went on to set up the first Digital Theatre System (DTS) in Kochi for sound mixing in 2008. DTS facility was then available only at noted actor Mohanlal’s Vismayas Max in Thiruvananthapuram.

“Actors Dileep and Suresh Gopi had joined hands with me for this ambitious project and hence it was named DLS [Dileep, Lal, Suresh Gopi]. A preview theatre and FX facility were also set up along with the DTS system,” he says.

Akku Akbar’s ‘Veruthe Oru Bharya’ was the first movie to use the DTS facility at DLS. Interestingly, the setting up of the DTS technology ensured the almost complete shift of Malayalam film industry from Chennai to Kochi. With majority of the theatres equipped with the DTS 5.1 surround system, filmmakers enjoyed the advantage of completing the entire production work within the State.

Last year, DLS handled the DTS mixing of nearly 32 movies. Lal Media was also part of the post-production work of nearly 70 out of the 128 movies released in 2012. “I would not have been successful, if the studio was set up at Thiruvananthapuram or Kozhikode. The connectivity factor was crucial. And where else will one find everything that a filmmaker needs including port, airport, backwaters, slum, busy traffic and even village surroundings,” he says.

Lal remains keen on keeping track of the latest advancements in the entertainment industry. Lal Media will soon have the Digital Intermediate (DI), a motion picture finishing process that classically involves digitizing a motion picture and manipulating the color and other image characteristics.

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