Explainer Kerala

Explained | Tussle between Malayalam cinema exhibitors and producers over OTT releases

Exhibitors had even announced at one point that they won’t cooperate with Dulquer Salmaan and his production house Wayfarer Films as his film ‘Salute’ had a direct OTT release

Exhibitors had even announced at one point that they won’t cooperate with Dulquer Salmaan and his production house Wayfarer Films as his film ‘Salute’ had a direct OTT release

The story so far: Yet another tussle is brewing in the Malayalam film industry over the release of the latest films in over-the-top (OTT) platforms, which has already led to quite a few run-ins between the exhibitors and producers. Late in July, Film Exhibitors United Organisation of Kerala (FEUOK) put forward a suggestion to the Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce that films be made available for OTT release only 56 days after the theatrical release. The Film Chamber as well as the Producers’ Association is yet to respond, but the FEUOK has made it clear that it will implement the new rule from Onam onwards, after which the body will not cooperate with producers or stars flouting it.

Also read: Kerala government to launch new OTT platform CSpace

How has Malayalam cinema adapted to the OTT scenario?

Aditi Rao Hydari in ‘Sufiyum Sujathayum’, the first Malayalam direct OTT release

Aditi Rao Hydari in ‘Sufiyum Sujathayum’, the first Malayalam direct OTT release | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

When Naranipuzha Shanavas’s Sufiyum Sujathayum became the first Malayalam film to get a direct OTT release in July 2020, there was hardly any voice of protest. For, it happened soon after the COVID-19 outbreak, when the theatres in the State had remained closed, just like everywhere else. The problems started cropping up when the theatres began functioning several months later.

In October last year, producer Antony Perumbavoor, who was also an office-bearer of FEUOK as he owns theatres, resigned from the organisation after it opposed his initial plan to release Mohanlal’s Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham through an OTT platform. The exhibitors argued that such big budget films which bring in the crowds should first get a theatrical release. The film did finally release directly in theatres after several flip-flops from the producer.

Early in March this year, the exhibitors organisation announced that it will not cooperate with actor Dulquer Salmaan and his production house Wayfarer Films as his film Salute had a direct OTT release. Things were patched up later with the producers explaining that they had to honour prior commitments to the OTT platform. Actor Fahadh Faasil also had to face the ire of the exhibitors initially for an OTT release.

Also read: ‘The Great Indian Kitchen’ to ‘Aarkkariyam’: Why Malayalam films are streaming on multiple OTT platforms

Much has changed since then in the OTT scenario in the State after the initial days of euphoria among the filmmakers. The hopes of all independent films finding a platform to exhibit and generate some revenue for its producers were soon dashed as the platforms began to pick and choose mainly films with known stars.

What are the exhibitors’ arguments?

Only 10 Malayalam movies including Mammootty’s ‘Bheeshma Parvam’ have made profits at the box office in the post-OTT scenario

Only 10 Malayalam movies including Mammootty’s ‘Bheeshma Parvam’ have made profits at the box office in the post-OTT scenario | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The exhibitors have portrayed this as a fight not just to save their business, but also the future of Malayalam cinema. According to FEUOK President K. Vijayakumar, several films of hardly any quality are being made just with an eye on a quick OTT release. This has led to the audience staying away from the theatres, as they would catch the films they missed a few days later in OTT platforms, from the comfort of their homes. He attributes the string of recent flops to this trend. Only around ten films, including Kurup (2021), Hridayam (2022), Bheeshma Parvam (2022), Jan-e-man (2021) and Jo & Jo (2022) have made profits at the box office in the post-OTT scenario.

2022 Malayalam releases that were box office hits
Bheeshmaparvam
Hridayam
Super Sharanya
Jana Gana Mana
CBI 5: The Brain
Jo & Jo
Kaduva

Also read: Short run for small and medium budget Malayalam movies at cinemas

At the same time, the Malayali audience have flocked enmasse to the theatres for films from the other South Indian industries, including Kamal Haasan’s Vikram, S.S. Rajamouli’s RRR and Prashanth Neel’s KGF: Chapter 2, leading to assumptions that the audience will come to the theatres only if the film promises a visual spectacle and an all-round “theatre experience”. However, those like Girish Chandran, partner of Sree Padmanabha Theatre in Thiruvananthapuram, says that the scenario of people staying away from the theatres would affect the smaller films more. Once the expectation that the films will arrive in OTT platforms immediately ends, people will begin to come back to the theatres even for the smaller films.

The exhibitors have now latched on to Aamir Khan’s statements on OTT releases ahead of the release of Laal Singh Chaddha recently. He said that his film will not be made available on OTT platforms for at least six months.

How did the producers react to the demands?

The Kerala Film Producers Association is set to hold consultations at various levels to resolve the issue. Association president M. Renjith told The Hindu that the organisation is of the opinion that people need to be attracted to the theatres for the survival of the film industry and it will do the needful to ensure this. Film Chamber Secretary Anil Thomas said that the concerns raised by the theatre owners need to be addressed, as any trend that affects the theatre business would be detrimental to the industry as a whole.

What is the way ahead?

Though there has been an understanding between the film bodies and exhibitors that films will release in OTT platforms only after 42 days, this has hardly been followed in recent times. The theatre owners, who have suffered massive losses due to extended closures during the COVID-19 period, and have spent crores to revamp theatres, are caught in a precarious situation due to the emergence of the OTT platforms. The stakeholders will have to sit together and arrive at an understanding before Onam in September, a season which usually witnesses the most number of theatrical releases.

The COVID-19 period has led to a behavioural change among the audience, with many preferring to wait for OTT releases. The increasing costs of a visit to the cinemas for a family also has made many to prefer an OTT watch. Yet, they are not averse to flocking to the theatres if it is ensured that the visit is well worth it.

Also read: Telugu film industry goes into a huddle to tide over crisis


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Printable version | Aug 13, 2022 6:41:39 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/malayalam-cinema-exhibitors-producers-clash-over-ott-releases-explained/article65764558.ece