Monday, September 15, 2008

Signs of a paradigm shift in Malayalam cinema industry

Movie buffs in Kerala are experiencing an unusual drought. There is a dearth of new films during the Onam season this year. More importantly, there are no films of superstars Mammootty and Mohanlal among the few new releases.

As the most important festival on the Keralites' calendar, Onam has been the preferred time for release of new films, especially big budget productions, for years. This year only three new films have been released.

All of them are modest offerings. Two of them feature Prithviraj, the fastest rising star of the new generation. The third has veteran Jayaram in the lead. The long-reigning superstars, whose presence is considered a guarantee of box office success, do not figure in them even in guest roles.

It will be a mistake to view the absence of Mammootty and Mohanlal in the new releases as heralding the end of their reign. It is not as though they have gone off the screen. Some films of theirs, which were released earlier, like “Madampi” and “Akaasagopuram”, both starring Mohanlal, are still drawing crowds at theatres.

According to Mollywood watchers, producers have deliberately withheld films featuring Mammootty and Mohanlal as they do not expect big crowds during Onam this year since it coincides with the Ramadan. Muslims usually stay away from theatre during the period of fast.

In the last few years, there has been animated discussion in the state about an alleged crisis in the Malayalam movie world. Some critics have pointed to the dominance of superstars as one of the contributing factors.

Both Mammootty and Mohanlal are talented artistes. They undoubtedly deserve the adulation they receive by virtue of their contributions to the movie industry. Their presence has not prevented younger actors from rising to the top. They cannot, therefore, be accused of blocking the path of younger artistes.

However, the superstars are reluctant to accept the fact that they are past their prime and settle for roles that suit their age. Stories are written keeping them in view, and young women artistes who were unwilling to be paired with them have had to quit or migrate to other languages.

It is not easy to dislodge the superstars from their high perch as they have stakes in key sectors of the cinema industry like production and distribution. Lately, following the Tamil example, fans associations have started playing an active role in boosting their image.

Not long ago, Sreenivasan, who has carved out a place for himself in the tinsel world as actor and writer, dwelt on the crisis in the industry in an entertaining film, “Udayanaanu thaaram”. Critics hailed the movie as one that identifies the problems facing the industry. But, then, identifying the problem is easier than finding a solution.

There are entrenched interests not only among the stars but also among producers and distributors. Taking them on is no easy task but there are indications that the Malayalam film industry is ready for a paradigm shift. For one, producers are willing to experiment with new directors and artistes. For another, writers and directors are willing to experiment with new themes. And movie-goers appear to be willing to welcome changes.

KP Kumaran, who has made good movies but nurses the grievance that he has not received due recognition, has based his latest movie “Akaasagopuram” on Ibsen's play, Master Builder. Apart from Mohanlal, the late Bharat Gopi and Manoj Jayan are in the cast. Shot entirely in Britain, the film has an exotic appeal.

There have been occasions when film-makers who won state awards found it difficult to get their works to the screen as distributors entertained doubts about their commercial prospects. MG Sasi seems to have broken the jinx with “Adayalangal”. He has expressed satisfaction with the popular response to the film, which narrates the life-story of writer Nanthanar.

Two new movies, “Gulmohur” and “Thalappaav”, are cinematic essays which rekindle memories of the spring thunder of the 1970s. The first is the work of Jayaraj, who has already made a mark as a director with a wide range. The other is the first directorial venture of actor Madhupal.

It is, of course, too early to proclaim the dawn of a new era. But the new Malayalam films hold out the reassurance that that there is enough talent in the industry to prevent it from inviting ruin by going farther along the route charted by Tamil and Telugu films, which operate in a different milieu. – Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 15, 2008.

1 comment:

ഭൂമിപുത്രി said...

Onam movies this year,I feel, will provide the much needed initiative to our film industry in paying some attention to the refreshing presence of the younger lot among the present stars.
Again,fan clubs,which the Malayalee used to scoff at, have played a big role in corrupting the quality of our Super star movies