April may go down in the history of Malayalam cinema as the cruellest month. It saw the film industry, which has been in the doldrums for several years, moving into self-destruct mode.
The month began with thespian Thilakan, facing threat of banishment from films due to the hostility of a powerful section of the industry, declaring that the actor in him was committing suicide. He said he would return to the theatre, where he had begun his acting career.
Last week, Sreenath, a movie and television serial actor of about 30 years’ standing, was found dead at a film location. Police said he appeared to have committed suicide. His family alleged he was facing threat of denial of work.
These personal tragedies are pointers to the misfortunes dogging the multi-billion film industry. Sections of the industry are at war with one another. It looks as though they are in the grip of a death wish.
Thilakan, who had been summoned by the Association of Malayalam Movie Actors (AMMA) to answer charges of indiscipline, appeared before its executive committee, and was promptly expelled, saying his explanation was not satisfactory. The committee paid no heed to his complaint that producers were denying him work in films under pressure from certain quarters.
Soon AMMA was at the receiving end. The Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce asked the stars to reduce their remuneration to help bring down the high production cost which was rendering film making commercially unviable.
The Chamber also demanded that film artistes, including singers, and lead technicians stay away from reality shows and other television programmes which were luring viewers away from the theatre. It said those who continued to appear on TV shows after May 1 will invite severe action, including ban on release of their films.
Chamber spokesmen said this was not a new decision. As far back as 2002 AMMA had agreed in writing that its members would not participate in television shows other than those connected with the state government’s film awards ceremony.
Representatives of various organizations affiliated to the Chamber like the Kerala Film Producers Association (KFPA), the Film Exhibitors Association of Kerala (FEAK) and the Film Distributors Association of Kerala (FDAK) attended the meeting which took the crucial decisions.
The Chamber claimed such measures were necessary to save the Malayalam film industry. Other contemplated steps in this regard include placing restrictions on the exhibition of films in other languages.
FDAK president Siyad Kokker said Tamil and Hindi films should be shown in the state only two weeks after they were released elsewhere.
In an attempt to force all concerned to help cut production costs, KFPA announced suspension of film production from April 16. Producers can complete ongoing projects but cannot start work on any new film.
FDAK announced suspension of new releases to pressure the exhibitors into accepting its terms and conditions regarding screening of films.
While FEAK and FDAK are fully with the Chamber in the confrontation with AMMA, they are fighting their own separate battles too.
The distributors and the exhibitors share theatre collections under an agreed formula. This formula covers only the proceeds of the three regular shows. The distributors want the exhibitors to share the proceeds of the noon show too.
According to KFPA president G. Sureshkumar, about 70 films are produced each year and only three or four of them yield profits.
AMMA disputes the claim that the high remuneration of artistes and technicians is the reason why films fail commercially. It says lack of good stories and lack of planning are to blame for the industry’s ills.
While superstars Mammootty and Mohanlal have maintained discreet silence on the developments lesser luminaries have taken up position for and against the Chamber’s move to keep film personnel away from TV channels. The most vociferous critics are composers and singers who now earn more from reality shows than from films.
Industry insiders have identified some other factors such as domination of the industry by ageing superstars and by directors with limited range also for the decline of Malayalam films which had attracted national and international attention until a decade ago.
Actor-turned director Revathi wonders why Mammootty and Mohanlal are seeking young female leads when Sobhana will be a perfect match for them. Director Sibi Malayil says new directors, technicians and actors are needed. In Malayalam there are very few good artistes to choose from, he adds. In Tamil, Telugu or Hindi there are 10 to 20 to choose from. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 26, 2010