Tellingly, unlike Malayalam cinema's much appreciated films, few Tamil projects can boast of writer-driven scripts.

Amid big budgets and star auras is Kollywood losing out on good stories
Flix Kollywood Friday, May 26, 2017 - 14:09

There has been an abundance of engaging cinema in Malayalam in recent years. PulimuruganMaheshinte PrathikaramKammatipaadamKaliKing LiarC/O Saira Banu and, of course, Angamaly Diaries, are just a few of the films that are being highly-talked about. At first glance, these films have nothing in common. However, the one fact that binds them together is that the none of them were written by the directors themselves.

In contrast, there are very few Tamil films that have generated a similar kind of buzz. While 2016 saw some hits and too many misses, in 2017, just a handful of small films have dominated the Kollywood box office till now. And none of them have had the kind of standout success that the Malayalam films have managed.

This begs the question – is the Tamil film industry lacking in creativity? No, it’s not. But there definitely seems to be a dearth of good original stories and strong content driven by writers.

Most films in Tamil cinema are written by directors themselves. In fact, even top filmmakers like Mani Ratnam, Hari, Pandiraj, A R Murugadoss, Vetrimaaran, Pa Ranjith and Siruthai Siva are not an exception to this rule.

Thanks to big budgets, pressure from producers and the need to maintain the on-screen image of top stars, directors often seem compelled to write their own stories. For some time now, Tamil cinema has not been script-driven, but rather woven around an actor’s image to ensure his continuing 'popularity' with the audience. Today, this strategy seems to be failing more often than winning.

Filmmaker and writer Sudhish Kamath explains, “There are exceptions in both industries. Tamil cinema used to be script driven when K Balachander, Bharathirajaa, Balu Mahendra or a Mahendran were making films but as films started becoming hero-centric star vehicles, any director with access, who could massage a star's ego with "mass" elements, could get dates from the star. Having a star on board would fetch producers who would bet on the star than the script. In Malayalam, the tradition of respecting the script, writers and screenwriters has continued over the years, so that even the stars have acquired a script sense over the years.”

Indeed, Mohanlal loved Pulimurugan so much that he is working with scriptwriter Udayakrishna for a film to be directed by Joshiy. Udayakrishna is also working on two films for Mammootty – Raja 2 with director Vysakh and another project to be directed by Ajai Vasudevan. And it’s not just senior actors who demand good scripts. Even younger stars like Prithviraj, Dulquer Salman and Nivin Pauly believe it is the script that will make a success out of them.

Digital cinema designer Balaji Gopal observes that writers are the heart of Malayalam cinemas success over the Tamil industry in the last five years. “Writers are a must to have a wide variety of subjects in films. They are not under pressure to choose subjects based on budgets or box-office success – rather, they are more interested in narrating good stories to the audience.”

But Kamath is quick to point out that writer-directors have an advantage too. “They can execute the original vision of the film without it being interpreted or translated or diluted,” he says. While this may be true, recent attempts seem to suggest that not many writer-directors have been able to do this successfully.

Writer duo Subha said in a recent interview that scriptwriting and direction are two different fields around the world – except in Kollywood. Decades ago, many scriptwriters successfully turned directors. Now, a director’s story narration is taken as the ultimate benchmark and producers and stars sign a film based on this. The lure of seeing their names being credited with screenplay and story has made many a director don these roles as well – irrespective of whether they have the talent for it or not. 

Meanwhile, the going has not been easy for scriptwriters in Kollywood in recent times. They don’t make much money from their writing and there has been no great demand for their work in films either. We also see alleged cases of plagiarism being filed in court repeatedly. 

With increasing demand for good cinema from the audience, it now remains to be seen how soon the film industry wakes up and realises that strong scripts – and scriptwriters – should drive Tamil cinema and not just the hero or director.  Only this can help the Tamil film industry flourish and open new markets in the years to come.

Note: The author is a contributor and the views expressed in this piece are personal. 

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