Dear Mollywood, please don’t postpone releases outside Kerala and kill your fans

It is upsetting that in order to tackle piracy, the industry is seriously considering postponing the release of Malayalam films outside Kerala by one or two weeks.
Dear Mollywood, please don’t postpone releases outside Kerala and kill your fans
Dear Mollywood, please don’t postpone releases outside Kerala and kill your fans
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Dear Malayalam film industry, I’m writing from a land where if I ask for parotta, I’m given paratha. I renew my connections with Kerala mostly through cinema, like many Malayalis world over (and there are Malayalis in every part of the world asking “Naattil evidaya?” to every newly arrived Malayali in their midst). Now we hear that in order to tackle piracy, the industry is seriously considering postponing the release of Malayalam films outside Kerala by one or two weeks. According to some movie trackers, Fahadh’s highly anticipated Trance, which is set to release in Kerala on February 20, will hit the screens outside the state as late as March 5!

Okay, I know that many small producers are already following this procedure, but to formalise this and make it the rule for all films is depressing news. Remember when Jallikattu was all the rage? People in TORONTO were raving about it, but us Malayalis outside Kerala had to wait for two whole weeks after it hit screens in the state to watch it. By then, the frenzy around the film was so high that if all of us had been assembled in one place, we would have climbed over each other and re-enacted that human pyramid scene outside the theatres for the first day first show.

This was the case for Jallikattu but we may not be able to summon the same level of enthusiasm for every delayed release. As several on social media have been saying, if audiences outside Kerala have to wait a couple of weeks to watch a film in theatres, why not wait for a few more days and watch it on an OTT platform like Amazon Prime or Netflix? You must know that there are many non-Malayalis too who follow Malayalam cinema closely. A late release will most likely convince them to wait for the film to come online because they can be assured of watching it with subtitles, unlike theatres where this isn’t always the case.

The film loving community online has elaborate discussions on new movie releases and if only a small section located in Kerala is able to participate in these, it kills the buzz for the rest of us. By the time we watch and share our perspectives, everyone has already said it all. The party is over and we’re just left with the nariyal ka pani to drink. And SPOILERS! Can you imagine the torture of having to ignore all the reviews from Kerala and scroll past the multiple posts on the film before we can watch it?

We understand that piracy is a big concern for you and it’s hurting the industry. You may think this kind of entitled whining doesn’t take into the consideration the pain of the producer, who feels it’s unfair that people are watching pirated content with bad prints online and not spending money on a ticket. But is a late release really the solution? What if a film in Kerala gets average reviews? Wouldn’t it mean that it would struggle to get audiences to theatres when it releases outside the state? Small films may even struggle to get distributors if the reception in the state is lukewarm, in effect killing off the audience it would have got had it been a simultaneous release.

For big films, this may spell a disaster. Films like Odiyan and Mamangam were made on huge budgets and received poor reviews on release. Both were released in multiple languages simultaneously to attract the non-Malayali crowds too. If the numbers are to be believed, Odiyan still managed to get Rs 54 crore worldwide in the first two weeks because the hype was so strong. Mamangam did not bring in as much but the collection would have been even lower had the makers not gone for a simultaneous release. Do you really think these films would have weathered the meme fest unleashed by our sarcastic brethren in Kerala and brought in audiences after the whole thing was done and dusted? The Malayalam industry is becoming ambitious and trying to make big budget films, but this move may make producers more wary about burning their fingers.

And what about festival releases? There’s usually a slew of releases for big festivals like Onam, Vishu and Christmas. As it is, not all the films release outside Kerala on the same day, but at least one or two would. These are coveted dates at the box-office because people are in the mood to go to the theatre with their families and have the time to do so. If the film is coming later, then you’re losing out on the advantage that the date gives.

Piracy is a worldwide problem and has affected other entertainment industries like music too. While there is a crowd that always prefers to watch pirated movies for free (and one doubts that they’ll come to the theatre even if the movie isn’t leaked immediately), true blue movie enthusiasts turn to pirated content mostly when there’s no hope of them ever getting to watch the film otherwise. With delayed releases, some of them may be persuaded to depend on pirated content more often than they do now.

There might be a pattern to how the piracy is happening, as Kerala producers seem to have observed. But delaying the film and annoying fans may not be the best solution to the problem. After all, piracy happens everywhere and such a local solution to a global problem is unlikely to flummox pirates forever. They’ll find a way around it eventually. So please, don’t break up with your outside state audience so unceremoniously.

Views expressed are author's own.

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