From Tarkovsky to Farhadi, how Beemappally’s CD shops made film buffs out of Malayalis

Today, only two CD shops remain in the Beemapally market. a souvenir-like testament to the past. In an era dominated by OTT platforms, the existence of these shops appear almost surreal.
Sainuddeen at Comic CD Centre in Beemapally.
Sainuddeen at Comic CD Centre in Beemapally.
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It was around noon. The Beemapally market, also known as the ‘Mini Gulf’ once, was starting to become active. Sainudheen, the staff member of the Comic CD Centre, the biggest and oldest CD (Compact Disc) shop in Beemapally, was packing a few movies for the day’s first customer. “I don’t think anyone else would come today to buy CDs,” he said after he left. 

“You know, a few years back if you came here, you would not be able to stand here because of the crowd. This shop had movie CDs of different languages and genres and 8 to 10 employees,” he said.

Beemapally Market, located 10 km from Thiruvananthapuram city, has played a significant role in introducing classic movies from across the world to Malayalis, especially for the people from Thiruvananthapuram. From the late 90s to around 2015, the Beemapally market witnessed a booming business thanks to film buffs in the state, which had a growing film culture aided by numerous local film societies and an international film festival.

CDs as a storage technology gained popularity in the late eighties because it could hold more data than in analogue format and with better quality, which suited delivery of music and films. The emergence of DVD technology in 1996 augmented digital media storage and durability.

While many of these copies sold in these shops were not original and Beemapally was treated as a hub of piracy, huge collections of world movies could be found there from Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky to Iran’s Asghar Farhadi. The pull was irresistable. Each shop had separate genre-wise sections for movies including world cinema. In most CD shops, the staff member in charge of that section was consistently busy.

Today, only two CD shops remain in the Beemapally market. a souvenir-like testament to the past. In an era dominated by Netflix, Amazon Prime and other Over the Top (OTT) platforms, the existence of these shops appear almost surreal. Focus Electronics, located near the Comic CD centre, is primarily an electronic shop but still has some CDs in one corner. “Nobody wants them now,” said a staff member.

Twenty years ago, there were around 30 to 40 CD shops in Beemapally and owners used to bring them mainly from Chennai, Mumbai and sometimes from Singapore. 

Nazeer, a middle-aged man, working in the Comic CD shop for the past 20 years is a huge fan of Farhadi. He followed classical movies only because of CD shops. “People had no other options to watch such films, so they depend on these CD shops. We had many customers every day, especially during the festival days. There were regular customers, sometimes they gave us a list and we arranged the movies before their next visit,” said Nazeer. Now, people have more options and  can watch movies on their mobiles. “So that affected the CD markets too,” he said.

Yahiya, who works in a ladies' store in Beemapally, identifies as a huge Kim Ki-duk fan. “I watched the world classic movies only because of these CD shops in Beemapally. Otherwise, I don't even know if such films or genres existed. The films of Akira Kurosawa, Satyajit Ray, Alfred Hitchcock, etc. were available at cheap prices in Beemapally at that time. I became familiar with these legends due to these CD shops," middle-aged Yahiya said with passion.

Thanseer, once employed by CD World shop at Beemapally, is now officially a film consultant with the IFFK because of his resourcefullness in world cinema. Once, during a conversation, a customer suggested that he watch Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso and that one movie changed his life, says 34-year-old Thanseer. He started to watch movies every day.

“During that period CD World had a vast collection of world cinema. After watching Cinema Paradiso I was crazy about films and started to watch films every day at night. Then I started to suggest good movies to the customers. After two or three articles were published about me in newspapers and in 2012, I got a daily wage job at Chalachitra Academy,” said Thanseer. The CD World CD shop does not exist today.

Until a decade ago, film enthusiasts, students of film studies, assistant directors and even directors came to Beemapally to collect movies. 

‘How Andrei Tarkovsky Communicated His Childhood through His Cinema’ was poet and journalist Arun T Vijayan’s thesis when he was doing his master’s degree in 2008.

”In 2008 I had to watch Tarkovsky’s seven feature films to complete my thesis. Fifteen years ago, watching world films was not as easy as today. Most of the films were not available anywhere, only a few people had these CDs, but I do not have any access. Then I got to know about the shops in Beemapally and got all seven films,” Arun said. 

Beemapally attracted film enthusiasts not only from the state but outside as well. 

Saju Gangadharan, a film enthusiast, was a regular customer at Comic CD shop from 2010 to 2017. “I used to go once every two months to Beemapally,” he said. Saju finally stopped his Beemapally sojourns during the COVID era.

When Torrents became popular, people with high-speed internet stopped buying CDs and started downloading the movies they wanted. This marked the first step towards the collapse of the CD business.

During the days of International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), delegates would visit the shops to purchase the films they missed at the festival. The shopkeepers even used to display a banner during the time that read, ‘Welcome to the Delegates’. “Nowadays, especially after the pandemic, nobody comes,” Sainudheen said.

The delegates learned about good movies through their festival handbook, which provides a synopsis of the films, and then went to buy those films. “I think IFFK made a huge change in the CD business in Beemapally. The CD shop owners understood the value of world movies because of the high demand during the IFFK days,” Saju said.

Not only torrents, in 2015 players like Reliance Jio came into the market and made a huge change in the internet availability. People started to download the movies they wanted from their mobile phones themselves. “Now everything is available on our phones so why should I go to Beemapally and buy CDs? Nowadays nobody has CD players,” Saju said.

The era of CDs is in its sunset phase and would soon be part of collective nostalgia but the Comic CD shop is still open every day even though business is not profitable. “There are still a few CDs left in the shop. Let’s see how long it takes to sell everything.” Sainudheen said.

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