Malayalam film Manjummel Boys is doing wonders for Tamil Nadu theatres

Theatre owners are cheerful after the release of ‘Manjummel Boys’ because cinemas are now ‘housefull’ after a long time, a feat that even successful Tamil films could not achieve for a while.
Poster of Manjummel Boys
Poster of Manjummel BoysIMDB

Surya Chidambaram, owner of the Kamala Cinemas in Chennai, is fascinated by the phenomenon that is Manjummel Boys. “In the 52 years since the Kamala Cinemas was opened, this is the first time a non-Tamil movie is pulling such a crowd,” he said. The Tamil audience has welcomed the recently released Malayalam film, a survival thriller with no superstars at its helm, with open arms, handing the film a dream run at the Tamil Nadu box office. 

Manjummel Boys, directed by Chidambaram S Poduval, is now outdoing the business of several Tamil films, even coming to the rescue of theatre owners who were in crisis due to poor patronage from the audience. The film, which was released on February 22, is even being credited with pulling Tamil crowds back to theatres, with almost all shows declared ‘housefull’ – a rare achievement for a straight Malayalam film in Tamil Nadu. Though it is common for Tamil films to have housefull shows in Kerala, it is rare to see a Malayalam film get a similar response in Tamil Nadu. 

“Even English movies would have to be dubbed for the audience to be watched in theatres. We planned to release Manjummel Boys because there was a high demand for the movie and people wanted to have a theatrical experience. We were under the impression that it might have to be dubbed, but that was not the case. Currently, the only new film running in Kamala is Manjummel Boys and we have around 5 to 6 shows everyday. That’s how high the demand is,” said Surya Chidambaram. 

The film, made on a shoe-string budget of Rs 15 crore, has already collected Rs 100 crore worldwide. The film also does not have any big names like Mammootty, Mohanlal, or Fahadh Faasil. Manjummel Boys features an ensemble cast of Soubin Shahir, Sreenath Bhasi, Jean Paul Lal, Ganapathi, and director Khalid Rahman among others.

According to film critic Sudhir Srinivasan, the film was able to garner such a large audience in Tamil Nadu because of its premise which cuts across regions. “For the adults, it speaks of nostalgia, of vacations taken with friends. For the youngsters, it speaks of themselves and that phase where friendship and camaraderie seems above all else. It touches on themes of sacrifice and courage, and ultimately, it connects to all people in its insistence that we should not give up in the face of adversity. These are universal themes,” he said. 

Sudhir pointed out that one of the main draws of the film for the Tamil viewer is how it recalls a memorable Ilaiyaraaja song, ‘Kanmani Anbodu’ from the Kamal Haasan film Gunaa (1991). “Some of our own films are happy to use old songs for style and nostalgia, but the very soul of Manjummel Boys is drawn from this song. The film shows great maturity and taste in invoking it as well,” he said.

Before Manjummel Boys, Alphonse Puthren’s Premam (2015), starring Nivin Pauly, had received a similar reception in Tamil Nadu, and incidentally it too had a Tamil connection. The film saw the debut of the much-admired Sai Pallavi, who played a Tamil teacher named Malar, whom Nivin Pauly’s George falls in love with. Incidentally, Premam also features a rendition of the song ‘Kanmani Anbodu’, as sung by Shabareesh Varma who plays George’s friend Shambu in the film.

Manjummel Boys follows the story of a group of friends from Manjummel in Kerala’s Kochi, who go on a vacation to Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu. The happy trip, however, turns into a tragedy after one of them falls into a deep pit in the Guna caves. 

The word of mouth and the film’s connection with Tamil Nadu and Kamal Haasan’s cult classic Gunaa has created a euphoria among the Tamil audience, analysts say, causing them to embrace the film as their own despite the language barrier. Director Chidambaram, who is self-admittedly a Kamal Haasan fan, has made a film which deeply resonates with the Tamil sensibilities, and the audience are reciprocating it with love.   

According to Ram Muthuram Cinemas, a popular theatre in Tirunelveli, Manjummel Boys has achieved what even recent Tamil films including superstar Rajinikanth’s Lal Salaam could not. Though Tamil films like Blue Star, Lover, and Lal Salaam performed well at the box office, they could not attract large crowds like Manjummel Boys, they say. 

Looking at the reception to the non-Tamil film, theatre owners are appreciating the audience for seeing art beyond language. Many also have suggestions for Tamil filmmakers, that they should follow the same route as its Kerala counterpart, in making films that focus on content over splurging money on ‘big stars.’

Tiruppur Subramanian, theatre owner and former president of Tamil Nadu Theatre Owners’ Association, said that the Tamil audience proved that they would come to the theatres if movies focussed on stories rather than on a big star. “We are seeing such a massive response for a movie in a language that many might not understand. If similar movies are made in Tamil, why will they not come to the theatres? A large part of the audience, in my opinion, are bored of films that ‘worship’ the heroes acting in them. Only fans of these heroes who form a small part of the audience might enjoy these movies,” he tells TNM. 

Elaborating on how Manjummel Boys has steadily attracted audiences through word of mouth, he says, “On the first two days, there were hardly any crowds to watch the film. I think it had to do something with there being no big stars or flashy promotions for the movie. But after a while, we began seeing high footfall. The age of the audience members range from as young as 15 to as old as 75. Even after two weeks, we are still getting huge crowds and almost every show is getting filled up.”

Manjummel Boys is especially garnering appreciation for its tactful use of the song ‘Kanmani Anbodu’, which plays out at a critical moment in the scene. The placement of the song and its lyrics suddenly elevate the film to a new high, evoking a feeling of divinity in the viewer and lending a new meaning to human friendships. 

As director Gautham Vasudev Menon wrote on X, “When ‘manidhar unarndhu kolla’ comes up on the soundtrack, somehow watching Gunaa on opening day so many years ago and many times after that made sense to me.” Like Gautham Vasudev Menon, several Tamil filmmakers including Venkat Prabhu, Karthik Subburaj, Pa Ranjith, Kamal Haasan, and Santhana Bharathi have showered praises on the film, contributing to its promotion and success. 

Santhana Bharathi, the director of Gunaa, said he was overwhelmed by the tribute to his film by a young Malayali filmmaker. Reacting to Chidambaram’s reinterpretation of Gunaa, he said, “I had goosebumps and started tearing up.”

“Before the arrival of Manjummel Boys,  many theatres were resorting to closing theatres during weekdays recently to avoid expenses on electricity bills,” entertainment tracker Sreedhar Pillai wrote on X. “But Manjummel Boys changed the course of things,” he says, attributing the film’s mammoth success in Tamil Nadu to positive word-of-mouth. 

“Malayalam ‘wonder film’ Manjummel Boys, which opened first in 43 screens and from the second week,  expanded to nearly 250 screens through word of mouth.  In week three, for Mahashivratri weekend, it may retain all screens and add newer playing stations,” he observed. 

Explaining how Manjummel Boys has not only helped theatres get back on track but will also prove to be profitable to them, Sreedhar said, “For a Malayalam film, the theatre- distributor share for the first week is 50-50, for the second week, it is 60 (theatre) - 40 (distributor), and the third week onwards, it is 70 (theatre)- 30 (distributor). Compare this to the Tamil ‘big star’ films where the share for theatres is 60-65% of collections for the first week and 55 to 60% for the second week and 50% for the third week. There have been cases where theatres have paid even 70% of net earnings to the distributor for big star films. Only national multiplexes normally get a bigger share screening Tamil films.”

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