Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pokkiri Raja, a twist to internal crisis in Mollywood

Megastar Mammootty-Prithviraj starrer Pokkiriraja, one of the three Malayalam films that broke the three-week long impasse in the Malayalam film industry, who keeps on interjecting every now and then with the words: There has to be a new twist. Indeed, the film industry, which is mostly based in Chennai, has seen several twists in recent years. Its commercial run has been punctuated by regular spats between the various players in the industry. And when three films, starring three superstars, opened to the relief of movie buffs in Kerala on May 7, they brought to an end a series of parleys that saw some hard bargaining which included some name-calling, anxiety, camaraderie and, of course, snacks. Superstar Mohanlal, whose Alexander The Great (a rip-off of Dustin Hoffman-starrer Rain Man) one of the films that was released, triggered the standoff between cash-starved producers, hassled distributors theatre-owners and cine artistes. Jairams Katha Thudarannu, the third film that made it to the theatres post-stalemate, was the actor-arbitrator. The thaw in theatrics was celebrated mostly by fan associations, especially of the former two actors � yet again proving the kind of mass appeal these actors, well past their prime, are still able to command. A week later the new superstar Dileeps Pappy Appacha hit the screens, bringing back the hit pair of Dileep and Kavya Madhavan after a hiatus. Ironically, except for Mohanlal�s film, all the others are doing well with Mammootty-Prithviraj starrer Pokkiriraja turning into a blockbuster. But this amicable situation was preceded by a storm that exposed the vulnerability of the industry which, till a few years ago, was robust both in content and commerce. Producers and distributors joined hands and declared a strike on April 16. The producers refused to bring any movie onto the floors unless the superstars scaled down their remuneration so that spiralling production costs could be brought under control. Distributors demanded that the collection from noon shows also be included while deciding the �hold over� (return of films to distributors in case of lack of fixed collection). Later, exhibitors joined the melee, threatening that unless the stalemate was solved, no movies would be released in Kerala. The fracas culminated in a bold 25% cut in remuneration, as declared by Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA) for anyone who quoted a price higher than Rs 3 lakh. The agreement between AMMA and Kerala Film Producers� Association (KFPA), the body which led the strike, included other drastic decisions like film stars not starring in serials and reality shows, curbs on public shows, discipline on film sets and restricting the size of superstars� entourage. The distributors will get to know the fate of their wishes on May 27 after yet another meeting of all the parties concerned with the state government moderating the negotiation. On an average, a Malayalam movie is made on a budget of around Rs 4-5 crore. Around 50-60% of this goes towards paying salaries of actors while the rest is spent on marketing and distribution. Despite such low budgets, producers are finding it difficult to even recover their investments, owing to sub-standard cinematic output and a dismal audience response. �Actors quote their price, distributors decide the centres and the success or failure is the tight rope that the producers repeatedly tread. We cannot coerce the artists or the distributors. So, a strike was the only way out, says producer Sabu Cheriyan, president of KFPA. When asked how this cut would benefit the producers, Cheriyan candidly admitted that the only profit would be in terms of lowering losses. AMMA, with superstars at the helm of the affairs, has been the centre of many controversies, especially during the past few months. The verbal duel between superstar Mohanlal and respected social and literary critic Sukumar Azhikode brought to light many fissures. It�s not just finances, but there are other infrastructural and social issues that affect the industry in the most adverse ways possible. Because of the sharp rise in the production costs, marketing films becomes difficult. Add to that, Kerala is the only state in the whole of South India which imposes an entertainment tax in the range of 15-25%. Bad marketing, low ticket prices and taxes are a triple whammy for Malayalam films. Jagadish sees the lack of success as the root of all problems. �When the going is good, there is no scope for any fights and misdemeanours. Artists are an insecure lot and for them �tomorrow� is much more important than today, he says. Not that there�s going to be peace and love between all these big players in a small world. Things may get ugly, but for now they have to strike at something new. Because as they say in Malyalam: Pradarshanam Thudarunnu (The show continues).

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