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Malayalam film industry’s losses touch Rs500 crore as theatres remain shut

Hit the hardest by the covid-19 pandemic as cases continue to rise in Kerala, the film exhibition industry in the state is estimated to have lost Rs500 crore in revenue. Kerala releases roughly 100-120 movies in theatres.

The state is home to about 545 theatres, including single screens and multiplexes. While several stars such as Fahadh Faasil have found a ready audience on OTT (over-the-top) streaming platforms, quite a few films have remained stuck, unable to find buyers with no clarity on when theatres will reopen or be able to play the backlog of films that has accumulated.

“The industry is in very bad shape and theatres that have been shut for over six months now, may not even reopen before January,” independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai said.

While several theatres have shut shop for good, converting into automobile show rooms, Pillai said, many were waiting for real estate prices to go up to be able to announce closures.

A large number of audience has discovered the charm of Malayalam cinema on video streaming platforms. Pillai said these titles are primarily being snapped up by three major players – Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ Hotstar.

“A film starring Fahadh Faasil or Mohanlal may be paid even close to Rs20 crore today, depending on the appeal of the content and an average Malayalam film too will be picked up for Rs4-5 crore, making good money for the producer. But for every one film that an OTT platform chooses, it rejects five,” Pillai said.

“Our financial losses are widening by the day. OTTs are not a solution to this crisis, they can take about 10-15 of the films that are ready, at best. Plus, they go only for certain names and stars,” Malayalam film director, distributor and exhibitor B Unnikrishnan said. Streaming platforms cannot really come to the rescue of big-budget films, he added, which will not be able to recoup their investments by their acquisition rates alone.

Film writer Parshathy Nath said a case in point was Mohanlal’s epic historical war film Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham, that is holding on for theatrical release. “While younger stars such as Faasil have been quick to adapt to the change and disruption, the big star vehicles are clueless,” Nath said.

The situation mirrors Bollywood’s state of affairs, she added, where top stars such as Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and others are in need of major reinvention as viewers discover a plethora of content online across languages and many of their upcoming films waiting for the theatrical situation to normalise to recoup investments. Live Mint

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