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Malayalam film industry badly in need of oxygen

G.K. Nair

KOCHI, March 29

LOW returns and high cost of production have driven the Malayalam film industry into a serious financial crisis, forcing a number of well-known banners to withdraw from the scene.

There has been a significant fall in the number of people going to cinema halls and this has curtailed the period of screening of movies, except in stray cases, to one or two weeks.

As a result, the return from the market has virtually dropped, Mr G. Jayakumar, producer of a national award-winning film and President of the Kerala Film Distributors Association, told Business Line.

As the flow from the market has dried up, producers are finding it difficult to venture into new productions.

"The situation has reached such a stage that the producer has to find fresh capital for investment every time, and that is impossible,'' he said.

According to Mr Jayakumar, there has been a sharp fall in the number of people going to cinema halls in the cities and rural areas following the arrival of cable TV.

"On the other hand, the communication gap between the cinema producer and his potential customer has widened in recent years.''

As a result, even members of the general public who are inclined to watch films in theatres remain unaware of releases by their favourite banners.

"Films produced under certain banners, and by certain producers and directors with popular cine artists, were liked by the people. And yet, such productions turned out to be a big flop at the box-office."

According to him, the major reason for this predicament was lack of adequate publicity. The cost of publicity had skyrocketed to such a level as to become unaffordable; in the past 3-4 years, it has more than doubled, since a one-day announcement in Malayalam dailies costs around Rs 2 lakh.

"Hence, only two ads are placed: one to announce the release and the second on the release. In the past, such ads used to be repeated for several days."

Placing ads in the visual media is much more expensive. A producer making a film at a cost of Rs 50 lakh cannot afford to spend more than 10 per cent of the total cost on advertising.

The average cost of majority of the films produced in Malayalam remains below Rs 1 crore, while for "festive films'', the budget may go up to Rs 4 crore.

Ironically, even the walls that were used by film producers and distributors in Kerala for publicity by pasting posters have been taken over by multinationals. "This has also stopped us from using the conventional method for publicity.''

He added that the film industry had so far failed to create a new wave by producing films incorporating the changes "taking place around us. The narration, presentation and treatment of the films have to change, taking into account the technical advancement. This is not happening. Only stylised films can create a new wave. The people want something new."

But all this requires heavy investment, which few producers are willing to shoulder.

This sector has so far not been considered an industry by the Government or financial institutions.

"The Government, despite repeated appeals and representations about the problems, has been showing an impervious attitude. The industry had suggested a tax recycling method, but this too fell on deaf ears."

The decline in film production has adversely affected the State's revenue. Considering this factor at least, the Government should come forward to make a study on the crisis and on why well-known banners "have withdrawn into a cocoons''.

If the Government and the banking sector fail to come forward to the rescue of the industry, it might disappear from the State, Mr Jayakumar said.

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