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No more experiments?

VIJAY GEORGE

25th june 2006 Sancharram
Appreciated but not hits: Stills from "Sancharram"

IT was, perhaps, the twist in the tale that took many by surprise. With a few filmmakers finding acceptance at the international level, offbeat films had succeeded in striking a chord with the filmgoers in God's Own Country for some time now. Or in celluloid terms, class had a successful run along with mass or even kitsch. But there has been a dramatic turn around. Now marketing offbeat films in Kerala has become a difficult proposition.

Until the early 1980s, offbeat films, popularly known as art or parallel films, had been welcomed by a section of the audience and the films were released in mainstream centres, where masala-magic ruled the box-office as always. While filmmakers like Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Aravindan and others made some finely crafted films, which brought in international acclaim, some like Padmarajan, Bharathan and K.G. George often trod a middle path with films that were both critically acclaimed and a draw with the audience.

New direction

But after that things began to head in a new direction. Many believe that mimicry had an impact on films affecting the perception of the audience. Cinema had become just "entertainment". Now, with the superstars dominating the scene, offbeat films are finding it tough to find cinema halls for release, forget the audience who care to acknowledge the effort.

In the current scheme, it has become quite difficult to come out with an offbeat film and, more importantly, to return unscathed. Actor Murali, who won the National Award for "Neythukaran" wonders that all this is happening in a State widely known for its share of "thinking population". He feels that the decay in appreciation levels is being reflected in other areas like reading and festivals. "Malayalis seem to have forgotten to see life in a serious manner. Is art just for a laugh?" he asks.

Strolling down memory lane, K.G. George now feels that the audience began moving away from "serious cinema" in the early 1980s. "Filmmaking had also become a costly business, especially for those who experimented in a serious way. Not to forget certain filmmakers who created a rift between the offbeat films and the regular audience. They made disappointing stuff in the guise of offbeat films," says George.

Anup Kurian, whose "Manasarovar" was regarded as one of the finest offbeat films in recent history, feels that "until serials like the `Ramayan' happened sometime during this period, cinema was the primary medium of entertainment". Going to theatres was the only way to watch a film and it was the main avenue for entertainment. Even offbeat films, which catered to a niche audience, could try to recoup the investment from a theatrical release and even had an edge considering its comparatively lesser budget.

But all this now seems to be a thing of the past. Director Lal Jose, whose recent "Achanurangatha Veedu" with comedian Salimkumar turned out to be a cropper at the box-office despite good reviews, says that he will think twice before venturing into such an experiment again.

Ligy Pullappally, the U.S.-based director of "Sancharram" that dealt with the intimate relation between two young girls, is quite miffed that she cannot find a distributor in the State despite screenings in film festivals, critical appreciation, six awards worldwide of which two came from Kerala. "My understanding is that distributors want to see big heroes and some song and dance to invest in a film. My film does not follow the usual format, and so it did not entice Kerala distributors," fumes Ligy.

Other markets Sancharram
"Manasarovar"

But, she says, "Sancharram" found a distributor in the U.S. and Canada, and another in the U.K. The DVDs have been selling very well and "as a result, the film has made good its investment. However, I am disappointed that it is mainly the non-Malayalis who have access to the film."

Director Priyanandanan, who directed films like "Neythukaran" and the just-released "Pulijanmam", believes that an offbeat film with a budget of around Rs. 40,00,000 could be a "break-even" proposition.

Anup states that these days the revenue comes from DVD/VCD, satellite, mobile and Internet download deals. "The disadvantage with this is that the chunk of money you get from a hit film in theatres to finance your next film may not come through," he adds.

Pradeep Nair, who directed "Oridam", on the plight of a sex worker, feels that "films need to move away from conventional lines. Up north, the multiplexes have opened a great avenue for serious films. But the successes of films like `Page 3', `Iqbal' and `Chandni Bar' beyond the multiplexes underlines the fact that the filmmakers there are experimenting and, more importantly, are finding takers too."

George echoes almost similar sentiments when he says, "multiplexes could perhaps bring in a change in the existing scenario."

The general feeling is that subscribing to new avenues for marketing films could be a possible solution. Ace cinematographer Santosh Sivan believes that if one looks at the way technology has reached the public, even somebody who is armed with a video cell phone is a potential filmmaker. "With today's digital technology, filmmaking can be an economic proposition for anyone. Even for exhibition, we have so many outlets and with TV and upcoming digital theatres, I would say that the kind of film that appeals universally are the ones which often is noticed, often with a new approach and cinematic language," says Santosh.

Santosh will not buy the "future is bleak" line and says "everything changes and usually there is a static period before things start to change again. With an abundance of talent in the cultural, literary and visual segments, Malayalam cinema is bound to regain its old charm internationally."

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with the superstars dominating the scene, offbeat films are finding it tough to find cinema halls for release, forget the audience who care to acknowledge the effort.


Actor Murali, who won the National Award for "Neythukaran" wonders that all this is happening in a State widely known for its share of "thinking population". He feels that the decay in appreciation levels is being reflected in other areas like reading and festivals. "Malayalis seem to have forgotten to see life in a serious manner. Is art just for a laugh?" he asks.


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