Why OTT is the way for Malayalam cinema

Malayalam cinema has been constantly evolving with time, as much as any film industry in India. There has been a constant attempt to reinvent how a Malayalam film is shot as there have been many criticisms about the simplistic nature of the films. There was no flashy editing or extraordinary cinematography up to a point. But every generation saw a slew of directors and other technicians moving opposite to the traditional rules of filmmaking as far as Malayalam cinema was concerned. These small deviations created and redefined Malayalam cinema for the past few decades. It bought in more talents especially in the fields of direction, cinematography and editing. But the constant strength of Malayalam cinema was in its writing. Themes ranging from thrillers, comedy, slice of life and even satire were explored relatively well. The steady growth in the technical aspects gave rise to more opportunities for the writers to experiment and come up with unconventional stories. It is still prone to formula based movies and big-budget masala films, as such films increase the revenue for the industry to flourish. But the writing continued to grow slowly and it was the realistic films that garnered more widespread attention from movie watchers across India. But marketing and distribution has always been a problem for Malayalam films due to the budget constraints. Many artists have claimed to quote lesser salaries for a film to proceed past certain phases of production. But recently many television channels saw potential in the satellite rights of these movies and slotted premieres accordingly. Many films that enjoyed theatrical success ended up getting sold to the channels for a decent profitable amount. If the films had superstars, producers were able to get more profits through the sale of satellite rights. This was the start of the newest wave of change in the Malayalam film industry. And a new technically driven brand of directors and technicians began proving their mettle. Doing all this within the constraints of a shoestring budget did hamper the possibilities a lot. But it was the writing and cost effective methods that made Malayalam cinema work.

malayalam movies ott releases
Source: OnManorama

Fast forward to the COVID era, where huge productions were shelved and theatres were shut down. All the film industries that were thriving on the theatres to run their films were in dire straits. The whole experience of watching a wide array of content bloomed through the over-the-top streaming services. But the best way to exploit this new opportunity was to have small budget films with good writing and strong technical aspects. This was a tailor made model for Malayalam films which upto that point, did not have the necessary budget and widespread reach. The OTT platforms democratised the whole system a little more, providing a huge audience that could watch content on demand. Budding filmmakers and small-scale or independent producers could now use the platform to gain a bigger audience. The small scale of the films and their success owing only to the quality of the content was perfect for the smaller film industries of India. Many audiences grew to love the realistic and detailed nature of the Malayalam films, which drove them to widespread critical acclaim and the recognition for consistently coming up with new concepts. Asianet, which was one of the leading television channels, is affiliated to the Star Network and used the satellite rights of all the Malayalam films they procured over the years before. Therefore, their OTT platform Disney+Hotstar had that extra advantage and made a smooth shift from television channels to streaming services. The small producers managed to support independent filmmakers and Mollywood became one of the popular Indian film industries for viewers worldwide. Even relatively big budget films like Minnal Murali which was slated for a theatrical release, enjoyed a large audience from its OTT release on Netflix. It was regarded as the first superhero film in Malayalam. ‘C U Soon’ was also a film that enjoyed a lot of attention worldwide as it was India’s first computer screen film. One of the biggest drawbacks of Malayalam cinema was its small budget and the lack of technical consistency. But that turned out to be advantageous when it came to releasing films on OTT as most of the scripts written were simple, effective and experimental. The film industry went ahead and made films that respected the restrictions put forth due to the COVID lockdowns. 

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Source: Mediabrief

This is how the revenue for Malayalam films improved and it helped in controlling the losses faced by the industry due to the lack of theatres. Filmmakers started coming from all sections of Kerala society with stories to tell and it was encouraging to see OTT platforms also extending their resources to encourage the new talents. NeeStream and Saina Play were a few notable independent streaming platforms that gained popularity for streaming independent Malayalam films during that time. Amazon Prime Video and Sony Liv on the other hand had invested heavily in the South Indian industries for their content, which led to their systematic growth.

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