Trance releases worldwide a week after Kerala premiere; why Malayalam cinema should aim for simultaneous opening

Sreedhar Pillai

Feb 29, 2020 09:03:10 IST

Last week, one of the most eagerly awaited Malayalam films, Trance, which was over two year in the making, released only in Kerala. The Fahadh Faasil biggie, produced and directed by Anwar Rasheed, was said to be one of the costliest Malayalam films, at Rs 30 crore.

 Trance releases worldwide a week after Kerala premiere; why Malayalam cinema should aim for simultaneous opening

Fahadh Faasil in a still from Trance. Twitter

Anwar and Fahadh, the co-producers of the film, had kept the movie under wraps. Even the trailer of the film was released online 36 hours before the release. No interviews were given by the cast and crew.

Three days before the planned Trance release, the makers backed out of its overseas (a premiere show was planned in Dubai) and rest-of-India launch. The producers claimed they wanted to curtail piracy, which they feel emanates outside of Kerala, from theatres which they had no control over.

Initially, they had planned a rest-of-India and overseas release for two weeks after the Kerala premiere. The film took a bumper opening in Kerala, grossing approximately Rs 3.30 crore on day one, Faasil’s best ever opening. However, the film got mixed reviews, and by the weekend, it collapsed at the Kerala box office. Now, the makers of Trance have announced a 28 February release for outside of Kerala. But clearly, the buzz is missing with national multiplexes not showcasing the film or giving it lesser shows.

Is Malayalam cinema losing out by not going for a simultaneous worldwide release? In a move to curtail piracy, some of the Malayalam film producers have decided to delay their outside Kerala release by a week or two. The feeling is there is rampant piracy outside Kerala (especially the dreaded Tamilrockers), which will affect the opening weekend back home. Recently, the Malayalam blockbuster of the year, Boban Kunchacko’s thriller Anjaam Pathiraa hit the rest-of-India screens two weeks after the Kerala premiere. The film is a huge hit, and is still running in Chennai and Bengaluru, five weeks after its release. Similarly Prithviraj’s Ayyappanum Koshiyum and Dulquer Salmaan-starrer Varane Avashyamund had delayed their release outside Kerala release, and both were hits.

One of Malayalam producers, who did not want to go on record, says, “I personally feel the delayed release outside Kerala helps the film to do better in our home state, especially during the opening weekend. Take the case of Anjaam Pathiraa: the producer, who is a friend of mine, took a bold decision not to release the film simultaneously. Two weeks later, the moment it released outside Kerala, the film was up on torrent sites, and pirated copies started circulating in Kerala.”

Leading producer and distributor Alex George of Central Pictures says, “In the good old days, there was no simultaneous release of Malayalam films outside Kerala, and piracy was not an issue as we had control over our analogue prints but once it became digital and with wider release, it became tough. Even today, a proven hit in Kerala with a delayed rest of India release works to producers’ advantage, as proved by recent hits.”

The veterans in the industry say content is king, and will work outside of Kerala even if it has a delayed release. They point out path-breaking Malayalam blockbusters like Premam, Bangalore Days, Drishyam, and Angamaly Diaries had a delayed release outside of Kerala.

Mukesh Mehta, top producer, says, “There are two sides to it: a feeling among a section of the producers is that piracy will happen if released simultaneously and better to hold on for a week or two. And if a film is a hit in Kerala, it will be replicated outside the state even with a delayed release. At the same time, you can’t stop technology when Malayalam films are available on streaming platforms in 30 days of its release in Kerala. And same-day-same-time worldwide release will mean extra revenue stream.”

Manikandan, a small time distributor of Malayalam films in the outside-Kerala market, says, “Like Tamil and Telugu industries, Malayalam producers should fight piracy, and go ahead with simultaneous release. Today, the outside-Kerala audiences are well-versed about Malayalam cinema, and thanks to subtitles, they (Malayalam films) have been lapped up by even non-Malayalam speaking audiences. So it makes sense for a simultaneous release.”

The other factor pointed out by those favouring same-day-same-time release is even Hollywood is scrutinising the magnitude of piracy in Southeast Asian countries by advancing their India release ahead of the North America opening. The latest example is the James Bond flick, No Time To Die, releasing in India first on 2 April, while in the US, it will premiere on 8 April.

Only 5 to 10 percent of Malayalam films released are successful every year. Take Trance for example, which has released outside Kerala this Friday after its release in the state. It would have taken a bigger opening had it been a simultaneous release. But now, owing to negative word-of-mouth from Kerala, the advance booking is not encouraging, and the revenue potential has come down by 50 percent. Actually, Tovino Thomas-starrer Forensic, which released simultaneously with Kerala in the rest of India this Friday, has better advance booking.

In a fast-changing scenario, where online reviews appear immediately after the first-day-first-show in Kerala, Malayalam producers should act smart. There are many a small Malayalam films which do not get their due because of limited release in Kerala. Even piracy giants are only interested in star-driven movies. With the release window between theatrical and OTT platforms shrinking, only simultaneous release worldwide will help.

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Updated Date: Feb 29, 2020 09:03:10 IST