Pandemic could bring down 30-day release window for new films to 10, says director Mahesh Narayanan.
Far from the madding crowd and velvety darkness of a theatre, films are looking for new windows and greener pastures. Theatre was the only place where once it seemed kosher to bask in the cinematic experience, and the all-encompassing Covid-19 has changed it forever, arguably.
Faced with an unprecedented crisis, producers are eyeing the OTT (over-the-top) pie and players like Netflix and Amazon Prime are going for the kill. The news of Amazon Prime acquiring the rights of seven films (including a Malayalam film) for direct release, bypassing theatrical release, has sent shockwaves in the industry. There is a growing buzz that more films are being put on the block and Malik, starring Fahadh Faasil, the blue-eyed boy among OTT addicts especially outside Kerala, is a hot cake. For the trade, Malik is one of the most eagerly awaited films too.
Directed by Mahesh Narayanan, who made a stellar debut in Malayalam cinema with Take Off, Malik is Fahadh’s biggest budget film yet, and he has shed almost 20 kg to play his role in the film. In a chat, Mahesh talks about Malik and how film-makers have to rediscover themselves in what Kamal Haasan calls "the Godard moment" in the current era. Over to Mahesh Narayanan:
First things first. Buzz is that Malik is heading for a direct online release.
Naturally, there is a huge demand for Malik, but we are firm on a theatrical release for multiple reasons. First of all, I believe it is a film that has been conceived and made for the theatre-going audience. Of course, the wide canvas itself demands a theatre experience. Plus, even economically, it’s not feasible for us to explore such an idea. It’s also about the whole eco-system where multiple stakeholders are involved and we don’t want to bypass the system. I have had several discussions with my producer Anto Joseph too on this aspect.
How long can you all wait, particularly when there is uncertainty over theatrical release? You may have to mull other options if the pandemic lasts any longer.
Nobody knows how things will pan out at least in the next six months. Even if things swing back to normal, watching a film in a theatre will be different, with social distancing protocols in place. The concept of houseful shows itself will not exist. So obviously, producers need to explore different strategies and the 30-day OTT window could come down to even 10. For fans and youth, the first 10 days could be enough, and then it could switch to streaming platforms. In the long term, small or medium budget films can certainly consider OTT options, but that is a collective decision that needs to be taken.
Not for Malik?
As things stand, it does not work and we don’t intend to. To make Malik work at the box office, we need to have a wide and simultaneous release. For instance, the box-office collection of Take Off from the Gulf region was more than what we collected from Kerala itself. But now, with most expatriates coming back home, forget films, even life won’t be the same for people in GCC. So regardless of Malik’s merits as a film, it’s going to be hugely different from the pre-pandemic days.
So as an editor-director, how do you see the process of filmmaking in the post-pandemic era?
Unfortunately, Covid-19 came at a time when Malayalam cinema was on a roll, busy invading newer territories. From overseas collections to satellite rights to even dubbing rights, everything went up exponentially. A film like Marakkar, made on a 100-crore budget, happened because of the success of Pulimurugan and Lucifer. But then Coronavirus wreaked havoc. So at least for two years, we need to pause and think about small/medium-budget films. We need to write and shoot films within the confines of an apartment or locality sans the crowd – quite a contrast to how I shot Malik actually.
So a new wave of filmmaking is here – compelled though.
Yes. I recently had a talk with Kamal Haasan who said we must be ready for a "Godard moment" now. What he said was spot on, with filmmakers having to work with a bare minimum crew and equipment. What I hear from other industries is that some production companies have already requested authorities to shoot films with a 10-20 crew, with no crowd sequences and all of them moving into quarantine after the shoot. Again, there are other challenges like prosthetics, and stars may have to do their makeup, however minimal it could be. Many people have the work-from-home option, so why not for film-makers too? For that, you need to make compatible content first and then everything follows.
Going by the poster and the storyline, are there traces of Mani Ratnam-Kamal Haasan’s Nayakan in Malik?
Not at all. Malik is a story that unfolds in a different terrain in a span of 14 days and even the narrative is totally different. If at all I have drawn inspiration, it’s from the old I V Sasi - T Damodaran films (like Eenadu).
Malayalam cinema has got unprecedented hype these days – justified or not – and we hear there is a growing demand for Malayalam directors to make web series. What is your take?
The popularity of some of the originals even in a state like Kerala is incredible and I see even people aged 40+ talking about Don’t Fuck with Cats and all. Money Heist is unbelievably popular. Many of us here are in talks (for web series), but again it’s not feasible for us to take the plunge. It may not be economically viable for many of our stars to be part of such series, like say in Hindi. There could be a collaborative series that is shot by multiple directors in different languages. It’s too early to comment on those developments.
Finally, what's the update on Malik?
We have just resumed dubbing and some VFX work – to be done in Mumbai and Hyderabad – is pending. We will wrap everything up the moment lockdown is withdrawn. For the release, let us wait till December or beyond.