When Amazon Prime Video announced the release of seven Indian films in its platform, it marked a new phase in the Malayalam industry as well. Sufiyum Sujathayum becomes the first Malayalam movie to bypass a theatre release for a digital platform.
Directed by editor-turned-filmmaker Naranipuzha Shanavas, the film has been produced by actor Vijay Babu and stars Jayasurya and Aditi Rao Hydari in the lead. “A musical love story”, it revolves around a couple, Sujatha (Aditi) and Rajeev (Jayasurya), who come down from Dubai to attend the last rites of Sujatha’s former lover, a Sufi priest. The events that follow make the narrative.
Aditi had made her début as an actor with the Malayalam movie, Prajapathi, opposite Mammootty and this is only her second work Mollywood.
Defending his decision of going for an OTT release, Vijay says: “Survival is important now. We producers invest our hard-earned money. But now, we don’t know when and how a film is going to reach theatres. Even after cinemas open, we will be in the queue since so many films are awaiting release.”
Dawn of a new era
He admits that streaming platforms are not viable for big-budget films, however, those made on a medium budget, like Sufiyum Sujathayum, can take up that option. “We also don’t know about the protocol that will be in place once theatres are opened. Social distancing and hygiene will be a priority and I am assuming that in such a situation, the big movies might be given a longer run to recover their production cost. In that case, small films may have to wait again for a release date,” says Vijay, who has produced box-office hits such as the Aadu series, Angamaly Diaries and June. The production house, which has launched 10 new directors, has distributed Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Jallikattu as well.
Vijay says that many members of the Kerala Film Producers’ Association were supportive of his decision. “And I am sure that many would follow suit,” he adds.
Director Shanavas says though he is disappointed about not being able to take his product to the cinemas, he would look at the positive side. “This is a time when viewers are waiting for new releases and OTT seems to be the best option available now. Sufiyum Sujathayum deserved a big-screen experience and I don’t know how much of that will reach viewers when they watch it on their mobile phones or laptops or other gadgets. However, I am sure that the film will connect with the audience,” he says. He had made critically-acclaimed Karie (2015) that explored grim realities of caste system in Kerala.
While M Jayachandran is the composer, Anu Moothedathu (Athiran) is the cinematographer and Deepu Joseph (Jallikkattu) the editor. The film is expected to release next month on the platform.
Among the Mollywood movies queued up for release are Mohanlal’s Marakkar — Arabikadalinte Simham, Mammootty’s One, Kunchacko Boban’s Mohan Kumar Fans and Indrajith’s Oru Halaal Love Story.
The new normal
Reflecting on the scenario, Jis Joy, director of Mohan Kumar Fans, observes that although he would love to show his movie on the big screen, he would not object if his producer decides to release it on a streaming platform.
“If a producer has financial security, he can definitely wait for the theatres to open. But most of the producers can’t afford to do that. For them, streaming platforms is emerging as an alternative. The release of Sufiyum Sujathayum on Amazon Prime is nothing short of a revolution in Malayalam cinema. And the day when a big-budget flick is released on a digital platform, that is going to set a trend,” he points out. In this unprecedented situation, Jis says revenue from OTT platforms and satellite rights can be a huge relief for those films made on tight budget.
Meanwhile, Kappela, starring Anna Ben, Roshan Mathew and Sreenath Bhasi, which was taken from theatres after five days of its release due to COVID-19 lockdown, will stream on Netflix soon. Muhammed Musthafa, director of the movie says, “Although we looked forward for a re-release it seems difficult now. That’s why we went with a streaming platform.”