How Mohanlal’s Marakkar Is Connected to Drishyam 2’s OTT Release
The economics of Mohanlal’s Marakkar and Drishyam 2’s direct-to-OTT release.
Now that the rave reviews for Drishyam 2 are out, there are several Malayalam cinema fans who are crying over the missed opportunity of not getting to watch the film on the big screen. This much anticipated sequel to the 2013 blockbuster would indeed have been a theatrical experience for film lovers in and outside Kerala. Moreover, all the love that the film is getting online would have translated into ticket sales if it had released in theatres.
Film trade experts estimate that the thriller starring Mohanlal could easily have grossed over Rs 100 crore and perhaps even reached Rs 200 crore at the box-office. So, why did the producers of Drishyam 2 let go of the opportunity to cash in on what clearly would have been a commercial super success? Also, why has the Kerala Film Chamber decided not to release the Jeethu Joseph film in theatres in Kerala after it plays out on Amazon Prime Video? Would it not have benefitted exhibitors who are struggling to get back on their feet post the pandemic lockdown?
Speaking to The Quint earlier this month, actor Mohanlal had hinted that they were initially hoping to release the film in theatres, but since the reopening of theatres in Kerala kept getting delayed, things did not go according to plan. Also, Mohanlal’s own Ashirvad Cinemas which produced Drishyam 2, has heavily invested in the period drama Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham, this was a factor which seems to have played an important part in deciding to sell off the rights of Drishyam 2 to an OTT player.
“We made a film called Kunjali Marakkar, it was supposed to release in March. We are holding that big film with us. We want to release that when theatres start opening, and it should be a worldwide release. We also thought that Drishyam 2 was the right film to bring people back to theatres, but if we come out with a small film, we don’t know how people will react because of this COVID-19, so we thought we’ll release Kunjali Marakkar later and we’ll release Drishyam 2 first, but again the entire thing got capsized, again theatres were not opening, on the last day, when we committed with the OTT, the next day the theatres started opening,” explained the Mohanlal.
Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham starring Mohanlal, Manju Warrier, Keerthy Suresh and others is reportedly a Rs 100 crore film. The period action drama directed by Priyadarshan was scheduled to release in theatres on 26 March 2020, however the pandemic and resultant lockdown stalled its release. With interests mounting on such a big production, the producers might have found it easier to access funds by selling the rights of Drishyam 2 to Amazon Prime Video. As producer Jack Manju tells us, when producers sell rights directly to an OTT platform, they make a clean profit without taking the trouble of releasing the film in theatres. Also, the money comes in before the film drops on the OTT platform, whereas in the case of releasing the film in theatres - the producer’s share takes months to come in.
Drishyam 2 was planned as a Christmas 2020 release, however, since theatres remained closed in Kerala, the makers had started negotiations with OTT players for a direct online release.
During a recent ‘Ask Me Anything’ chat session on Twitter, when a fan asked if there were any chances for Drishyam 2 to be released in theatres after its OTT release, Mohanlal said that it was “possible”.
However, it now clearly looks impossible.
The Kerala Film Chamber has announced that films which have been sold directly to OTT platforms without a theatrical release would not be allowed to play in Kerala’s cinemas. Several Malayalam films that have released on online platforms during the lockdown such as Sufiyum Sujatayum (Amazon Prime Video), Maniyarayile Ashokan (Netflix) and C U Soon (Amazon Prime Video) will now not get a chance to play in theatres - the same rule applies to Drishyam 2 as well. According to members of the Chamber, this is a decision that has been taken keeping in mind the long term interests of the film industry.
Kaimal Nanda Kumar an exhibitor from Kerala, who is also a member of the Kerala Film Chamber said that the rule to bar direct-to-OTT films from releasing in theatres should not be seen as targeting any single actor or film. “It’s not a decision taken by one particular set of people in the industry, a Chamber has producers, distributors, and exhibitors they are all part of the body that has taken the decision. Since, the Chamber is the apex body as far as the film industry in Kerala is concerned, it is only fair that the decision taken by the Chamber should be followed by everyone who is part of the industry,” said Nanda Kumar to The Quint.
On being asked about the loss that exhibitors would face for not releasing Drishyam 2 in cinemas, Nanda Kumar said that rules need to apply for every film without any exception, “As far as an industry is concerned we are not looking at the short term, it is always the long term. I hope Drishyam 2 which releases on OTT today does well and I join everybody else in wishing all success to the producer Mr Antony and Mr Mohanlal also.”
He also went on to confirm that the delay in the release of Marakkar would have been crucial to the producer’s decision. “The producer of Drishyam 2 is also the producer of Marakkar, which is a very big film and they have waited for more than a year now. It was supposed to release in March of 2020 and they are stilling waiting with that film. That film is still being held by them for theatrical release, which according to what the producer has said entails an investment of more than Rs 80 crore. At the end of the day, it’s all economics.” Nanda Kumar also stressed that the producer may have been offered big amounts for the OTT rights of Marakkar too, but he has remained committed to release it in theatres.
It’s difficult to say if the decision to release Drishyam 2 directly on OTT was a bad call. Kerala would have been the main market for the film and cinemas are still running only at 50% occupancy in the state. Moreover, cinema halls and multiplexes have been permitted to operate only from 9am to 9pm, which means that the most popular slot - the night show, is still off limits. Keeping in mind these restrictions, would families venture out to watch the Mohanlal film at a time when COVID-19 cases are at a high in Kerala compared to other southern states?
With an eye on the mounting costs of Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham and the unpredictability around the audience’s response to a theatrical release during the pandemic, the producers might have felt it wiser to collect a premium on the rights of Drishyam 2 by premiering it on Amazon Prime Video. There’s also the added advantage of getting a worldwide audience via OTTs. As Mohanlal said, “We are happy that people all over the world can watch Drishyam 2, otherwise we cannot release it in the Middle East, Europe or United States - we have big markets there, so we thought through this the whole world can watch Drishyam.” Hopefully, they’ll also be able to make the exhibitors happy by delivering a bigger success with Marakkar at the box-office soon.
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