As Kerala begins the long and arduous process of rebuilding after the floods, the Malayalam film industry too is slowly trying to get back to business. The worst is perhaps over, but the immediate future doesn’t look promising either.

The floods have upended the release schedule for the rest of the year, starting with the films that were planning to hit theatres around Onam in mid-August. At least six films – Kayamkulam Kochunni, Theevandi, Kuttanadan Blog, Ranam, Padayottam and Varathan – all of which were banking on the profitable festival season, have had to be rescheduled. This means a cascading effect on subsequent releases.

On August 23, producers, distributors and theatre owners met members of the Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce to draw up a new release schedule. The first two films that will be out in September are Nirmal Sahadev’s Prithviraj-starrer Ranam and Fellini TP’s Theevandi. The rest of the schedule is as follows:

  • September 14 : Oru Kuttanadan Blog and Padayottam
  • September 20: Mangalyam Thanthunanena and Varathan
  • September 28: Chalakkudikkaran Changathi
  • October 5: Johny Johny Yes Appa
  • October 14 : Kayamkulam Kochunni
  • November 16: Oru Adaar Love (tentative)

Scheduling is a relatively minor problem compared to a larger one: will audiences be able, or even willing, to watch films over the next few months? “Places like Aluva and Chalakkudi are totally gone and economically people are in a really bad shape,” filmmaker Sajan K Mathew told “Films are entertainment, not priority. It will take at least three to four months for people to get their lives back in order. Meanwhile, filmmakers can only release their films and see what happens.”

The impact will be felt more in smaller centres than in the big cities, said Ousepachan Vaalakuzhy, the producer of Oru Adaar Love. “Just this week, when some theatres began screening films again, I went to watch a show in the afternoon in Ernakulam and saw that there was a huge crowd at the theatre,” he said. “But this may be the case only in cities. There are about 140-160 centres in Kerala. My estimate is that only 70 centres will find audiences. It will take at least a month for the rest of the centres.”

At the same time, producers cannot afford further delays in releasing their films, since this would mean more losses. “Onam releases are always a big time for film producers, but not this time,” said Bhadusha, a production controller. “I can roughly peg the losses this time to Rs 400 crores. What could have been a good film season is gone, and that’s going to have an impact on the entire industry.”

Even Christmas isn’t as good a season as Onam, Sajan Mathew added. “Many filmmakers are now very sceptical about their returns,” he said. “In Kerala, every penny counts.”

Among those who lost money are the producers of Kayamkulam Kochunni. “I don’t think a month-long delay will be a problem for us, especially when the entire state is suffering like this,” said VC Praveen, the film’s producer. “But yes, we were perhaps the worst hit among the Onam releases. What we lost is the money we spent on publicity, on hoardings and full-page advertisements before the floods hit us.”

Locations under water

The film industry is an important source of employment for scores of workers and technicians, and has little choice but to get back on its feet as fast as possible. Already, the floods have stalled the shooting of several films, which means that daily wagers have been out of work.

“It is almost one month of no work, and god knows what kind of destruction and loss each one has suffered with respect to their families and their personal properties,” film publicist AS Dinesh said. “Only this week have we seen film crews slowly attempting to resume shooting. And that’s necessary to get the ball rolling and helping every constituent of this industry back up on its feet so that those employed can at least eat again.”

Another problem awaits film units as they resume work. “Iconic shooting locations in Ernakulam, Thrissur, Alleppey – we cannot go to those places for some time now,” Bhadusha said. “We were about to start shooting for a film at Kuttanad in Alappuzha, but given the damage there, we’ve had to postpone it by a year.”

Another director, Leo Thaddeus, has pushed his production by a month because of the extent of destruction at Maale in Thrissur, where his film was supposed to have been shot. Ousepachan too found that in Thrissur, the building that his team had hired to convert into a canteen for his upcoming college-set film was destroyed in the floods.

“We’ve either shifted units outside the state to locations in Karnataka or postponed the shoot itself,” Bhadusha said. “For at least six months, several common shooting spots of Kerala will remain out of reach for the industry. A location like Kuttanad, which is often used by film units, won’t be available even after six months, I feel.”

Some theatres in the state too have been damaged in the floods, revealed MC Boby, secretary of Theatre Owners Association. “Water has entered around 20 theatres in the state damaging speakers, air conditioners, projectors and other such equipment,” Boby said. “At least five theatres were completely submerged in the floods and are now lost forever. It will take time to both gauge the loss and rebuild what we have lost.”