Six Malayalam films that did well in 2018 despite minimal hype
Six films, six filmmakers, one thing in common: simple, low-profile, and honest marketing
Too much promotion, too little promotion, and somewhere in between. This year, Malayalam cinema has seen all three. Some filmmakers preferred a simple marketing strategy, giving audiences a small, honest glimpse of what/how the film is going to be, while others employed relentlessly flamboyant marketing ploys which terribly backfired when audiences didn’t get what was promised.
A few filmmakers complained about their producers’ lackadaisical attitude — they expected word-of-mouth to take care of the rest instead of actively promoting the film after release — while some others noticed the lack of support from leading celebrities in the industry.
2018 was the year of small films which won over audiences in spite of minimal hype. But hype or no hype, at the end of the day, everything boiled down to content. Malayali audiences no longer fall for exaggerated claims. And newbie filmmakers realised that they no longer need superstars to sell their films. The success of the following titles bears testament to these facts.
Sudani from Nigeria
The biggest hit of the year, Sudani from Nigeria ran for more than 100 days in theatres. Director Zakariya and team opted for a simple promotional strategy, relying mostly on social media in addition to the usual outdoor ads. “This being a minimal big-budget film, there were limitations when it came to the marketing budget. We couldn’t afford to do marketing for marketing’s sake,” says Zakariya.
The strong word-of-mouth post-release — through social media posts by regular moviegoers and celebrities — helped the film to a great extent. Strong support also came via friends and supporters of the film’s producers, Sameer Thahir and Shyju Khalid, and those from the industry who had seen the script earlier.
“When someone feels positive about a film, they should spread the word. This would help small films get the necessary exposure. We already have the trend of leading actors sharing the teasers and posters of their colleagues’ films, and it would be great if that kind of support were extended to films post-release,” adds Zakariya, who is of the opinion that every director and producer must have a thorough knowledge about when, where and how to market a film instead of letting distributors dictate decisions all the time.
Tovino Thomas’ Maradona, which had the misfortune of releasing before the floods, slowly managed to pick up later (during the Onam season) and do respectable business overall. Many felt the film would’ve performed much better with more promotions.
“We didn’t promise anything extraordinary in the promos,” says director Vishnu Narayan, who believes in putting quality content above everything else. He is against the idea of treating a film as a product. “I was initially skeptical about the film doing well because at the time of Tovino signing the film, he was not a big star yet. But still, Maradona remained in theatres for 65 days, which for us is a big deal.”
Amal Neerad’s Varathan, which completed 100 days recently, is one of the year’s top hits. Given the film’s genre, the makers kicked off minor promotions only a month before the release. An initial teaser, which piqued viewers’ curiosity, was followed a while later by two songs. “We had no proper ‘marketing strategy’, to tell you the truth. Our aim was to simply release the film. Naturally, we had to do some basic promotion, like posters and what not,” says Amal.
Varathan’s distribution was handled by Amal himself, through his distribution house A&A, which he runs jointly with Ustad Hotel-director Anwar Rasheed. The company had previously backed films like Parava, Bangalore Days, Premam, and Iyobinte Pusthakam. “We did what we always used to do. Nothing more, nothing less. You see, we are ignorant about all this ‘100 crore’ marketing. So far, we have only heard about ‘100 crore’ or ‘1000 crore’, but has anyone actually seen it?” he laughs.
One of the biggest surprises of this year was Mridul Nair’s B.Tech, which ran for more than 60 days. The film, which upon initial glance seemed like a typical campus entertainer, successfully established an emotional connect with audiences by exploring some ‘picked from the headlines’ issues in its second half.
“It was in the Malabar areas that the film drew the maximum crowd on opening day, and then started to pick up in other areas by day 3. Also, one factor that worked to our advantage was that we didn’t have any major competition to speak of, with the exception of Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Ee Ma Yau. But in spite of that, we still managed to do well,” says Mridul.
Marketing a dark film like Joseph was a real challenge, says the film’s writer Shahi Kabir. “First of all, there was no star value. We had to rely on word-of-mouth to do the trick. It was only after the first five days that the film began to pick up.”
The Joseph team had initially planned a preview show but then dropped it due to insufficient time. On the film’s promotional strategy, Shahi says, “We wanted the initial teaser to reflect the freshness of the narrative. It’s a simple investigation thriller devoid of any over-the-top, unrealistic elements and this is exactly what we wanted to convey through the promos.”
As Joju George was playing a leading man for the first time, it was a much bigger challenge to bring the film to the attention of the B and C crowds who’d rather spend their money on superstar films. “The initial online reviews—from the multiplex crowd—and the subsequent word-of-mouth publicity take a minimum of two weeks to reach everywhere. By the time that happens, the film is on the verge of being pulled from theatres. When the Christmas releases arrived, some theatres terminated Joseph’s run just when it was beginning to pick up,” says Shahi.
Director Fellini TP, who helmed the biggest hit of Tovino Thomas’ career, Theevandi, tells us that low-profile marketing was what the team had in mind right from the beginning. “First, the Jeevamshamayi song clicked with everyone. But then the release date got pushed several times, and we decided to release the promo material intermittently with some breathing space in between. We released a teaser on Father’s Day, followed by another hit song just before release. It wouldn’t make sense to create insanely high expectations for a film so small and simple, and so we set aside only a minimal marketing budget for it,” explains Fellini.
Theevandi was the first Malayalam film to release after Kerala was relieved of the floods, and audiences were eager to go to the movies again. Everyone wanted to see a light-hearted film after a dark phase, and Theevandi turned out to be the perfect antidote. Naturally, this resulted in high occupancy. However, in the following weeks, other postponed films were released one after the other. This posed a serious challenge, says Fellini. “Though the word-of-mouth was strong, we had fresh promo material ready to help us stay relevant. But everything worked out well in the end.”