All those who keenly follow Malayalam cinema will vouch for the furious pace of filmmaking here. A new film is announced almost every alternate day by veterans or debutants, with stars or newcomers in the lead. But the sheer number of films that make its way to the box office cannot be taken as a barometer of success. Some films made at a huge cost with superstars in the lead take a beating, while some others made by debutants strike a chord with the audience. One thing is clear — the advent of new blood has brought with it new ideas and themes, not only script-wise but also technicality wise. Slowly, the focus has shifted from the stars to the director because a good narrative has often tipped the balance as far as ticket sales is concerned.
A film like Angamaly Diaries, with a huge line-up of newcomers, struck gold and veteran director Lijo Jose Pellissery was hailed for his brave attempt at casting talented newcomers. It seems more veteran directors are now in the mood to experiment with their lead pairs and ‘freshness’ seems to be the latest byword. The recently released Kalyanam is directed by Rajesh Nair, who had earlier worked with actors like Indrajith and Rima Kallingal. Sugeeth, who has worked with actors like Asif Ali, Kunchacko Boban and Unni Mukundan, has started the shooting of his film Kinavalli. What is common to both Kinavalli and Kalyanam is the cast of newcomers in the lead. While Kalyanam has Mukesh’s son Shravan and Varsha playing lovers, Kinavalli has a group of six youngsters in the lead.
Sugeeth informs that not only are the leads newcomers but that the technical team too are all newcomers. “Newcomers should also be encouraged, right?” He asks, before continuing, “A film is not only about the profits that can be made. It is also about giving opportunities to newcomers when everything falls into place, which happened in my case. The story of Kinavalli took shape when a large group of us were sitting together and swapping tales. And this story called for fresh faces, which too fell into place.” The story has as its base romance, friendship, and a little bit of horror made in a fantasy vein. The biggest advantage that Sugeeth personally feels is the appeal of new faces and the most important aspect, “There is freedom to mould the actors according to what I want delivered on screen and another fact is that the newcomers are hassle free. If I want them to be present at 5 am or 10 pm on the sets— they will be there way ahead of time.”
The demand of the subject and the inherent curiosity to new faces helped Rajesh Nair in deciding to cast Shravan and Varsha in Kalyanam. The present climate of the audience being benevolent to newcomer as leads has helped in his casting choice and he quips, “Strike when the iron is hot!” He reasons, “If I cast a superstar or a star, then there is an audience expectation that I have to fulfill. But when I cast newcomers right from the start to the climax, I can decide the amount of screen space I need to give them!” But he philosophises, “The business of cinema is always a risk; be it superstars or newcomers, one can never predict the final outcome of a film!”
For Rajesh Nair, casting star couple Mukesh and Saritha’s son made things easier as far as the hype around the film went. “Yes, casting Shravan eased things.” He too agrees that there is a certain flexibility when working with newcomers who are open to suggestions. “There is an output I require and I can be at it till I get what I desire” he says. While the advantages are the freshness and the ability to be molded, the disadvantages loom larger than the positives. Getting distributors, theatres and satellite rights for a film with newcomers in the lead is a herculean task and a reality that cannot be ignored.
Film critic C.S. Venkiteswaran opines, “Television has emerged as a major game changer in Mollywood. The whole revenue model is dependent on television rights. TRP ratings are important and hence the star value. That the established directors are breaking out of confines by casting newcomers is a welcome change.” He also mentions, “Malayalam cinema is going through a transition phase right now — the era of superstars is slowly waning and the next generation is taking over! Star children, of course, have the advantage of getting a headstart, but ultimately it is the talent that counts.” He adds that for the approximate 150 Malayalam films coming out every year, very few make it to the theatres and a lesser number generate profits. Rajesh Nair too agrees that when a director casts newcomers, the major challenges he faces are getting theatres, distributors and satellite rights. But that has not stopped some daring directors from forging ahead.