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Box office hits signal revival of film industry in Kerala

Vipin V. Nair

Kochi , Dec. 3

AFTER a couple of years of slump, the Malayalam film industry is showing signs of a revival with a series of box office hits setting the film world buzzing with activity.

The number of films released in 2004 may be fewer than last year's 76, but the industry, which grappled with factionalism, taxation issues and box office fiascos not so long ago, seems to be back in track now.

"There is a revival," said Mr Siyad Kokker, President of the Kerala Film Chamber. He says that many recent releases such as `Kazhcha' (Sight), `Natturajavu' (Chieftain), `Black', `Vellinakashtram' and `Mampazhakkalam' (The Mango Season) were successful.

By the last week of November, 51 films were released. The Film Chamber had earlier expected only 25-30 films to hit the screens during the year.

Industry observers say that this buoyancy has given rise to a flurry of activity in the industry. A number of films are being made and `all the artists and technicians are now busy with projects.'

Producers and actors were at daggers drawn with each other a few months back over issues such as the latter's fee and appearing in stage programmes. This acrimony put the film industry in a crisis before a compromise was hammered out.

The industry also went into an indefinite strike in June to demand a cut in the entertainment taxes levied by the State. The government later announced a relief package for the industry and drastically reduced the tax.

As per the new rates, Malayalam films have a 25 per cent entertainment tax in city corporation areas, 20 per cent in municipal areas and 15 per cent in panchayats as compared with the previous rate of 48 per cent.

For other language films, the rates are 35, 30 and 20 per cent respectively.

Mr Kokker said that in spite of the revival signs, some concerns still persist. "The cost of production is still a problem," he said. Though the Chamber had stipulated to its members that costs of films should be restricted to Rs 1 to 1.5 crore, that budget is still to be achieved.

"Costs often shoot up to Rs 2 to 2.25 crore," Mr Kokker said. This escalation happens because Malayalam films have to compete with big budget Tamil and Hindi films, he added.

A handful of low-budget experiments with new faces were successful last year and set a trend. But this year many of such films flopped. "The audience did not react to such films," he said.

A noteworthy trend in 2004 is that the superstars of Malayalam cinema, Mammootty and Mohan Lal, made a strong comeback after suffering a series of flops in the past.

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