From 'Oru Adaar Love' to 'Aami': When controversy and hype became marketing tools for Malayalam films

With half-a-dozen controversial movies having hit the screens in the past few years, is Mollywood riding the ‘hype’rloop to fame? Express examines.

Published: 18th February 2018 01:12 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th February 2018 05:56 AM   |  A+A-

Priya Prakash Varrier's winking clip from 'Oru Adaar Love'.

Express News Service

All it took was a wink for a song in the yet-to-be-released ‘Oru Adaar Love’ to go viral, sparking a controversy in the process. The hullabaloo only resulted in more mileage for the film. Marketing strategies in Malayalam cinema are undergoing a paradigm shift with directors adopting new age techniques.

With half-a-dozen controversial movies having hit the screens in the past few years, is Mollywood riding the ‘hype’rloop to fame? Express examines

KOCHI: It is not the marquee stars, the item numbers or even a fatty marketing budget that decides the fate of a film at the box office in Kerala, among the more progressive states in the country. The tech-savvy independent directors of Mollywood are now trying to reinvent the traditional marketing of films adopting ‘new age strategies’, if the latest trends in the industry are any indication.  Going by recent controversies, the ‘Oru Adaar Love’ row seems to have turned bigger than the actual film itself.

In the past, film crews were reluctant to go after the marketing secrets of some of the most acclaimed practices in the Indian film industry - resorting to controversy than conviction. As many as half-a-dozen controversy-ridden Malayalam films hit the screen in the past few years, setting a bad precedence. It is yet to be ascertained if all the hype and hoopla created ahead of the release have really worked in favour of the movies commercially.

According to Seetha Lakshmi, CEO, Puppet Media, filmmakers in Kerala have started using online platforms to promote their work. “Some promotional tricks employed by the marketeers at times court controversies, even when such movies supposedly did not contain any controversial content as expected,” she said.There were also instances when the promotional campaigns backfired.

For instance, the movie Aami - a biopic on writer Kamala Das - had created much hype with the director deciding to cast Bollywood star Vidya Balan in the lead. However, it ignited a controversy when she backed out and subsequently Manju Warrier was roped in. There is criticism her casting affected the performance of the movie at the box office to some extent, as a good number of the pre-determined movie-goers were reluctant to accept her in the role of Kamala Das, even though they are unanimous in hailing her acting talent.

Film critic C S Venkiteswaran said creating a hype about a particular movie to market is not a new phenomenon. “Now, all such hype and hoopla are getting undue media attention with the emergence of social media and some clever people use them as an effective tool to market their stuff. Besides, the new generation movie makers are intelligent enough to cash in on the controversy. They won’t waste time taking advantage of such issues if they get an opportunity, as the performance of the film in the box office during the initial days is enough to judge its course,” he said.  Even in the ‘90s and ‘80s, filmmakers used to adopt socially relevant issues and incidents to make films as they provided enough publicity even before the making of the movie.

Amit Bandre

“But they had the time to get the money back, even in case of any adverse publicity or campaign, as the movie would run through A, B and C class theatres for at least a year. Now, a week is enough to determine the movie’s fate and the filmmaker will do everything possible to get the money back in the initial days,” Venkiteswaran said.Favour Francis, an ad-film maker with over 20 years of experience, said, “Though Mollywood uses certain controversies as a means to attract the crowd and rake in the moolah in the initial days, the Malayalam film industry is still lagging behind in terms of adopting well-devised PR strategies and holding market research to determine where and when to market it. 

Only a few tech-savvy, independent film makers build up a large social media presence and promote their own films through various means.” When the Tamil film industry or Bollywood sets aside up to 30 per cent of their total cost for PR campaigns, including social media, Mollywood was reluctant to earmark separate funds for publicity. Now, filmmakers have started to earmark a separate amount for social media campaigns, but it is in its nascent stage as the amount is often very less compared to the total cost of production. 

“We used to feed small bites and interesting notes from the locations on social media platforms with a view of catapulting the project into the spotlight and generating a buzz with the fans during the production period. While some of them will create a heated debate, some will provide stuff for trollers. But at times, it will lead to big controversies,” said the representative of a leading PR agency. 

Though sensitive controversies must be handled with utmost care and empathy, there are instances where films used sensational topics, debates and controversies to create ripples at the box office. 

Oru Adaar Love, Aami, Ennu Ninte Moideen, Kalimannu, Left Right Left,  Kathakali, Sexy Durga and Kasaba  are some of the films that courted controversy in recent times. The list, however, of such movies in Bollywood and Kollywood is endless.

Running into ‘reel’ trouble

Oru Adaar Love:  ‘Manikya Malaraya Poovi’, a popular traditional song of the Muslim community that was used in the film, became an overnight sensation with actress Priya Varrier taking the internet by storm. But a fatwa was issued against the film for showing objectionable content in the backdrop of the song. Though director Omar Lulu initially said he will remove the song from the film, he later told reporters the song will remain 

Aami: It was in the news for various reasons. People were outraged against director Kamal, alleging he was twisting reality to show Madhavikutty’s life. Vidya Balan backing out and Malayalam actor Manju Warrier being roped in sparked further controversy. A petition was filed against the film before its release, accusing it of glorifying ‘Love Jihad’, though the court dismissed the case. Even after the release, it hogged the headlines when the producer and director came under the scanner for removing negative reviews from social media. 

Ennu Ninte Moideen: Kanchanamala, whose love story was the inspiration for the movie, alleged the film fabricated reality and showed her family in a wrong way. The director dismissed the allegations, saying Kanchanamala was not in favour of them from the beginning.

Kasaba: The film was under the scanner when people came out stating it glorified misogyny. Actor Mammootty was served with a notice by the Kerala Women’s Commission for the ‘objectionable’ dialogue in the film. Later, actress Parvathy’s comments on the film glorifying misogyny became a bigger controversy when she came under cyber attack.

Sexy Durga: It faced legal trouble for screening due to its controversial name. The title had to be changed to S Durga after right-wing activists protested against using the word ‘Sexy’ with the name of a goddess. 

Kathakali: It ran into trouble as the Censor Board denied certification after one of the scenes in the climax featured a kathakali artist walking naked.

Vedivazhipadu: It did not get the clearance from the Censor Board initially as they feared it would hurt religious sentiments because it was shot against the backdrop of the Attukal Pongala in Thiruvananthapuram. 

Idukki Gold: This Aashiq Abu flick created a flutter after a promotional poster sported an illustration depicting Lord Shiva and Che Guevara smoking pot went viral on social media.


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