Thrill bill: Mollywood thrillers continue to be preferred genre for viewers

Filmmakers found their answer when the February release, Operation Java, a thriller, was declared the first hit of the year.

Published: 11th July 2021 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th July 2021 04:23 PM   |  A+A-

The poster of Operation Java

Express News Service

When theatres in Kerala reopened at the beginning of the year, filmmakers had no idea what to expect. All they knew was they had a giant challenge ahead of them: satisfying audiences who had spent the previous year swimming in an ocean of diverse content on over-the-top (OTT) platforms across all languages. Now, what kind of content would they gravitate towards? Would they prefer thrillers, or would they want something more lighthearted?

They found their answer when the February release, Operation Java, a thriller, was declared the first hit of the year. Besides it being a story about ordinary, relatable characters, the film without big stars carried a message of hope, despite its grim subject. Director Tharun Moorthy says, “There was humour, whistle-worthy mass moments, poignant pauses... everything. What worked to our film’s advantage was that it left viewers with a sense of hope. That is why people still ask me whether the characters will return for a sequel.”

stills from Irul; Kala

Malayalam cinema saw more success in the form of The Priest, a horror-thriller starring Mammootty and Manju Warrier. It showed that the success of Operation Java was no flash in the pan—that Malayali audiences craved well-made, atmospheric thrillers. The trend might have begun with Anjaam Pathira, the first Malayalam hit of 2020, but more thrillers have emerged this year. Some believe that the seed was planted much earlier, with the Tamil psychological thriller Raatsasan (2018) doing heavy business in Kerala.

Editor Shameer Muhammed, who co-produced the Fahadh Faasil-thriller Irul, agrees that the genre is really in business. “Malayalam films with local or verbal humour are harder to sell to the pan-Indian audience, unlike thrillers which are relatively more accessible across regions,” he notes.Rohith VS, whose third film Kala found a wider audience following its release on Amazon Prime, feels that such reception encourages Malayalam filmmakers to be experimental. “This means that we can no longer go back to doing films that only cater to family audiences in Kerala. We need to do films that appeal to audiences across regional boundaries.”

Given the uncertainty and the all-pervading gloom of the current scenario, would it be wise for filmmakers to continue pursuing darker subjects? “It’s best that filmmakers do anything they set their minds on. The key is to make something within a manageable budget with minimal crew and cast members, and reduce the possibility of producers incurring heavy losses,” remarks Rohith.


Nayattu writer Shahi Kabir agrees. “It has been felt by many that it is wise under the present circumstances to focus on films with a limited budget, sure, but I don’t think I would want to let the psychology of the present situation dictate my writing. I hope to do films that excite me as a writer, even if they are thrillers—even if someone advises me that it’s better to do lighter films. Of course, some decisions might get altered because of pandemic-induced constraints, but not necessarily the mood of the films we work on,” he says.

Ranjeet Kamala Sankar, who co-directed the techno-horror thriller Chathurmukham, sees things a bit differently. “It’s my prediction that the audiences, reeling from the pandemic, are likely to gravitate towards lighthearted content. I sensed this while watching Chathurmukham in the theatre. Though it’s an out-of-the-box, escapist horror adventure, the lighter moments in the film worked more than I anticipated. Perhaps audiences felt relieved after all the distress. It is why I’m considering doing something lighthearted next. Reality is depressing enough. Why burden them with more serious stuff?” he asks.  

Kumbalangi Nights editor Saiju Sreedharan, however, believes that thrillers are here to stay. “It’s a genre people will never get fed up with. If you look at certain movie platforms like Letterbox, there is the suggestion that thrillers are very much in vogue now. Be it movies or web series, thriller is the preferred genre right now,” he concludes.

What worked this season

  • Chathurmukham

  • Kala

  • The Priest

  • Operation Java


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