Saluting the Spirited Malayalee Film Audience

in 17th Kerala International Film Festival

by Subrahmanyan Viswanath

Audiences are a rare breed of their own: audacious, perspective, picky and tough customers to please.

However, audiences of the Kerala kind are a rarity in a league of their own. It’s not just merely to feast on films that they arrive in droves at the theatres. Nor are they merely satisfied with having been there, seen that. Chapter closed. No way. The Kerala audience knows their cinema like the back of the palm. For one who has visited several film festival hosting cities in India, audiences in Kerala are the rare exception you would only find in God’s Own Country.

Whether it is the cinephile, or the common man, the daily dose of entertainment revolves around visiting the various cinemas in the city.  Be it the student, the young and the old, the informed or the uninitiated, their curiosity and concerns go beyond questioning which film to see, how was this film etc., which is what one would usually be posed with in other cities.

But in Kerala, it goes from the man on the street, to the rickshawala who ferries the delegates from one theatre to the other, to the taxi driver who whizzes the visitors across the city’s hotels housing the delegates. Why, every ordinary citizen of the God’s Own Country? There’s not just to see and be satisfied, but much more beyond this.

The moment they accost you, the first question they lob at you is “Are you a film director?” Then the fusillades of posers follow: “Is your film in the competition? Are you a film graduate? Or a script writer? A story-writer?”

Their questions and interest go beyond just the routine screenings and they seek to know that the person they are watching the films with belongs to that rarified profession.
No wonder that Kerala has in its rich chequered history of milestone movies in its cinema, priding itself with the likes of Adoor Gopalakrishnan, G. Aravindan, John Abraham, K.G. George, Shaji Karun, among an ensemble of others who have ensured Malayalam Cinema, like Satyajit Ray’s Calcutta, carve a niche and reputation for itself on the global movie marquee.

It’s this spirit of quest and inquisitiveness in the Kerala audience that one needs to singularly salute for ensuring Malayalam Cinema’s aesthetic output did not succumb to the crass commercialism that also dot its film horizon.

Edited by Steven Yates