An overview of Malayalam film industry in 2023: Word-of-mouth helps Kerala BO have sleeper hits

From 'Kannur Squad' and 'Kaathal-The Core' to 'RDX' and 'Falimy', 2023 witnessed many less-hyped Malayalam movies become sleeper hits.

ByArjun Ramachandran

Published Dec 28, 2023 | 6:00 PMUpdatedDec 28, 2023 | 7:12 PM

Best Malayalam movies of 2023

In 2023, more than 200 Malayalam movies were released in theatres. Around 160 films hit the screens until July, and the success ratio was pretty low.

Almost 10-12 films were released during some weeks, thanks to the changes in OTT terms. The OTT platforms decided to premiere a movie only after its theatrical release.

The theatres were overfilled on Fridays. Since most of these were small-budget films, they failed to attract audiences to cinema halls. Hence, shows were cancelled in many centres.

Sadly, several small films did not even make it to the OTT space.

Meanwhile, Mohanlal’s Neru was released for Christmas. The movie evoked a positive response and is expected to have a good run in cinema halls.

Meera Jasmine and Narein’s Queen Elizabeth was also released on 29 December. At the same time, Salaar-The Cease Fire and Dunki also had their share in the Kerala Box office.

Related: ‘Neru’ is an emotional courtroom drama, backed by a powerful script

Sleeper hits of 2023

RDX entered the 100 crore club

‘RDX’ entered the ₹100 crore club. (Supplied)

2023  witnessed many less-hyped films becoming sleeper hits in Malayalam. Mammootty’s Kannur Squad, released on 28 September, opened to a warm response.

It saw no major promotional activities before its release. But Mammootty oozed confidence that people would watch the film if the content was good.

Similarly, his Kaathal-The Core became a phenomenal hit and gave new hope to the industry to make more films on bold subjects.

Kaathal-The Core and Basil Joseph’s Falimy were welcomed by both critics and audiences alike.

Kannur Squad, Romancham, 2018: Everyone is a Hero, and RDX entered the ₹100-crore club, though the makers did not promote the films.

The release date of Romancham was even changed twice. These movies came as a sigh of relief for theatre owners across Kerala and the Malayalam industry, which was reeling under the losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

RDX was a delightful victory; it beat King of Kotha and Ramachandra Boss & Co. Family audiences thronged theatres to watch RDX as word of mouth helped it.

Made with a budget of ₹20 crore, RDX grossed ₹65 crore in two weeks worldwide. In Kerala, the movie grossed around ₹40 crore. The Nahas Hidhayath’s directorial went down well with audiences and critics as it was a wholesome entertainer with stunning action sequences.

However, King of Kotha lost its audience after receiving a poor response on the opening day. The makers attributed it to the targeted hate campaign launched by some YouTube reviewers paid by industry insiders.

Dileep’s Bandra tanked at the box office amid huge promotions.

Related: EXCLUSIVE: The queer community in Kerala opens up about ‘Kaathal-The Core’

A sigh of relief for exhibitors

Valatty was an experimental movie

‘Valatty’ was an experimental movie. (Supplied)

When asked how this year has been so far, a Kochi-based exhibitor told South First: “It’s a tough question. It wasn’t good.”

But he confirmed that films like Kannur Squad, RDX, and Romancham helped them sustain.

“These films helped us cover the losses we incurred for the other movies,” he added.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no scope for average films. Either it’s a hit or a flop.

Pranaya Vilasam, Madanolsavam, Pachuvum Athbutha Vilakkum, Sulaikha Manzil, Neymar, 18 Plus, Madhura Manohara Moham, Voice of Sathyanathan, Garudan, Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam, and Phoenix have managed to fare well at the box office.

Meanwhile, an experimental movie titled Valatty (The Tale of Tails) managed to win the hearts of audiences.

Apart from these, the remastered version of Spadikam (1995) did a decent job at the box office. The success of this Mohanlal-starrer boosted the confidence of producers regarding the re-releases.

Content-driven films disappointed

The box office success was meant for films with a wow factor, high-octane fight scenes, and comedy. Content-driven films did not have a good time at the box office in 2023.

Films like Iratta, B 32 Muthal 44 Vare, Thuramukham, Kadina Kadoramee Andakadaham, O.Baby, Nila, Thankam, Ntikkakkakkoru Premondarnn, and Rekha did not work in cinema halls.

Funded by the Kerala State Film Development Corporation, B 32 Muthal 44 Vare and Nila were screened at various film festivals with the help of film societies.

Related: It’s high time Malayalam filmmakers thought beyond ‘hype’!

Review bombing

The Kerala High Court coined a new term — review bombing — after several petitions were filed about the attempts made by some reviewers to malign films.

Taking a tough stance on the film reviewing system, the Kerala High Court on 7 November observed that film reviewers who were not registered or accredited under any organisation were not following guidelines while publishing their content on digital platforms.

Earlier in October, the court considered the petition of Malayalam director Mubeen Rauf, who alleged that vloggers were uploading negative reviews without even watching movies, which was affecting their business.

Related: Kerala film bodies chalk out new guidelines to tackle review bombing

Non-Malayalam movies were successful

A poster of the film Jailer

A poster of the film ‘Jailer’. (Supplied)

Theatres in Kerala have had a good time in 2023, particularly in the second half.

The cinema halls witnessed a surge in footfall as non-Malayalam films fared well at the Kerala box office.

For instance, Vijay’s Leo (2023) has become the fourth non-Malayalam movie to collect ₹50 crore in the state and the fastest movie to enter the elite club.

Earlier, Baahubali 2 (2017), KGF 2 (2022), and Jailer (2023) collected ₹50 crore in Kerala.

Shah Rukh Khan’s Jawan also witnessed a good opening day in Kerala. The movie collected ₹3.45 crore on its first day.

Jawan now holds the record of becoming the biggest Bollywood grosser in Kerala by collecting ₹13.4 crore.
Shah Rukh Khan’s Pathaan grossed ₹13.1 crore.

Meanwhile, Animal became the first hit venture for Ranbir Kapoor in Kerala, and the gross collection stands at ₹4.75 crore.

Related: As ‘Leo’ and ‘Jailer’ enter the ₹50-crore club, non-Malayalam films strike a chord with Keralites