Malayalam cinema – fondly known as Mollywood is similar to Bollywood and Tollywood in many ways. Many beliefs and superstitions are associated with its film makers and actors as well. Changing name to get luck, wearing a particular dress code or dress for shooting or choosing certain locations are the most common superstitious beliefs associated with Bollywood cinema. For everything ‘Muharat’ and ‘Pooja ceremony’ are also needed. These beliefs may be true or false, but film producers are not at all willing to take risk as a lot of money is involved in a project. Is it the insecurity feeling that prompts them to believe in strange things? It is applicable not only to film field but also to all sectors including business and sports. A few such thoughts look funny, interesting and mysterious too. Let us go to the fourth biggest film industry of India – Mollywood and know what interesting superstitious beliefs are associated with film field of Kerala. In most cases, I have avoided the people’s names of the events.

‘Ordinary’ was not an ordinary movie

This story has happened in the commercial film capital of Kerala – Kochi. Kochi is regarded as ‘Madras/Madirasi’ of Malayalam and whole Mollywood is concentrated here.

A young director along with its script writers were waiting at the reception of a hotel. Their minds were filled with dreams. It took two years for them to complete the script and today, a top star of Mollywood has agreed to come at the hotel to hear the script. It was the director debut of the story writer who wrote this story. The hero came as promised and the team entered hotel room with right foot first. The script writer prayed God and started reading the first scene.

Suddenly villain entered the first scene itself! How it happened? Villain was not a robber, dacoit or heroine’s father; but ‘he’ was KSEB. Let me tell you, KSEB is the abbreviated form of ‘Kerala State Electricity Board’. As an unpredicted strike, power went off for a minute. Looking at the bulb, hero told in mind, ‘Omens are not good’. Neglecting hero’s thoughts script writers continued with the work. Power came back and lights were on. 

Script writer took a deep breath and started reading again. Hero was interested in the first few scenes and suddenly ‘villain’ returned back. Hero stood up and gave shake hand to the director and script writers telling, ‘We shall think about another story’. The team of three persons stood shocked as if villain ‘electricity’ has given them a terrible electricity shock. KSEB has not just given darkness to the room for a while, but gifted ‘night’ to the future of these three new generation filmmakers of Mollywood who have not started yet.

It was just a temporary power cut. The director searched a new hero for the movie and ran ‘that ORDINARY KSRTC Passenger bus’ houseful for many days! The movie was none other than the first blockbuster hit of 2012 ‘Ordinary’. ‘Ordinary’ ran houseful for weeks. Though the movie was about KSRTC bus running through the beautiful lonely mountains of Gavy, people travelled in this ‘hill station’ bus full-packed.

Even in the decade of new generation cinema we can find young heroes who believe that power cuts while hearing the script indirectly implies the movie will break down at box office. Yes, when it comes to the topics of superstitions, astrology and beliefs, new generation cinema and film directors are also not free of it. From the senior director to younger director, we can find artists in search of luck and fortunes by changing the spelling of their names or changing their name as whole also.

Most recently, friends of a super hit director who delivered series of hits teased the director saying, “Let him take of the shirt. We want to pray before him. His body is filled with ‘Taweez’, pictures of deities and mantra threads”. Beliefs have failed in box office several times. Yet film makers are not willing to free themselves from beliefs they are holding with. Majority asks this question, “Why should I take risk? Why should I leave them as if I am taking revenge?”

Now let me tell you a few interesting beliefs related with Mollywood.

If first shot is OK, film is super hit!

The most tension-filled days of producers/directors are the first shooting days and the day which film sees light. If the first shot is not OK, then both producer and director loss their sleep till the movie is released. So, some ‘intelligent’ directors start their first shot with picture of God or sun. Then it’s 100% guarantee that no retakes needed. God or sun never asks to shoot the first shot again. What an idea Sirji! Well began is half done too!

Now let us go to the first day shooting of two great blockbusters of Malayalam cinema. These two movies are regarded as best classic comedies of modern cinema i.e. late 80’s. Let me begin with Priyadarshan movie. Year 1988. Film set – three people are enjoyed themselves in chit chat, Director Priyadarshan and actors Mohan Lal and Nedumudi Venu. Priyadarshan’s mind was cloudy; he didn’t get his favourite heroine Revathy for the movie. Revathy was substituted with Renjini, not a big name as Revathy. For film producer, this movie is like a ‘come back’ after a series of flops and he needs a hit at any cost. Director told ‘Action!’ to the first shot and quite unexpectedly, a bulb got fused and broke to pieces. When it got scattered the whole unit became shocked for a while. But Priyadarshan smiled. The whole industry told that this movie will also scatter at box office like this incandescent bulb. But when it got released, it was something like a festival season and this movie run for a year in many releasing theatres. The movie was ‘Chitram’. Priyadarshan has delivered many successes with Mohan Lal. Revathy was a part of his team along with Mohan Lal in mega blockbuster ‘Kilukkam’. Yet the movie ‘Chitram’ is still everyone’s favourite even after years. 

Now, let us move forward one year and go to Alappuzha. A shooting location, but not a big crowd to watch it as directors and actors are new faces. Both the leading hero and heroine are debuts. When the first shot was taken, an owl suddenly passed in front of the camera. No one even knew from where owl has come! ‘Golmaal hai bhai sab kuch gol maal hai’, its Malayalam translation was yet to release in 1990. So, no one was there to sing that song for the team. Owl is not considered as a good omen to film industry, similar to common Indian people. On a Friday morning 1989, the movie got released in Kerala. This small cinema entertained the crowd for years and decades and even after 2 decades, it has not lost its charm. The movie is none other than ‘Ramji Rao Speaking’ and along with Innocent and Mukesh, Sai Kumar entertained the crowd with crackers of comedy. The debut heroine was Rekha, a south Indian leading actress. The director duo hit makers, Siddhique-Lal who debut with this movie has given numerous success comedy movies to Mollywood too. 

Not only that, the movie has created a Tsunami in Bollywood comedy movies too. It was none other than ‘Hera Pheri’ directed by Priyadarshan with stars Akshay Kumar, Sunil Shetty, Paresh Rawal and Tabu in the year 2000. This movie placed director Priyadarshan among the top slot of directors, Paresh Rawal as the most successful comedian and gave popularity to leading heroes too. Let me add one more thing, one among those successful Malayalam directors Siddhique has most recently entered Bollywood with mega blockbuster ‘Body Guard’. They have given a new belief to Mollywood too, ‘If owl flies in front of the camera while the first shot is taken, the movie will definitely become blockbuster!’

Luck of Sonagachi in films

A few years back, a film maker spread a belief that if your girl friend is shown in the first shot, the movie will definitely become a super hit. Perhaps that film maker desired to help his girl friend some way! Thus one by one, filmmakers began to promote their love interests in movies. But very soon, another rumour was spread. Prostitute in the first shot is enough to make the movie a hit. Thus many ladies who didn’t know even the ‘ABCD’ of movies got opportunity to stand before the camera. Similar to ‘Karayogam President’ of Malayalam movie ‘Azhakiya Ravanan’ (played by comedian Innocent), they repeated mistakes in front of camera eating a lot of film rolls and made directors drink a lot of water. As producers believed that prostitutes will definitely bring fortune with them, they spent money lavishly and were patient enough to bear those losses.

Then a strange incident happened in Mollywood. A production team reached Kolkata to shoot a full length movie there. Though Kolatta is a metro city, it is also known for rickshaw-walas, leprosy patients and Sonagachi Red Street. As a movie with a first shot with prostitute runs for 100 days, a movie shot in the Red street should run for at least 365 days continuously – Why shouldn’t Film makers assume so? Though beautiful locations of Hugli River and Kalighat were there in Bengal, they placed their camera in Sonagachi. 

Next day morning whole unit reached the location. The hotel where they stayed was beneath the water. The receptionist says, “Such an incident has never happened before!” Then the camera man fixed camera under direct sun. But rain bathed them fully. Series of similar incidents occurred, thus dragging their project in Kolkata. The film set who landed Kolkata with the oath, ‘we will finish the whole scenes here’, completed the shots in Kerala’s own Kochi. Yet they comforted themselves thinking Sonagachi will definitely bring them fortune. But the movie left theatres with less collections and no news!

If the movie had run successfully in theatres for weeks, no doubt, many directors would have landed in this red street with cameras in hand! Many people might have thought, ‘Taking full movie in Sonagachi is also not good’.

From lucky cameras to unbroken coconuts!

Good script, excellent performances and director as a captain of ship – are these factors enough to make a movie hit? Not at all, believes many. It depends on coconut broken in the first day of pooja of the set and the horoscope of a choreographer who directs 5 minute lengthy item song of the movie – says many.  

A few years back, a camera was imported from Kodambakkam to Kerala giving high rent. It’s for the significance of that particular camera and the ‘raasi’ (luck factor) it carries. This particular camera has witnessed many successful movies of Tamil film industry in the recent times. Obviously the magic is with this camera, not with the director or actors – believed the Malayalam producer. Even the Kerala directors see Mani Ratnam as their inspiration. This camera was used by Mani Sir (as people often call him) for the critically well acclaimed movie ‘Bombay’. Then without looking forward or backward, the producer spend money to buy ‘Mani’s’ camera. But it gave only ‘money loss’ to producer one after the other. Then someone told so, “This camera is lucky only in Tamil Nadu. As it has crossed Valayaar checkpost, its luck has changed!” 

If the story of camera is so pathetic, what more to tell about luck of heroines and other technicians of the movie! During 1980’s a casting director was there in Malayalam film industry. His name was Kora. As soon as producer and director approach him with script, he uses cards to cast all artists for the movie. 

Now let me tell you the interesting story of a Chennai born Australian actress who worked for a few Malayalam movies. As she was not in our country, she was unaware of superstitious beliefs related to Indian film industry. Before her debut movie opposite super star got released, she got a lot of roles in the industry. Many people in the industry predicted that it’s her time in the industry. But all the movies flopped one after the other. But a director and hero advised her to add a letter to her name according to numerology and told her that change of name will surely bring her a lot of fortune. They did so in good means, as they really wanted to see her successful. They tried to advise a new generation heroine and got its quick sharp reply as well, “If your movie is bad, people will shout in the theatres. The heroine who comes in just a few scenes and songs has nothing significant to do in present day movies. So, if I change my name nothing can happen.” She didn’t change her name and entered Tamil and Kannada industry. Surprisingly she became successful. “She doesn’t have luck in Malayalam movies”, someone gave this opinion!

If the coconut broken during the pooja of the movie doesn’t break properly, it may take the sleep of the director, producer and leading actors for weeks.

Myths surrounding Thrissur main town

Thrissur – Now Thrissur language is most commonly used in Malayalam movies. Many success movies were shot from Thrissur too. Malayalam movie ‘Pranchiyettan and the Saint’ in 2010 made Saint Francis of Assisi speak Malayalam in Thrissur accent. The movie Thiruvambady Thamban, fully concentrated on life style of Thrissur and Thrissur accent was also released last year. It was not the case a few years ago. A few years back, Thrissur also had a few fairy tales to tell. Someone rumoured that if shooting location of a movie is Thrissur, the movie will be a disaster at box office. So, in case a production team happened to reach Thrissur town, they take a round of Swaraj round and travels to Guruvayur, Ottappalam or Kozhikode in search of a destination. 

The myth was broken in the year 1997 when the movie ‘Chintavishtayaya Shyamala’ was released. It was done by hero/ producer/ scriptwriter/ director of the movie. Shooting of this movie was done in Thrissur main town. This comedy was a roaring success at box office and earned critical acclamation too. This movie is still considered as the best classic movie made by the genius, Srinivasan. After that, many directors began to think about Thrissur and mega hit movies like ‘Kasthuri maan’ and ‘Pranchiyettan’ were pictured here.

Why less shots taken from Munnar for Malayalam?

Now let us shift our location to Munnar. Everybody knows Munnar is the best hill station of Kerala and a wonderful tourist destination. Its greenery, tea plantations and mist attract nature lovers. Yet why Malayalam directors always choose Ooty as their favourite shooting destination? Though Munnar is the favourite place for script writers and music composers to do their work, directors never prefer this beautiful location. They arrive here only to celebrate. If they want a beautiful hill station for song shooting or as script demands, they take thick blankets in hands to move to Ooty or Kodaikanal. Munnar was shown so beautiful in the academy winner movie, ‘Life of Pi’. But why didn’t directors of Malayalam didn’t make use of it, even a little bit? Some believers may even challenge producers of this movie to take a full length movie from Munnar. Myth associated with Munnar is that, movie will never get released. It will get buried similar to deep valleys in the mist of Munnar. Even if it happened to release, the movie will be a disaster; people will never enter theatres to see the movie.

Now you people may ask, how did Ram Gopal Varma directed critically well acclaimed movie of Amitabh Bachchan and Jiah Khan ‘Nishabd’ in Munnar? In true means, Nishabd was a big flop at box office though the acting skills of Jiah and Big B were noticed. It’s also believed that seeing the mesmerizing beauty of Munnar, when Ram Gopal Varma was dragged to Munnar, the fairy tales reached his ears too – the unsuccessful stories of Munnar. He completed the project by taking a shot at Mumbai. He might have thought a little bit, “Why should I take risk with Munnar?”

When a death scene is shot

If a character is shot dead in a Malayalam movie, one more scene is shot along with it; the scene where the actor stands up and walk for a while in a jolly mood. Otherwise it may happen in his life! Many such unfortunate incidents have quoted before also. It may be true or may not be linked with this shot. But every director extends his ‘death shots’ in such a way.

Once a villain went for a Tamil movie shooting and he was appreciated for its climax scene. But he asked the director to take a shot where he walks with a smile on his face. Then only Tollywood came to know about that strange superstition of Mollywood. Someone commented like this, “If so, if a marriage scene is shot in movies, we should shoot their divorce scene too. Right?” The whole set was filled with laughs and applause.

Lucky star Janardhanan

This belief is many decades old. There is a belief among Malayalam directors. If a movie is started with actor Janardhanan in the first shot, the movie will definitely become success. It has happened in many movies like Mannar Mathai Speaking, Twenty 20 and so on. Among the list of numerous hit movies, a few flop movies are also there. Yet, who loves to remember failures and flops? He is still regarded as the lucky star of Malayalam.

What’s common in Kamal and Spielberg?

Directors of our country worship the cameras with which they shoot movies. But seeing the recent photograph of Steven Spielberg in net, many people remained shocked. The biggest hit maker of world cinema posed for the shot by placing his foot on his camera. According to him, camera is just an instrument to shoot movies.

Now a few words on the versatile film maker of present times. He is none other than actor-director Kamal Hassan. He never conducts pooja for his movies or do break coconut. According to his beliefs, he loves movies more than anything in the world. Karma is God and he does his Karma neat and tidy, so no need of separate worships or rituals. 

Now let me conclude

You may be laughing at a few incidents I have quoted above. But in true sense, people including me hold certain beliefs even if we are not sure of its outcomes. In most cases, such beliefs are associated with bad outcomes and things which we can’t predict. If fear grasps us for a particular situation to occur, it’s definitely sure, we search for some methods to get rid of it. Obviously certain beliefs become our companions. They may be true or not, I can’t say. But they can definitely increase your confidence level. Personally I feel that, beginning something new taking God’s name gives us a lot of positive energy and confidence to move forward. We may depend on certain beliefs in our insecurity feelings, but never allow them to mislead you and your mind to wrong directions. That’s the only thing I want to tell you.

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