Chennai, Feb 17: Short and crisp narratives such as "Pizza" and "Soodhu Kavvum" are having an edge over biggies like "Thalaivaa" and "Alex Pandian" down south, say trade pundits, adding that shorter attention span of viewers is a growing concern for the stakeholders of lengthy movies.
Legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock had once said "The length of a film should directly be related to the endurance of human bladder". It seems apt for today's time.
Actor-filmmaker Lakshmy Ramakrishnan, who directed 90-minute-long Tamil drama "Aarohanam", feels lengthy stories lose their charm.
"When a film is unnecessarily stretched, it loses its charm. I think the ideal running time should be between two and two hours and 15 minutes. Theatre owners welcomed my film, as it was only 90 minutes long. A shorter film may also get maximum shows across the screens in a multiplex," Lakshmy told IANS.
"Some filmmakers feel that one and a half hours is not enough to justify the money that an audience spends on a film; therefore, they make a three-hour-long film. It might work for a star's films, but not for smaller films with unfamiliar casts," she added.
National Award-winning editor K.L. Praveen meanwhile points out that presence of big stars do not guarantee success of lengthier films.
"I insist on all my directors to keep the film as short as possible. One of the star films I worked on was about two hours and 40 minutes long. It did well but I'm sure it would have done even better had it been shorter. Moreover, some star films might not work because eventually it is the story that decides the fate of a film," Praveen said.
One can learn a lesson from "Thalaivaa", "Alex Pandian" and "All in All Azhagu Raja", the big movies that turned turtle at the box office.
For smaller films, a shorter running time has become a blessing, feels Praveen.
"Our films usually follow six songs template, but it's not the case with recent low-budget films like 'Neeram' and 'Pizza'. These films may not have worked if they were a little longer. The shorter running time has been their biggest advantage," he added.
"Pizza", a 127-minute film made on a budget of Rs.2 crore, did business of over Rs.15 crore and "Soodhu Kavvum", a 133-minute Rs.4 crore drama collected over Rs.25 crore.
One-and-a-half hour-long movie "Neeram", made on a budget of Rs.2 crore, earned over Rs.10 crore.
In fact "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag", which originally released with a running time of 186 minutes, was shortened by half an hour for its international release.
Attention span of the audience doesn't last for over two hours, says film critic and trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai.
"We are in the digital world and audiences are constantly distracted by social networking sites. You can't expect them to watch a three-hour-long film patiently. Their attention span oscillates between 120 and 135 minutes. If they're bored, they just walk out of the cinema hall," Sreedhar told IANS.
Another practical problem is faced by multiplexes while allocating showtime to lengthier movies.
"In Tamil Nadu, theatres are allowed to screen only four shows every day. Every feature film is played with at least 15 minutes of advertisements and a 15 to 20 minute interval. Theatres also need turnaround time of about half an hour between shows. This time is usually spent in cleaning up the hall and managing traffic in the parking lot," he said.
"Keeping in mind all these factors, if a film is about 160-170 minutes long, technically each show would be about three and a half hours. Any film over 140-150 minutes is a dead duck," added Sreedhar.
Southern star Akkineni Nagarjuna, who is also into filmmaking, says that one can experiment with length.
"Our films are actually two hours long, but we include half an hour of songs and fights. I feel the story of any film should not be more than 120 minutes and any addition to that could be songs or other commercial toppings," he said.
Anjali Shome, an avid movie buff, said: "With hiked ticket prices, Indian middle-class gives more weightage to mileage over features."
(Haricharan Pudipeddi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)