With a shutdown in the Tamil film industry crossing a month and the film producers widening their number of demands, the industry fears that a longer period of distress and an unprecedented loss might be awaiting them in the near future. Almost 30 Tamil films scheduled to be released in the month of March are stuck and the industry is estimated to have lost around Rs 1.5-2 billion, since no new Tamil films were released for a month now, according to industry experts.
The Tamil Film Producers Council (TFPC), who were earlier emphasising on its demand for the Digital Service Providers (DSPs), who digitally provide the movies to the cinemas, such as Qube Cinemas and UFO, to reduce the Virtual Print Fee (VPF) paid by the producers to cast their movies in cinemas. The DSPs reduced the amount to an extend and the other South Indian language films resumed operations. The TFPC, which did not agree to the rate of reduction, has said that it has been raising other issues, which also has to be addressed along with the issue of VPF.
The issues include ticketing system to be computerised for transparency in the system and the online ticket sellers to reduce their fee per booking. They also sought a flexible ticket rate should be implemented to make watching movies in cinemas affordable to more people and the government should set up a Film Development Corporation to address the issues with the film industry in the State. However, experts on condition of anonymity said that this could affect the industry in the best season, the summer vacation, and the Tamil New Year falls on April 14. Rajinkanth's Kaala, a big budget political movie, is also scheduled to be released by the end of the month.
"We are trying to mitigate the losses which may occur in future, through this shut down. We call it as a revamp and some sacrifices has to be made for the betterment of the industry in future," said Vishal. He added that the producers call VPF as EMI and an unlimited EMI is not acceptable for any product. The Council, along with the actors' organisation, employees federation and others, would submit a memorandum to the State government, regarding their demands.
The Tamil film producers says that the shut down is with five demands including the theaters should bear the VPF, and as a support in the initial stage, would share 50 per cent of the amount for the first two years.
A veteran film producer and theater owner, on condition of anonymity said that the film producers had a discussion with the theater owners last week, but there was no breakthrough. Another meeting is expected to take place this week.
The theater owners are of the view that world over, there has been no practice of theater owner paying VPF for the films to the movies distributed through DSPs and it do not want to set a precedence, even if it could be financially viable for them. Besides, the film producers stand to gain by digitising films, considering that it would require Rs 60,000 per print for a celluloid copy of a movie.
"Those days (celluloid films) we were not able to see immediately what has been captured in the film and there were instances when we had to fly back to the overseas location for a re-shoot if the print did not come out well. Digital has helped to save all those costs," he said.
Another issue raised by the producers is that while as per the regulation the theater should own the projector, the e-projectors are owned by the DSPs. Theater owners say that some of them have moved to their own e-projectors, but by DSPs owning it, it would help the theaters to switch to updated technology faster.
Tamil Nadu has around 1050 theaters at present, as compared to 1,200 ten years back. However, the movies released a decade ago were 50 a year, but it has moved up to around 280 now, say industry sources.
The film industry has shown a decline in net domestic collections by 5 per cent, from Rs 9.96 billion in 2016 to Rs 9.46 billion in 2017. "For Tamil cinema, footfalls also dropped from 140 million in 2016 to 126 million in 2017," said a FICCI-EY report on media and entertainment industry in 2018.
The demand by the TFPC could also become detrimental, considering that the theater owners might be reluctant to pay the small producers for their short living movies, while they may go for the big budget, top star movies which may occupy the theaters for a longer term.
"This is going to hit the Tamil film industry very badly. It is already losing around Rs 50-70 million a day and there is no future for the industry if this is going to continue," said Sreedhar Pillai, an expert who closely tracks the film industry.