Experimental Kannada cinema: What commercial challenges filmmakers face

While single screen theatres are not profitable for small films, multiplexes offer a very short window to decide a film's success.
Experimental Kannada cinema: What commercial challenges filmmakers face
Experimental Kannada cinema: What commercial challenges filmmakers face

The Kannada film industry boasts itself as one of the very few industries that produce a good ratio of parallel/bridge/experimental cinema to that of mainstream commercial cinema. While its experimental films are usually way ahead of their time, the mass entertainers or the commercial flicks, as they are known, lack relevance when compared to the other industries.

A huge part of the credit for the growth of experimental cinema goes to legendary filmmakers like Puttanna Kanagal, Girish Kasaravalli, P Sheshadri and the set of new wave filmmakers like Pawan Kumar, Rakshith Shetty and others. However, despite the quality and quantity of experimental films in Kannada, the going isn't easy for filmmakers who want to make such cinema.

To understand the struggles and obstacles experimental films face in Sandalwood, TNM spoke to producers, distributors and exhibitors to get a fair idea about the challenges ahead.

Main screen release

Ever since theatres established themselves as a business, “main-screen release” is a belief that the people of the industry harbour. In Sandalwood, to release the film in one of the single theatres on KG Road, Bengaluru, is dubbed as the “main-screen release” ritual. These are the same places where the FDFS (First Day First Show) celebrations happen and the fan groups show off their love for their respective stars through huge cutouts and banners.

However, with time, this became a habit solely for the purpose of bragging. Though the practice was considered to be a huge revenue generating center, eventually the model started failing. This fall in revenue occurred as the rent based approach did not work out well. But what is rent based approach?

Rent based approach

Single theatres collaborate with films on a rental basis. That is, the theatre charges a fixed amount as rent on a weekly basis for exhibiting a particular film, irrespective of its occupancy. This method continues to work well for big star films as the ticket revenue is much more than the theatre’s rent while small films suffer as their revenue is not even 30% of the theatre's rent.

Speaking about this, popular distributor Jack Manju gives a new dimension to this subject.

"An Anant Nag existed when Rajkumar did. We have people like Ramesh Aravind and Sudeep in our industry. I mean to say that we have a bunch of stars while we also have some very good artistes. Both these categories of performers co-exist in any industry and not both can afford the rent based approach that the single theatres follow. Any upcoming artiste's biggest dream will be to open in a single theatre on KG Road but embracing the fact that not all performers can be a star is vital. On an average, a single theatre on KG Road will charge close to 4,50,000 INR as rent on a weekly basis while theatres in the suburbs of Bengaluru charge 3,50,000 INR. The risk factor in this business model is high and this is not a suitable one for small films."

This rigidity showcased by single theatres has shooed away many small films from them and this is where the multiplex plays its so-called "philanthropic" role.

Multiplex model - is it really generous? 

Multiplexes work on a percentage basis, where they demand a particular percentage from the overall revenue of the film. In this case, a producer or the distributor, without fail, receives some money out of the release of their film. Irrespective of the star cast, this strategy encourages people to continue to make films.

The small hook here is, initially multiplexes do not allot many shows for small films and wait to see the footfall before they increase or decrease the allotted number of shows. All of this is done during the first weekend (Saturday and Sunday) only and sometimes, they remove a movie off the list on the following Monday itself.

Thus, multiplexes offer only a stingy 3-day window to decide a film’s lifetime. This is why a lot of filmmakers now believe that the release weekend is the fateful one. Jothi, Programming Head of SPI Cinemas, Bengaluru, spoke to TNM and reiterated that the 3-day window is the most ideal one to give a film.

"A film releases on a Friday and by Saturday, the word of mouth spreads. Eventually, by Sunday, we start seeing an increase in the seat occupancy if the content of the film had worked with the audience. Our screens are smaller with respect to the number of seats we have in each screen when compared to a single screen/theatre. This makes even 60% occupancy a good one for us to retain the film. However, this 60% wont help a single screen which holds close to 800 - 1000 seats. Considering this restriction, I totally understand why single theatres don't agree for a percentage model."

Role of distributors

With so many things happening at the exhibitors’ end, distributors are hesitant to come forward to support experimental films. This hesitance has made many producers go ahead and release their films themselves. This attitude has created a wave of positivity and bravery. In the process, these producers have incurred some profit too while they tried to understand and implement their ideas in this model of commerce.

Films like Rama Rama Re, Ondu Motteya Kathe, and Aa Karala Ratri are recent examples of how a successful multiplex-run changes the destiny of a film.

TNM spoke to popular producer K Manju who has been in the industry for over 20 years for his views.

“No theatre supports an unknown or a new producer blindly. This is where the distributor plays an important role. They are not just middlemen but they construct the release design end to end. Single theatres must consider collaborating on a percentage basis for small films. However, producers or distributors do not prefer percentage approach for big starrers as the theatres will end up receiving more money than its stipulated rent. This is why we are unable to fix on a common plan for all films.I also request the multiplexes to at least give a week’s window to films before they decide whether it can stay in their box-office or not.”

With over 1 million people in our country directly or indirectly dependent on the film industry for their livelihood, such commerce must be handled in a more professional manner to make it a profitable industry to more than just the producers or the exhibitors. A change in the approach would truly will make audience the only entity with the power to decide the fate of a film.

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