Kollywood
A few days ago, distributor Tiruppur Subramanian had said that the box-office numbers thrown around for a certain Pongal release were untrue, unleashing a fan war online.

Fans of big male stars fighting each other on Twitter has become a common occurrence. On Sunday, a clash broke out on the platform when a video clip of well-known film distributor Tiruppur Subramanian was circulated. In the clip, Subramanian speaks about exaggerated box-office collection reports that are supposedly made just to please fans.

Without referring to the name of the film, the distributor says in the video, “Producers today want to please the stars. For instance, this film that released for Pongal clashed with another big star’s film. The distributors competed against each other by raising their box-office numbers. Finally, when the report was given to the producer, it turned out that the distributor was forced to put up unreal numbers on Twitter just to keep the fans satisfied."

As far as film collections are concerned, the lack of transparency has always been a point of contention among producers, distributors and exhibitors (theatre owners). When the Producers’ Council announced a month-long strike in 2018 over the payment of Virtual Print Fee (VPF), the lack of transparency in how much a film actually earns was among the issues that were highlighted. When this strike ended, Vishal, then President of Tamil Film Producers’ Council, had said that computerised ticketing would be implemented from June that year, online tickets would be subsidised and as a result, cinema would become “100% transparent”.

Over a year later, this transparency is yet to be achieved. While box-office numbers are indicative of a film’s commercial success, the figures that are thrown around online are seldom authentic.

Fights over fake reports

Who announces box-office collection numbers? Ramesh Bala, a box-office tracker, says that they receive information, sometimes officially and sometimes unofficially, from their distributor and producer contacts. While these numbers - first day collection, first weekend collection etc. - that are circulated online tend to give the audience and others in the industry an idea on how well the film is performing, very rarely do producers put out statements of their official box-office collection numbers themselves.

Explaining why this is so, producer Dhananjayan says, “I don't think producers put out official numbers. It will harm them actually and affect business. They might be in trouble later on. If they tweet, Income Tax might be tagged (by others), and so, most of them don’t.” He further adds, “Those who do tweet the numbers are trade analysts but one can’t go by them entirely. For one of my films, someone had written on Wikipedia that it collected Rs 125 crores. I only laughed at that."

If producers refrain from publishing official numbers, then how can one be sure of the film’s success? Last year, when Twitter influencer and industry tracker Kaushik LM tweeted the absence of “hit films” in January 2018, director Vignesh Shivn whose Thaana Serntha Kootam had released that month, was clearly offended. He then went on a rant against influencers and was soon joined by producers like SR Prabhu who agreed that “trackers fed unnecessary information to audience."

Even before TSK, in December 2017, controversy broke out over Vijay’s Mersal collections when actor S Ve Shekher of the BJP, claimed that Mersal had suffered a loss of Rs 60 crore. The party had taken offence at the film for having a few scenes mocking demonetisation and GST. A couple of other producers joined S Ve Shekher's claim, adding that the film’s producer Thenandal Studios had faced a big loss. While no official response came from the producers Thenandal Studios, Forbes India reported that the film grossed Rs 250 crore worldwide.

Collection reports announced to please fans?

In the most recent tiff, when Tiruppur Subramanian’s video was widely discussed on Twitter, fans assumed that he was talking about Ajith’s Viswasam and Rajinikanth’s Petta that released for Pongal this year.

Even though the box-office clash was between Ajith and Rajinikanth in this case, Vijay’s Mersal was brought into the fight since Ajith and Vijay are pitched as arch rivals by their fans. Thus began a hashtag war between Ajith and Vijay fans stacking their support for Viswasam (Pongal 2018) vs Mersal (Deepavali 2017) to make sure that the “truth prevails”.

“As far as this recent video is concerned, Viswasam’s distributor KJR Studios themselves announced that the film’s first week collection was Rs 125 crores and they’ve stood by their numbers even in their recent tweet. That should explain if it's exaggerated or not,” says Ramesh Bala.

Earlier, when the two films had just released, some claimed that Rajinikanth’s Petta had done lesser business in comparison. Sun Pictures immediately tweeted their disbelief over the numbers that were circulated online by box-office trackers. They later claimed, based on Tiruppur Subramanian’s numbers, that Petta was the “First Tamil film to cross 100 crores in 11 days in Tamil Nadu.”

However, the truth remains that producers and distributors face pressure from fans to announce inflated collection figures for their favourite star’s films. “Twitter plays an important role. Fans expect the producers to announce first day collections, weekend numbers. The pressure is true,” says Ramesh Bala.

This leads us to ask the second question - so, can any of these reports be taken at face value?

Ramesh Bala says that while exaggeration might have happened in a few cases, producers tend to put out such numbers only when they think it can fetch them better results.

“Producers/distributors mainly announce such numbers only to promote their own films. If they think that by exaggerating numbers they can have better results, they might do it,” he reasons.

Dhananjayan believes it's unnecessary for producers to fudge collection numbers.

“You have to remember that films don't just depend on theatre collection. There’s digital and satellite rights. There’s no need for the producer to exaggerate, whatever they announce is all part of the trade scenario," he says.

Film distributor Sakthivelan of Sakthi Film Factory, shares his displeasure over fans demanding for collection reports.

“According to me, when it became all about ‘how many prints, how much box office collection?’ rather than the star’s performance, it is more of a sickness," he says.

Unified online ticket sale is the solution?

So, will the proposed Government Order for unified, online bookings bring in the transparency that can end such tussles? Earlier this month, Information and Publicity Minister Kadambur C Raju had hinted that the state government was taking steps to make the sale of movie tickets exclusively online in the state in a phased manner.

The minister had said that the department is monitoring the sale of movie tickets online and would soon be implementing the plan to improve transparency in collection. Movie ticket prices too would be regularised as a result, he had said. While a GO is awaited, Ramesh Bala says that the industry is likely to welcome this move.

“If it had come from a particular union, there might have been protests. But this is the government. Everyone’s bound to agree,” he says.

Sakthivelan too agrees. “Sure, the GO is welcome but over the counter sales too should be allowed. The app should be interlinked to monitor the sales. Not everyone can manage to buy online tickets in our state yet," he says.