It's been a month since any new Tamil film has released. The industry is still refusing to pay the Virtual Print Fee (VPF) to Digital Service Providers (DSPs) and is insisting that the tab be picked up by theatre owners.
The other three south Indian film industries have come around to the new terms and slashed prices offered by DSPs like Qube. However, the Tamil Film Producers' Council (TFPC) has stood firm in its resolve thus far.
Apart from the decision to not release any Tamil film, the TFPC has also cancelled shooting for new films. With the holiday season set to start very soon, the deadlock, which has resulted in the longest strike ever, has reached a crisis situation.
There are around 30 Tamil films which are waiting to be released. The Rajinikanth starrer Kaala, which is supposed to hit the screens on April 27, is yet to be censored. There were rumours that the film, directed by Pa Ranjith, will be pushed to a later date since other producers whose films have not released because of the strike, will demand preference. However, Lyca Productions, the distributors of the film, have said that they've not announced any postponement in the release date as yet.
Meanwhile, big budget films from other industries, like Rangasthalam, have released and are running successfully in Tamil Nadu, facing no competition at all from Tamil films. Last weekend, the Telugu film was no.1 at the Chennai box-office, followed by Tiger Shroff's Baaghi 2.
In an interview to TNM, TFPC President, actor and producer Vishal had said, "For all these years, producers have been ignorant about VPF charges. But now that it has been brought to light, we will not stop the strike till the matter is resolved."
He further added: "We are not doing this out of arrogance. We won't because we don't have to pay for someone else's equipment. Someone is considered a theatre owner when they have their own projector. Why should I as a producer keep paying money in installments for it?"
Theatre owners, meanwhile, have claimed that the shift to digital technology benefits producers (low print cost, wider release) and that they had not signed up to invest in the technology themselves.
The DSPs, for their part, have repeatedly said that the contract they signed with the theatre owners does not speak of transfer of ownership of the infrastructure at any point.
Speaking to TNM, distributor and exhibitor Tiruppur Mani, says, "World over, no theatre pays VPF. Not just in Tamil Nadu. Why do we alone have to pay?"
Pointing out that the other three south Indian film industries had come around, Mani says that the Tamil industry should realise that their demand is unreasonable. Previously, Mani's voice message to the Tamil film industry, in which he asks stars to cut down their salaries to make films profitable instead of latching on to VPF, had gone viral.
Venkatesh of Woodland Theatre, too, says that VPF is paid by producers and copyright holders all over the world. "There is no question of us paying it," he says categorically.
Adding that theatres are as it is struggling to stay afloat, Venkatesh says, "The only solution is that the Tamil film industry release the films. There's nothing more we can do."
Asked about losses suffered by the theatre owners due to lack of Tamil releases, Venkatesh says, "Most theatres in Tamil Nadu have shut down. So the only expenses paid are staff salaries."
While theatre owners have been lamenting about the fall in number of people visiting theatres due to various reasons - from online piracy to platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, as well as the strike - they seem to believe that financially, it is the Tamil film industry which stands to lose the most because of the strike.
With the summer holidays starting and scores of films stuck without a release date, it remains to be seen what the TFPC's next move will be.