Vijay Sethupathi-Trisha’s most awaited romantic flick of the year, 96, was released on Thursday. But close to 600 people who had reserved tickets for early morning shows at Rohini Silver Screens, hoping to catch the film's first show, were in for a disappointment when they learnt that the special show at 5.30 am had been cancelled in the last minute.
Some having travelled several kilometres early in the morning were visibly angry at this unexpected letdown and had to be pacified by the theatre employees. It almost seemed as if the film’s 10.00 am show would be cancelled too.
This was the scene that played out in almost all the theatres in the state on Thursday morning for those who hoped to watch the film 96. In this case the early morning special shows had to be cancelled due to some financial tussle between the film’s producer and the financier. Soon after, this was resolved and the news that Vijay Sethupathi had intervened, paying the money upfront from his salary to facilitate a smooth release, emerged. Shows resumed from 10.00 am in all theatres.
However, such delays are not uncommon in the Tamil film industry. Movie goers are often told by the theatre owners that there has been a delay in receiving the KDM (Key Delivery Message) that is required for playing the film from the distributors. This delay is the result of an unresolved financial issue between the distributor and the producer. While the problem seems to be between producers and the distributors, those at stake are the theatres and most importantly scores of hopeful fans.
When the delay in the film’s release is known well ahead, theatres manage to send out a message through their online booking partners to all those who’ve made the bookings. These are instances when the producers and distributors decide upon a different release date for the film, in which case it is known several hours ahead. Arvind Swami’s Bhaskar Oru Rascal is a recent example.
This Malayalam remake starring Amala Paul and Arvind Swami in the lead was originally slated for release on May 11. But on May 10, the actor took to Twitter to post that he was unaware of the reason behind postponement “despite very strong advance booking”. Amala Paul, too, tweeted her disappointment over the unclear reason for its delay. The film released a week later on May 17.
This, however, is not always the case. Last minute delays of special shows where fans are caught completely unaware happen quite frequently.
A perennial problem
So who decides which films get special shows? “Based on the film’s hype and demand, after checking with the distributor, we plan for special shows,” says Nikilesh Surya, Executive Director of Rohini Silver Screens. Subramanian of Kasi Theatre adds that while earlier only big star films had special shows, it is no longer the case today. “Today if there’s a hype for a particular film, we tend to go for special shows after checking with the distributor,” he says.
Right from big star cast films like the recent Vishwaroopam 2 and Imaikaa Nodigal to smaller budget films like Sadha’s Torchlight, last-minute cancellation of shows have become a common occurrence.
But this is not something new says Sateesh Thulasi, AGM, Qube Cinema Technologies, one of the most prominent Digital Service Providers in the state. “This has been a problem in the industry for over 30 years. In fact earlier, when there used to be a delay, it would take a couple of days for the prints to be sent to the theatres. Now it is not so. As soon as the issue is sorted, it becomes a matter of a couple of hours,” he shares.
These delays too can be area specific, where theatres in a particular zone might end up cancelling shows. Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam 2’s morning shows were cancelled in Madurai, Dindigul and Theni districts of the state.
In such cases, it becomes a distributor-specific problem. “Tamil Nadu has eight distribution zones - City, Chengelpet, Salem, North Arcot-South Arcot, Coimbatore, Tirunelveli-Kanyakumari, Trichy-Tanjore and Madurai. If there’s an area-specific delay, it can be due to some problem with the distributor,” explains Sateesh.
Sivakarthikeyan’s Seema Raja, Nayanthara’s Imaikaa Nodigal, Mani Ratnam’s Chekka Chivantha Vaanam are some of the recent examples where shows were cancelled.
In each case, the issue seems to be different. “It depends on the producers. If they are unable to keep up their schedules, it severely affects their business. Problems might be unavoidable but a way to sort them out has to be worked out,” opines Abirami Ramanathan, President of Tamil Nadu Theatre Owners Association.
Why does only the Tamil industry face this issue?
But is this a problem only specific to Tamil Nadu? “When you look at how it is in the western countries, giants like Universal Pictures make sure the film’s print is ready at least 30 days before its release date. There’s no last minute hassle there,” he explains.
But we need only look at the other industries in our own country to realise the stark difference in the state of affairs, says Sreedhar Pillai, film writer and social media influencer. “Such delays hardly take places in other industries like Telugu or Bollywood. What we see in Tamil cinema is a very bad trend. This is not good for the industry,” he explains.
Nikilesh notes that this problem can be attributed to the fact that the Tamil industry functions differently in comparison with the others. “In Bollywood and Telugu industries, producers are backed with good funding whereas here the producers tend to borrow at high-interest rates. This leads to a number of other issues. But now there are big names in the industry as well. This might bring in some change,” he shares.
Producer G Dhananjayan too asserts the existence of this structure in Tamil Industry. "Unlike Bollywood and Telugu industry, where we have big studios and productions houses, Tamil industry has many independent producers. And therefore the financiers tend to play a bigger role here in comparison with the other industries," he says.
So what can be the possible solution to this unending tangle? Sreedhar is of the opinion that the Producers' Council and Theatre Owners Association will have to come to an agreement. “There has to be a better mechanism in place. A meeting has to be held to clear things. At least 24-hours before the film’s release, all clearance should be in place.”
TFPC’s treasurer SR Prabhu also shares this opinion. “This is the side-effect of the indiscipline in the industry. This is not just one person’s mistake. TFPC is planning to put in place an internal regulations mechanism for releases that’ll monitor if timelines are being adhered to,” he shares.
Dhananjayan lists down a few points that producers should keep in mind while making their films to avoid last minute hassles. “They should have a tight control over their budget. Also, the actor’s lowest box-office should be set as their benchmark, not their highest grosser. This will avoid unrealistic expectations. The third most important thing is to treat each project individually. Never burden your current film with past losses,” he explains
But theatres often bear the brunt of such last minute cancellations. “Sometimes people might think it’s the theatre’s fault. But now, they are slowly able to understand that such delays are actually not in our hands. It all becomes a part of the game,” says Nikilesh.