The stand-off between the south Indian film industries and digital service providers (DSPs) has resulted in no new Tamil or Telugu film releasing since March 1. The Kannada and Malayalam film industries have decided to participate in a one-day strike to show their solidarity but have continued to permit new releases.
The last round of official talks was conducted in Bengaluru on February 23. However, efforts are still being made to break the logjam.
Speaking to TNM, Senthil Kumar of Qube Cinema, one of the major DSPs in India, says, "Even on Friday, we were in discussions for the whole day in Hyderabad with a small group and the day before that, we were in discussions with a small group in Chennai. We thought we'd reached an agreement but the next day, they told us that it didn't work for them. In Hyderabad, they wanted some more tweaking, so I'm actually heading there now."
The groups Senthil Kumar refers to consists of producers and film industry people in Tamil Nadu and Andhra, Telangana.
Asked about producer SR Prabhu's allegations that DSPs in India had cheated theatre owners and the film industry, Senthil Kumar says, "We operate on the basis of agreements on paper and we stick to the letter of the agreement. We've never violated an agreement or been accused of violating an agreement by anybody in life."
Senthil Kumar further says that his company had never promised producers anything that's not part of the agreement. "We offered an alternative to film prints at a much lower cost. 1/4th the cost of a film print which has now become 1/5th of the film print. Producers chose to use these services when all the time they had film prints - it's not as if anybody deprived them of film prints. We set up a system where even though there were film prints and projectors required to play them in theatres, we offered a parallel path of digital projection and digital print. And they chose to use that all these years. Even today, film prints are available at around Rs 90,000 of Prasad Labs and Film Labs in Bombay. So there's no reason why you have to say this has become expensive because we've become cheaper over time. We've introduced more flexible structures but we've not increased prices by a rupee in 10 years," he says.
Senthil Kumar points out that in the meantime, the dollar has gone up from Rs 39 to Rs 65, and that their spares for projectors are imported.
"Fortunately, we're a company that has been making technology in India, far before 'Make in India' became such an important part of the government's plan," he says, adding that Qube exports to fifty other countries.
According to the grapevine, there are vested interests involved in the film industries' decision to call for a strike against DSPs. Rumours say that the strike is to break the hold that companies like Qube and UFO have in order to introduce new players.
Speaking to TNM, Malayalam producer Renjith said, "One reason why Telugu and Tamil film industries are strongly taking part in the strike is because they are essentially larger industries. They have more number of theatres and the stake for them is larger as compared to us."
Asked for how long he feels the strike will go on, Senthil Kumar says, "We're really hoping that we solve the problem today. Of course till it's over, it's not over. We're cooperating in every way to try and solve this. But whatever happens, we too have share-holders and we have to make sure that we are not unfair to them. We've done good for the industry in every way we can. We've brought technology after technology to India and this is the last thing we'd like to be remembered for as a company."
Currently, theatres in Tamil Nadu are playing old films while single screens in Andhra and Telangana have closed. Multiplexes in the two Telugu states are playing films from other languages.