South Indian film industry strike: Discontent brewing among theatre owners?

While the cash registers at multiplexes are still ringing, B and C centres in small towns are worst hit, and they might not stand with the producers for long.
South Indian film industry strike: Discontent brewing among theatre owners?
South Indian film industry strike: Discontent brewing among theatre owners?
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With talks between film producers – predominantly from the Tamil and Telugu industries - and Digital Service Providers (DSPs) having failed, a few theatre owners are a disgruntled bunch. While they admit that the month of March is a ‘dull season’ for business anyway, theatre owners in B and C centres in small towns are struggling to cope due to the ongoing strike.

The standoff between the producers and digital service providers (DSPs) has resulted in no new Tamil or Telugu film releasing since March 1. Kannada and Malayalam film industries have also showed solidarity. Producers allege that DSPs like Qube and UFO charge steep projection fees for screening their films, leading to losses for the producers. DSPs, on the other hand, claim that the losses incurred by producers has little to do with what they charge, laying the blame squarely on exorbitantly-paid stars and senior technicians. Talks between film producers and DSPs failed for the third time on February 23.

Theatre owners in Tamil Nadu however seem to be getting unhappy with the producers’ stand. TNM spoke to two leading theatre owners in the city both of whom chose to remain anonymous as they fear it could jeopardize the talks underway between the various stakeholders.

One city theatre owner candidly admits that business is on as usual. “This is a convenient time to strike. It is exam season. Most of the releases are in April anyway. Especially in multiplexes, Hindi and English films continue to release. So, it doesn’t really have an effect on us.”

Another points out that it is unfair to hold the industry hostage over this. Says the theatre owner, “Percentage wise, the production costs budgeted for DSPs is negligible. There is more to this, no doubt. But to tell the whole industry to shut down over, is not the right way to handle things.”

However, both agree that while multiplexes in the city can manage to amble on, it’s not as easy for theatres in B and C centres. The semi-urban and rural B and C centres look forward to big-budget summer release. These traditional markets cater to audiences whose main source of entertainment is films.

Speaking to TNM, Panneerselvam of Rohini Theatres says, “We are struggling, it is true. 70 percent of Tamil Nadu is B and C centres. I don’t think we will be able to manage the theatre beyond next week. We are holding a press conference on Tuesday and we will talk about our situation there.”

However, sources close to the developments say that theatre owners who have been trying to intervene in the issue since last year to help break the stand-off, failed to convince the producers.

Recently, distributor Tirupur Subramaniam had claimed that the film industry was making losses not because of the Visual Projection Fees charges by DSPs, but because of the exorbitant salaries charged by top stars and technicians. In response to allegations by SR Prabhu, a producer who claimed that the DSPs were not playing fair, he asked, "You've spoken about VPF, which forms 2-3% of the total cost incurred by a producer, in such detail, SR Prabhu, why didn't you say anything about the production cost which forms 70%? No, I won't say production cost - it is the salary of the top stars and technicians. The reason why the film industry is going towards destruction is this salary and you haven't spoken about this even once," he says.

While male leads are paid anywhere between Rs 27 crore to Rs 35 crores, directors, music directors and cinematographers charge well over Rs 10 crore per film. Several bankable stars of the Southern film industry have entered into profit sharing agreements with producers over the past 5 to 7 years, eating into the producer's share of box office collections. Theatre owners allege that this is why DSPs feel the producers’ demands are unfair.

With theatre owners of B and C centres also planning to present their grievances to the public on Tuesday, it remains to be seen how the standoff is likely to be affected by this

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