The Kollywood industry shutdown, which started with a deadlock between the TFPC (Producers Council) and Tamil Nadu exhibitors over the payment of Virtual Print Fees (VPF), has been in effect for more than 45 days now. Film releases have stalled, and the production and post production of all Tamil films has been halted. The council, exhibitors and Qube (main digital service provider) still haven't been able to arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement regarding the VPF and other demands. The state government has intervened and a tripartite meeting will be held in Chennai on April 17. Ahead of this meeting, which stakeholders from the industry and government officials are expected to attend, we spoke to people involved in mid and small-level films to find how the long strike has affected their work and finances.
Hitesh Jhabak, producer, Tik Tik Tik
"Each division is a catalyst for the other. Sadly, we lack unity and government intervention is needed. Hopefully, a win-win situation can be arrived at for all the stakeholders. I couldn't release Tik Tik Tik on January 26, owing to several reasons, not just because of a financial crunch as it's being rumoured. I wanted a simultaneous Tamil-Telugu release and both the versions were ready. But the Telugu censoring process took time. Then, I wasn't able to get good number of screens on January 26. I didn't want a repeat of the nightmarish experience I had while releasing Meaghamann (which hit theatres on Christmas day in 2014, along with three other noteworthy films). Had there not been a strike, I would have pulled off the release on February 23.
Interest accrued during the strike means that the film's total cost has shot up by 10% to 15%. I have some minor expenses. I have to kick start the promotions again; I hope the film hasn't become stale. Luckily, people haven't forgotten the film and the coming summer holidays will boost box office collections. Once the strike is called off and releases are cleared, I plan to release the film on the second available Friday. People need some time to get used to seeing new Tamil films again."
Venkat Prabhu, director and producer, Party and RK Nagar
"While RK Nagar is yet to be censored, some of the post production work in Party has to be completed. The costs of both films have escalated by 6% to 10%. The financial implications are tough, but I have to face them. I hope everything is resolved soon. The council will take a call on the release and will suggest a date. There are a lot of films in the queue. Initially, I had planned Party as an April 13 release but now, everything has changed."
Dhananjayan G, producer, Mr Chandramouli
"The summer (March-end to May) window is a huge opportunity for the box office as the holidays are in full swing. As the strike has coincided with the summer, the industry will lose at least 30% revenue. Each month contributes about 8% theatrical revenue to Tamil cinema, which shoots up to 35% cumulatively in April and May. This loss cannot be compensated. There is some post production work left and it won't be possible to release the film in the second week of May – we had initially planned an April 27th release. There are about 30 films censored and ready for release. Those will be prioritised and released first, the others will be delayed.With a 3% interest expense a month, that's not a huge concern for me; the loss of the summer box-office is! But we all stand united with the council."
Vijayaraghavendra, producer, Gorilla
"Each film has its own flow, which has definitely been affected by the strike. After such a large break, it will be difficult to kick start the whole process once again. Sorting out the actors' dates is going to be a big worry when all the films start shooting. My film has Sathish and Yogi Babu, who are a part of so many films. I'm someone who dabbles in other businesses, which have also been affected by the strike. There has also been a 15% increase in the film's cost. Theatre logjams will be another issue when films are ready for release.
The public has resorted to other entertainment options during the strike and so, online streaming platforms have boomed. I heard that there has been a 50% increase in Amazon subscribers from TN. If all the demands of the producers are met, only then will the strike be worth all this time lost."
PS Raghunathan, producer, Thittam Pottu Thirudura Koottam
"The overall demands that the council has placed before theatre owners and distributors are good for the industry. The interest factor is a concern for small producers, but given the severity of the problem, this strike is needed. I don't mind holding back my film, even if it continues for another 60 days. I will handle the financial burden, keeping in mind that the strike is good for the industry. Once it ends, the council has said that it will regulate the release dates and will go by the order in which the films have been censored. I heard that a separate committee is being formed to regulate releases till Jan 2019. If that happens, there's absolutely no problem. If the council can also take care of the interest factor by talking to financiers, then that's even better.
As the producer, I know the right release date for my film and will take the call. I don't think the council will insist on the date that it suggests. Footfalls in theatres have been hit and people will take some time to return to cinemas after the strike."
Adhik Ravichandran, director, untitled film starring GV Prakash, Amyra Dastur and Sonia Agarwal
"My film hasn't been affected much, but those nearing the finish line are definitely feeling the heat. I have quickly wrapped about 60% of the shoot and have also locked the edit of the first half. After the strike, we'll plan on how to compensate this delay and wrap up the remaining portions. There is good unity in the producers' fraternity and they aren't fussing over the possible financial crunch as the strike was called for the well-being of the industry.
Planning a release date was difficult. The council's decision to decide release dates based on the censor order is a great move. No one will be able to jump the queue or muscle their way in using their star value. Hopefully it'll be a transparent process. Small and medium films will surely benefit."
Harish Kalyan, actor, Pyaar Prema Kaadhal
"This year has been quite dull and the summer has been wasted. After the strike, the influx of audiences will be meagre, and small-medium films will face the heat. It'll take a couple of months for things to get set.
We had initially planned to release the film in May-end or June. That's impossible now. The pressure is on our producers, who have opted to release it on their own. We finished the talkie portions on March 16, the day the strike began. We are yet to start post-production, which will take a month. It'll take another month to get censored, and then we have to wait for the date that the council suggests. June-end or July will be ideal."
Sakthivelan, distributor, Sakthi Film Factory
"Print restriction (limiting the release counts of films) has to be the main takeaway, otherwise this strike is of no use. It has to be implemented as suggested by the council. Small and medium films will benefit as they will get an even playing field.
The wide release concept will work to an extent, only in and around Chennai. If a small centre that has just three theatres screens even the biggest star's film in all of them, the occupancy levels will nosedive on the second day itself. The fans' theatre-going experience will be affected when they see a big star's film in a theatre with low occupancy rate. This also blocks the way for other films that could have possibly been released.
Such excess supply will also kill the demand, which is already low. Only theatres that are equipped with the best facilities should get bigger films. Now, all types of theatres get all the films. Such controlled releases will also enable theatres to have long runs, like the good old days when a huge blockbuster like Ghilli released in just 100 screens across TN and had such a long run.
The VPF issue should have been sorted out through a healthy discussion between the exhibitors and producers. The summer window has been lost now, with 300 to 400 CR revenue being lost. A couple of big summer films could have earned that much money."