In less than a week, Kerala would have gone a full month without a new Malayalam film being released. A dispute between exhibitors and producers over sharing revenues has led to releases being stalled since December 16.
What is the problem?
The Kerala Film Exhibitors’ Federation, whose members own 350 ‘A’ class release centres, wants collections to be shared 50:50 with producers. The revenue-sharing ratio is currently 60:40 among producers and theatres in the first week after a film’s release, changing to 55:45 and 50:50 in the second and third weeks, and 40:60 after that. Thus, out of every Rs 100 collected from ticket sales in the first week, the producer, after Rs 20 of the collection has been paid to the local civic body as entertainment tax, gets Rs 48, and the theatre owner gets Rs 32.
Why do exhibitors want a larger share?
Federation general secretary Shaju Akkara argued that the existing formula was devised in 2003, and the industry had changed dramatically since then. Digital screening has led to an explosion of release centres: “Our revenue is getting split and scattered due to wide release,” he said.
The Federation complains that producers are giving 50% of collections to multiplexes, even though facilities such as parking areas and fire safety features at theatres have been improved to match those at multiplexes, and are at places even better. While producers have other sources of revenue such as satellite rights and DVD sales, theatres have only ticket sales, Akkara said. “We have been demanding a new sharing ratio for the last two-and-a-half years,” he said.
And what do producers have to say?
Kerala Film Producers’ Association president Suresh Kumar said the theatre owners’ demand could not be met. Multiplexes have better facilities and higher ticket rates, and attract a new kind of viewer. Most single-screen theatres have not upgraded, he said. “The cost of a cup of tea at a local tea stall and a star hotel is different. The same principle works for a theatre and a multiplex,” Kumar said.
It is the producer who takes the risk that a film carries — if it bombs, it is the producer who loses money, says the Association. Theatre owners, on the other hand, have the option of replacing any film that doesn’t work. Besides, they make money through reservation charges of Rs 15-20, which can add up to a substantial sum in the case of major films that see a lot of advance booking.
How has the industry been hit by the ongoing tussle?
Release of films such as Dulquer Salmaan’s Jomonte Suviseshangal, Mohanlal’s Munthirivallikal Thalirkumbol, Prithviraj Sukumaran’s Ezra and Jayasurya’s Fukri, together costing Rs 40 crore, and scheduled for Christmas-New Year, has been suspended. Producers say they have lost Rs 15 crore over the last three weeks. Four other films were slated for release later this month. As and when the crisis is over, the first 4 films, meant for Christmas, will be released, and the others will follow a month later.
The exhibitors have not suffered much loss. They have been running non-Malayalam films, particularly Tamil films, in their theatres. Aamir Khan’s Dangal too has been screened in several theatres across Kerala.
How have filmmakers reacted?
Director Vinayan has backed producers, saying it is they who have to bear the losses of a film’s failure. He has appealed for the deadlock to be broken by consensus. The agitation is hurting cinemagoing, and the trend of people watching films in theatres must be kept alive, he has said.
How are theatres spread in Kerala?
Kerala has two categories of theatres. First, the releasing centres, located mainly in the district headquarters and major towns, where films are released, and whose outfit is the Kerala Film Exhibitors’ Federation. After release, films move to the second-rung ‘B’ and ‘C’ class theatres in the moffusil areas. Owners of these movie halls have a separate organisation, the Kerala Film Exhibitors’ Association.
Two decades ago, Kerala had 1,800 movie halls. Over the years, as real estate boomed, scores of theatres were transformed into shopping malls, marriage halls and convention centres. In rare incidents, some theatres have been converted into places of worship. Now, the state has only 473 movie halls apart from 25-odd screens in multiplexes. State-owned Kerala Film Development Corporation has a dozen theatres in various towns.
Over the years, the number of releasing centres has grown — from 60 screens in 22 centres a decade ago, the number of ‘A’ class theatres under the Federation is now 350. The number of second grade theatres under the Association has, at the same time, shrunk to 123, with only 98 in operation. Some 80-odd ‘B’ class theatres have improved facilities, and have been demanding that films be released. But the Federation has been vehemently opposed.
Where is the crisis headed now?
A few days ago, the exhibitors’ Federation sought the intervention of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to end the deadlock. But, according to Federation, the CM asked the theatre owners to first withdraw their agitation. The government has proposed to set up a regulatory board to address the issues in the sector. A meeting has been convened on January 20 to discuss the formation of the regulatory body.
Meanwhile, producers and distributors plan to release films in the ‘B’ and ‘C’ class theatres starting next week.