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Why ‘Avatar 2: The Way of Water’ might not release in Kerala theatres

With its prequel 'Avatar' earning more than $2.92 billion in ticket sales, it would be difficult to forego the release completely. Here's what the dispute in Kerala is about.

A still from Avatar 2.The Film Exhibitors United Organisation of Kerala (FEUOK) has said it will forego the screening of the James Cameron directorial if an amicable solution is not found before the film's release.

The sequel to the 2009 movie ‘Avatar’, the highest-grossing movie of all time, is set to release on December 16 in India. Not surprisingly, ‘Avatar 2: The Way of Water’ is perhaps the most awaited film of the year and expected to do blockbuster opening business.

But theatre owners in Kerala are up in arms against the new contractual terms being imposed by the film’s producers. What is the dispute about, and how what are theatre owners planning to do to secure a release? We explain.

Disagreement over profit distribution

The state’s film exhibitor’s body has decided not to screen the film after its producers demanded a 60 per cent share in profits, above the usual 50 per cent for producers, in the first few weeks of release. The Film Exhibitors United Organisation of Kerala (FEUOK) has said that it will forego the screening of the James Cameron directorial if an amicable solution is not found before the film’s release.

“When it comes to films of other languages, there are some regulations in place in Kerala. Regardless of how big a film is, if it is not respecting our practices, we won’t screen it in Kerala. The theatres are not ready to screen ‘Avatar 2’, which is in violation of our terms,” said K Vijayakumar, the president of FEUOK, at a press conference on Tuesday in Kochi.

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So will the film not release in Kerala?

With ‘Avatar’ earning more than $2.92 billion in ticket sales (including re-releases), it would be difficult to forego the release completely. The film is expected to take a huge opening in India with multiplex chains announcing that there has been an overwhelming response to advance bookings.

However, Kerala’s exhibitors do not want the release to set a bad precedent for profit-sharing. “It is not being banned here. We cannot accept their terms and conditions. They are demanding unusual pay from single-screen theatres in Kerala. That we cannot accept. We are not going to ban any films. But, we are not going to release Avatar 2 in Kerala. We are expecting negotiations from their side,” Vijayakumar told The Indian Express.

“For the first Avatar, it was 50 per cent. We usually provide 50 per cent share to films from other languages,” said an executive member of FEUOK, adding the association was willing to agree to give away up to 55 per cent of the revenue.

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Does only the FEUOK represent the film exhibitors?

No, but of the nearly 700 screens in Kerala, the FEUOK oversees the operations in 400-odd single screens. The organisation usually gives a 60 per cent share in profits only for original Malayalam films. The exhibitors are also not happy with the new condition to retain ‘Avatar 2’ in theatres for a minimum of three weeks in cinemas.

But some exhibitors believe a compromise could soon come about. Liberty Basheer, the president of the Kerala Film Exhibitors Federation, said a film like ‘Avatar 2’ will manage to pull crowds for that duration. The Federation has about 200 screens under its control and is less antagonistic towards the current stalemate. “The theatres under our organisation are ready to give 55 per cent share in profits for the first two weeks,” he said.

Basheer added that FEUOK members will also likely accept those terms and the matter will be resolved in time.

First published on: 30-11-2022 at 20:11 IST
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