Kamal Haasan’s film will hit many homes before its theatrical release, a first in the world for a mainstream film.

Unnerved by the controversy of a section of exhibitors boycotting his film, Kamal Haasan has tied up with over 400 cinema halls in the State and the six big DTH providers — Tata Sky, Dish TV, Sun Direct, Videocon D2h, Airtel Digital TV and Reliance Digital TV in the country to release his film Vishwaroopam during the Pongal. season. The one-time DTH premiere of the film will begin at 9.30 p.m. on January 10 and is priced at Rs.1,000 per home (Rs. 500 for the Hindi version Vishwaroop). Vishwaroopam, that has cost Kamal Haasan Rs. 95 crores approximately will hit an unprecedented number of homes before its theatrical release, a first in the world for a mainstream film.

With 50 million DTH homes in India, if it reaches out to target five per cent of the DTH base, it could potentially collect Rs. 175 crores. After tax and revenue sharing with DTH providers, it could make about Rs. 50 crores. As Vanita Kohli-Khandekar, media expert and author of the Indian Media Business estimates, “Maybe a one or two per cent reach is a more realistic estimate especially with this pricing. What DTH creates is a long tail, particularly for the migrant agglomerations of regional populations in the metros. There is a huge Tamil population in Delhi and Mumbai where the number of screens for regional cinema are limited,” adds Vanita. The move will help beat piracy. “Pricing, timing and quality are the three gaps that pirates exploit. The moment you start breaking down the windows between theatrical, home video and TV, you plug the gaps and piracy dies,” she explains.

As Kamal Haasan himself clarified on the piracy issue, “It’s easier to track down the person who has made a print from DTH than any theatre,” he said. What he didn’t say — that it can be tracked down to the home/address of the pirate because films flash a unique code generated by the set top box assigned to each home. This is the first time that all DTH competitors have come on board together to premiere a film on TV. “I would like to congratulate all competitors who have come together,” Kamal Haasan said at a recent press conference to announce the release.

Good backing

The actor was backed by representatives from all DTH providers, South India Film Chamber of Commerce, Director’s Union, Producer’s Council and even exhibitors from Coimbatore who pledged support and lauded him on the brave, risky move of releasing his film without collecting a single rupee as minimum guarantee from the exhibitors. “I am not a visionary. I just know that when someone invents a cell phone and brings it to the market, you can pick it up. Yes, there maybe people who are scared if the cell phone will heat up and explode who are hesitant to touch it but I am just the guy who decided to take the call when it rang,” said Kamal Haasan to dispel fears that DTH will eat into theatre revenues. “I do not want to disturb my ecosystem. I am very protective of it. Which is why I took all the efforts to ensure that I don’t sign up with DTH players before they promised me that the Digital Video Recorder would be disabled and that the film will not be available in commercial establishments. An hour ago, Tata Sky too has come on board,” he announced recently.

“When a tractor is available, a farmer needs to embrace it instead of saying he will only use the bull. Only I have everything to lose. When I produce a film, it’s at my expense. If you are releasing it, it’s an asset. I find it silly to even say don’t be scared,” he said, referring to the exhibitors who have refused to release his film on the grounds that a DTH premiere may set a bad precedent and result in shutting down of more cinema halls. As R. Panneerselvam, general secretary of Tamil Nadu Film Exhibitors’ Association, told MetroPlus a few days ago: “There used to be over 2,600 theatres in 1984. Now, there are only about 1,250 cinema halls because many of them shut down due to the growth of cable and satellite TV.” But Kamal Haasan pointed out “Only the theatres that have been in bad shape have shut down over the years.”

Tiruppur Subramaniam, Coimbatore-based exhibitor, speaking on behalf of exhibitors of his region, said that they didn’t have the slightest hesitation before signing up to release the film. “Theatres have been shutting down because of the scourge of minimum guarantee that had taken over the business over the last five-six years. Mr. Kamal Haasan was the first to introduce us to digital cinema and thanks to digital cinema, the print cost has reduced from Rs.50,000 to Rs.10,000,” he said. “Karnan even today runs for a hundred days despite being screened on TV, despite availability of DVDs in the market,” he added.

“When moving pictures were first screened, people thought the moving train would run over them. When talkies came, they were scared of sound. Eastman colour came and replaced black and white and digital have replaced film rolls. Yet labs survived by adapting and so has cinema. Scientific progress is inevitable and has to be embraced,” said director Bharathirajaa.

“I have seen the film and I can say that it is truly world class. A film we can be proud of. So far you only know of him as Kamal the artiste, with Vishwaroopam, you’ll see Kamal the technician,” he added.