Kollywood gave the country its first Rs. 200-crore box-office hit, but that remains an exception

While the Hindi film industry continues to turn in hundreds of crores at the box office, not a single Tamil film has managed to do that kind of business in recent times.

A shame, because the first film in India to cross the Rs. 200-crore mark in terms of collections was from here.

Rajinikanth’s Enthiran broke all records by garnering Rs. 200 crore at the box office and even its Hindi-dubbed version made history.

As Hansraj Saxena, executive producer of the movie, formerly with Sun Pictures and now with his own banner Sax Pictures, says, “Robot (the Hindi version of Enthiran) fetched Rs. 18 crore for satellite rights, Rs. 46 crore through theatre release, Rs. 5.5 crore through home video and another 1.5 crore from audio rights alone. But here, when you sell satellite rights, you surrender your DVD rights too, because TV channels do not want the DVDs to be out in the market. Since none of them are in the home-video segment, DVDs of Tamil films never come out.”

And because DVDs do not release here officially, pirates thrive. As Gautham Vasudev Menon, producer and director of the recently-released Neethane En Ponvasantham said, “The first pirated DVD comes from abroad from the print given to foreign markets for DVD and home-video rights. If people knew they had access to legal DVDs within weeks, as is the case in Hindi cinema, they wouldn’t bother with pirated DVDs.”

As media expert Vanita Kohli Khandekar, author of Indian Media Business, says, “Pricing, timing and quality are the three gaps that pirates exploit. The moment you start breaking down the windows between the releases in theatre, home videos and TV, you plug the gaps and piracy dies.”

This is exactly what Kamal Haasan intends to do with Vishwaroopam. Get the film out on DTH so that people who do not want to go to theatres have an option to watch it at home. At the press conference on Wednesday, he said, “Entertainment delayed is entertainment denied. It is just like justice.”

Most films thrive in the business they make within the first three weeks of the theatre release, a rule that applies not just to the Tamil or Hindi film industries, but even to Hollywood. The actor-filmmaker, who is now in the eye of a storm over his plans to launch the movie on DTH, said this was the governing logic in attempting to release the movie at a premium price on the DTH platform.

The pricing has been a matter of some debate though. As an executive producer with a leading film-production company puts it, “It is good strategy gone wrong with bad pricing. I hope Kamal Haasan reconsiders the pricing because he wouldn’t want people to later say, ‘I told you so’.”

Compared to the Hindi film industry, the risks here are high. “It’s unfair to compare the business in Hindi with that in Tamil. Hindi film production is a low-risk business with high returns while Tamil film production is high-risk with low returns,” he says.

While a Dabanng 2 manages to release in 2,200 screens around the country, the maximum number of screens any film made here can hope to get is about 350, he says. Enthiran released in an unprecedented 425 screens across Tamil Nadu. Also, with the cap on ticket prices, the maximum price for a ticket in Tamil Nadu is Rs. 120 compared to the demand-based pricing that ranges from Rs. 150 to Rs. 350-plus in other States.

“Hindi films make crores because of the high number of screens multiplied by the high average ticket price in the first three days of demand. The demand is created by hype,” the producer says.

While films here spend a maximum of Rs. 5 crore on marketing and publicity (and a minimum of Rs. 50 lakh), Hindi films spend five times that amount to create hype that results in great weekend openings. TV channels are only willing to bomb their screens with promos and songs unlike the local film business where if one channel buys the rights of a film, the other channels boycott it.

According to sources, satellite rights of Dabanng 2 fetched over Rs. 40 crore while the original Dabanng remains the highest grosser for DTH in India at Rs. 2.5 crore. But while Dabanng was priced at less than Rs. 100, the Vishwaroopam premiere was priced at Rs. 1,200 (inclusive of taxes).

Yet, Dabanng 2 is able to generate revenues through satellite, DTH and home video apart from the conventional theatre markets, international included, to notch up Rs. 200 crore, while the unreasonable terms of trade offered by TV channels and exhibitors continue to plague the business here.

It may be recalled that while Pyramid Saimira tried to release Mozhi on home video within two weeks of its release, theatre owners arm-twisted the producer to put his plans on hold despite the fact that 10 lakh DVDs were already in production.

“It’s a lopsided economy with high risks. A hit by an popular star here, produced at Rs. 62.5 crore or Rs. 70 crore including interest, may yield a producer Rs. 10 crore as profit but for the same money invested, the Hindi film industry ensures a profit of at least Rs. 100 crore by tapping every available source of revenue.”

(With inputs from Karthik Subramanian)