Some award-winning and critically acclaimed films fail to make it to the city’s theatres. Sudhish Kamath gets behind the scenes to find out the reasons

Last week, three critically acclaimed films released in most Indian metros. Ashim Alhuwalia’s Miss Lovely, the only Indian film to get into the prestigious Un Certain Regard competition category of Cannes; Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest Coen Brothers film that has won over movie buffs all around the world and Kamal Swaroop’s cult film Om Dar B Dar, that finally made it to the big screen 25 years after it was made.

None of these films made it to Chennai. We got two other Hindi films — Karle Pyaar Karle and Paranthewali Gali — that anyway sank without a trace. So did programmers drop the ball? We tried to get to the bottom of the problem.

“It is a distribution issue,” says a city-based exhibitor. “It does not make economic sense for distributors to release niche films here because of the ceiling on ticket prices. If they make an average of Rs. 30 per ticket in Chennai, they make about Rs.100 in the other metros. The cost of a digital print per week alone is Rs.14, 000. Then add to it, money spent on advertising. How would they recover all that cost?”

Apparently, Miss Lovely did not find local distribution, Inside Llewyn Davis could not find screens because of the Pongal releases and Om Dar B Dar was deemed too niche to make any impact in Chennai.

Editor of Galatta magazine, Shakthi Girish explains: “Unlike America, India, especially regional India, has to show movies of different languages. Amazing or not, English movies are not the only focus here. Lack of screens, lack of audience support, lack of cushioning for multiplexes to reduce or cover losses, thanks to fixed ticket prices, constrained free screening options are some of the biggest reasons.”

Shakthi believes that the multiplexes have done a terrific job balancing content. “Chennai handles its huge multilingual bag of movies better than other cities with importance given to Tamil, English, Hindi, Telugu and even Malayalam cinema. That’s five languages with a finite number of screens,” she adds.

Actor-producer Sundeep Kishen says that it is nobody’s fault. “It is demand and supply. Eventually, it is a Tamil market we cater to. What we believe is great cinema may sound Greek and Latin to a majority of the audience. No point in trying to make my mom like pasta. Her not liking it does not mean her choice is wrong. More people may have heard of Karle Pyaar Karle than Miss Lovely and hence, the chances are higher for that film to do better.”

But at least a couple of players are working to set things right and bring the best to Chennai. “We are bringing Inside Llewyn Davis to Chennai this weekend. Do catch the 11.30 a.m show at PVR on Saturday and Sunday,” says Shiladitya Bora, who manages alternative content for PVR Cinemas, through an initiative called Director’s Rare, a showcase for independent films. “We are probably the only national cinema chain in India to have a regular dedicated slot for lesser-known gems of world cinema and Indian cinema. We have had 48 Indie releases in two years and are trying to make this a weekly slot but whether or not it comes to Chennai depends on regional factors and the volume of regional films, especially during festival season.”

Sathyam Cinemas had started an initiative called Pure Cinema in 2006 to promote world cinema. “We started with Hotel Rwanda and played it almost for a month. We had it going for a while and revived it again in November 2012. We played Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, The Master, Lincoln last year. This Oscar season, we are bringing 12 Years a Slave and Her,” says Naren Banad, Head of Content for Sathyam Cinemas.

There are other regional critically acclaimed films that have got an extended run from Sathyam Cinemas. If it was the Kannada film Lucia a couple of months ago, now it is the Malayalam film Drishyam. “We had started with one show for Drishyam during the Pongal season and went on to increase it to four shows and the film is doing well, even without subtitles.”