Spotlight- Telangana

Telugu film industry goes into a huddle to tide over crisis

A view of Prasads multiplex, Hyderabad

A view of Prasads multiplex, Hyderabad | Photo Credit: NAGARA GOPAL

On Friday (August 5), when Telugu films Bimbisara and Sita Ramam opened to a warm response at the box office, it brought cheers to the Telugu film fraternity. The films marked happy tidings after two months of film after film turning out to be damp squibs.

The two hits came barely days after the Active Telugu Film Producers Guild (ATFPG) announced that film units have voluntarily decided to pause film shootings and hold discussions to address issues ailing the industry.

“With the changing revenue situation and increasing costs post-pandemic, it has become important for producers to discuss all the issues we are facing as a community of filmmakers,” read the statement from the ATFPG. The Telugu Film Chamber of Commerce, which functions as the parent body for the industry, gave its nod to pause pausing film shootings.

Kalyan Ram in ‘Bimbisara’

Kalyan Ram in ‘Bimbisara’

Since August 1, the ATFPG has been meeting producers, directors, cine workers’ unions, distributors and exhibitors to address concerns. Producer-distributor Dil Raju stated that four committees have been formed to look into issues concerning theatrical and OTT releases, VPF (Visual Print Fee) for theatrical screenings, wages and other issues with film federation units, minimising production wastage and streamlining working conditions. “The meetings with the different committees will not prolong for weeks. We intend to find workable solutions soon and resume film shootings,” he said.

“We are in a situation where we need to do some homework to take the industry forward after the pandemic,” Dil Raju stated at a media gathering on the sidelines of the success celebrations of Bimbisara. He asserted that the film is an example of how a producer, actor and director can work towards managing costs and ensuring that the film turns out to be a profitable venture. 

NTR and Ram Charan in ‘RRR’

NTR and Ram Charan in ‘RRR’

In its first weekend, Bimbisara reportedly collected over $350K in the US and opened to packed halls in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The makers stated that the film entered the profit zone from the fourth day of release. The film’s lead actor Nandamuri Kalyan Ram added, “The uncertainties during the pandemic made us nervous about making a large-scale film. The success has proved that if a film offers interesting content, people will support it.”

Meanwhile, Sita Ramam reportedly garnered over $600K in the US markets in the opening weekend and was off to a good start in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh as well.

One of the main concerns that prompted the ATFPG to pause film shootings was dwindling theatrical revenues. Since the time theatres reopened in December 2020 after the extended lockdown, Telugu cinema witnessed sporadic successes at the box office, punctuated by the summer lockdown in 2021 during the second wave of COVID-19. 

How it tallies
Telugu film releases in 2022 (January 1 to August 5): 118; profitable ventures: approximately 10 to 15
The big hits: RRR, Sarkaru Vaari Paata, Major (Telugu and Hindi), Bimbisara, Sita Ramam. Pushpa -The Rise and Akhanda, both December 2021 releases, fared well in theatres until the end of January 2022.
KGF2 (Kannada and Telugu dubbed versions) and Vikram (Tamil and Telugu dub) were the other notable blockbusters.

In comparison with Tamil, Hindi and Malayalam film industries, Telugu cinema delivered more hits. Pushpa - The Rise was a nationwide blockbuster. RRR and KGF (Kannada) also broke box office records. However, several other big, medium and small productions bit the dust.

Data available from the Telugu Film Chamber of Commerce reveals that 118 Telugu films have been released so far in 2022. Of these, only 10 to 15 films have been successful. Vikram (Tamil and Telugu dubbed) and Major (Telugu and Hindi) were the last profitable ventures before Bimbisara and Sita Ramam.

Allu Arjun in ‘Pushpa - The Rise’

Allu Arjun in ‘Pushpa - The Rise’

Theatre or digital streaming? The tug of war

Digital streaming opened up new possibilities for filmmakers during the pandemic. A few films opted for direct digital releases and new web series paved the way for more employment opportunities. Eventually, the audiences got habituated to home viewing and had become extremely selective to venture out to theatres.

A producer says on condition of anonymity, “When we talk about a new film, one of the first questions people ask is which OTT platform it will stream on. We relied on digital platforms to showcase content during the lockdowns and now it has come to haunt us.”

Digital route
During the pandemic, a few Telugu films that were made for theatrical viewing opted for direct digital release during the lockdowns and soon thereafter. Notable among them: V, Tuck Jagadish, Narappa and Drushyam 2.

Added to this, ticket prices for films such as RRR, KGF, Acharya and Sarkaru Vaari Paata were hiked for the opening week, to the tune of ₹350 to 450 per ticket in multiplexes. Monthly subscriptions to digital platforms proved to be cheaper for family audiences and their visits to the theatres became less frequent.

Several films struggled to get footfalls in cinema halls. Digital platforms began offering a higher price for early streaming. A few films streamed digitally two weeks after theatrical release. While this helped the producers recover some of their losses, it pushed the audiences further into the comfort zone of home viewing.

Venkatesh in ‘Drushyam 2’

Venkatesh in ‘Drushyam 2’

The suggestion by ATFPG and Telugu Film Producers Council that films be streamed 50 days after theatrical release has been received with mixed reactions in the industry. Negotiations are on between producers and ATFPG to work out viable solutions.

‘See you in the cinemas’

Producer Swapna Dutt and director Sashi Kiran Tikka hold forth on their recent hits

A day before the release of Sita Ramam, when production house Vyjayanthi Films released a short video titled ‘See you in the theatres’, in which people from different walks of society shared their memories of watching films in theatres, it reflected the collective wish of the film industry.

Dulquer Salmaan and Mrunal Thakur in ‘Sita Ramam’

Dulquer Salmaan and Mrunal Thakur in ‘Sita Ramam’

Swapna Dutt, one of the producers of Sita Ramam along with her sister Priyanka Dutt and father Ashwini Dutt of Vyjayanthi Films, says, “It was heartening to see people cheering during the interval twist and later when key points were being revealed in the story, in a theatre like Brahmaramba in Kukatpally, which is usually considered a place where ‘mass’ cinema is celebrated.”

Vyjayanthi Films has backed unconventional films in the recent past — the Savitri biopic Mahanati before the pandemic, an indie-style film Mail: Kambalapalli Kathalu (digital release), the comedy Jathi Ratnalu (which was a roaring hit in theatres during the pandemic) and now Sita Ramam. “None of these films were made purely with business calculations in mind. When we are convinced about a story, we put our might behind it,” says Swapna. 

Swapna points out that the production house was offered ₹18 crore for a direct digital release of Jathi Ratnalu. Priyanka’s husband and director Nag Ashwin (of Mahanati fame) advised the sisters to hold on to the film for a theatrical release: “He was sure that the film would merit collective viewing in the theatres and he was right,” says Swapna, reiterating her belief that the audiences will support well-made films.

This is an argument that resonates with Sashi Kiran Tikka, who directed Major, the biopic inspired by the life of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan. “I directed Goodachari, an under-five-crore film, prior to the pandemic. Major was a bigger project (backed by Mahesh Babu Entertainment and Sony Pictures). With both the films, Adivi Sesh (actor-writer), me and everyone in the team attempted to make the projects suitable for collective theatrical viewing. The focus was not only on the story and screenplay but also the technical details to give the audiences a memorable sound and visual experience.” 

Adivi Sesh and Sashi Kiran Tikka on the sets of ‘Major’

Adivi Sesh and Sashi Kiran Tikka on the sets of ‘Major’

The team also aggressively marketed Major across the country: “It has become important to make that noise to draw people to the theatres,” adds the director.

For successful films, a digital screening at a later date takes the film to newer audiences across the globe. “When the film began streaming on Netflix, we received calls from nooks and corners of the country and abroad where the film hadn’t been released. Those who have watched it in theatres also enjoyed a second viewing. As filmmakers, we need to be clear about a film and its target audiences — are we making a project for the theatre or digital streaming — and work with a clear business model,” he sums up.

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Printable version | Aug 12, 2022 5:11:45 pm |