Tamil cinema strike: The story till now

The South Indian film industry standoff goes on

A solution to the ongoing strike seems to be far away

The strike called out by the Joint Action Committee of South Indian film producers in protest against the “exorbitant charges levied” by Digital Service Providers for virtual print fee (VPF), has entered a crucial stage. The producers had said that there will be no new regional language releases from March 1.

In the South, Andhra Pradesh and Telengana had shut down screens in protest, but most of them have reopened now. In Kerala and Karnataka too, the token one day strike ended and things are back to normal. But in Tamil Nadu, the powerful producers lobby, headed by Tamil Film Producers Council (TFPC), is adamant that the DSPs should drastically reduce their VPF charges and should also make it clear when the “sunset clause” will be implemented.

However, theatres in Tamil Nadu are continuing their business with earlier releases such as Kalakalappu 2 and Naachiyaar, along with oldies of MGR, Sivaji Ganesan and the re-release of Vijay and Ajith’s super hits Mersal and Vedhalam.

Footfalls at an all-time low

Footfalls across cinema theatres in Tamil Nadu (especially in rural and semi urban areas) are at an all-time low and certain daytime shows are getting cancelled due to the lack of audiences. A steady flow of Hindi and English hits such as Padmaavat, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, Black Panther and Death Wish are keeping the multiplexes in urban areas afloat. But how long will the show go on, with no new Tamil releases hitting the screens, second week (March 9) in a row?

The South Indian film industry standoff goes on

TFPC issued a press release saying that the strike against DSPs would continue and that there will not be any new Tamil releases. And from this Friday, films from other south Indian states too will not release, until a settlement is reached in Tamil Nadu.

Unhappy with the deal

Producer SR Prabhu says, “We are not happy with the terms and conditions offered by the DSPs. They have offered a marginal reduction and are not saying anything about the sunset clause. We have made it clear that there will be no new releases till the matter is sorted out.”

Senthil Kumar of Qube Technologies, the market leader among DSPs in the South says, “We have had the lowest VPF rates in the world in South India and we’ve now reduced them even further in response to industry demands. We are left with no possibility whatsoever to do more. Producers have unfortunately overlooked the fact that we provide digital cinema mastering, QC screenings, drive duplication and delivery services, key management and content archival, all for free, making our already low VPF rates even more attractive. It would affect small movies hugely if these costs had to be paid separately at the time of release. It’s also important for producers to look at the alternative—today a film print costs ₹90,000 and we are effectively at just 15% of this cost per theatre.”

The theatres support the existing DSPs as a part of the ongoing business deal that they had signed and are in no mood to switch to new operators. The rumour mill is abuzz that a few new DSPs, with a different business model, are pitching in and offering attractive terms to producers and theatre owners.

A content freeze

Meanwhile, the theatres in Tamil Nadu are getting anxious as there will be no new Tamil content for a few more days. Out of the 1069 screens in Tamil Nadu, 80% depend on Tamil content. The old MGR and other hero films which were shown multiple times on television do not bring in the audiences any longer.

And for multiplexes, their concessions sales are at an all time low, but they are managing to sustain the business due largely to Hindi and English language films. The theatres are also looking at a post-strike scenario when there will be an overload of new releases, which will cause more trouble for Kollywood. The summer release schedule of biggies such as Rajinikanth’s Kaala, due on April 27, will get affected if the strike continues.

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Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 3:55:51 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/the-south-indian-film-industry-standoff-goes-on/article22947860.ece

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