TradeWinds Columns

Centres that mean business

A lot of people following this column have expressed interest in knowing more about the Tamil film trade—especially about how movies are sold and the different territories that make up Tamil film business. During the 1970s and 80s, only veteran businessmen and star-struck fans were willing to get into the cinema business, as it was considered to be highly risky. This was a time when box-office collections were not really discussed in detail. If a film featuring a big star failed, the hero would agree to do another film with the same producer—an arrangement that also benefited the distributors. This was a time when single screens ruled, and theatres vied with each other for the release of star-driven films. This resulted in the creation of the MG (Minimum Guarantee) system, as part of which theatres paid money to the distributors before the release of a star’s film.

Veteran distributor and producer Ananda Suresh says, “Up till the beginning of the 1970s, in the entire NSC area (North Arcot, South Arcot and Chengalpet areas), only a few prints of a film would be released. For instance, only six prints were released for MGR’s Nadodi Mannan (1958), with the film eventually running in as many as 400 centres. The lifetime of a hit film back then was easily 18 months to 24 months. Rajinikanth’s Baasha released in 1995 with 18 prints in NSC area, and took almost 15 months to complete its entire run. Today, big films get released on almost 150 digital screens in NSC area, with their lifetime shrinking to just two weeks. In most cases, it is just 10 days. The business of cinema has undergone a sea change.”

Cable Shankar, an industry tracker, says, “Until the early 2000s, established distributors used to call the shots. But now, theatre owners and new distributors, who don’t quite have a sound understanding of the trade, have taken over. The pricing of films per territory is exaggerated, mainly due to fake collection reports floating on social media; this has consequently further increased star salaries.”

Since the Dravidian parties came to power in the State, cinema ticket prices and theatre licensing has been handled by the most powerful minister in the government. Though the government has stipulated the prices of tickets in Tamil Nadu, this is often violated outside Chennai city. In small towns, for instance, ticket prices are known to go up to Rs. 300 sometimes, depending on demand and supply. But wider releases have, to a certain extent, stopped the MG system, as competition between the theatres has reduced. The advent of social media has made the film business attractive to the younger generation. Film business has become more glamorous, with stars happy to click selfies with trade people during promotions; some stars even thank them through their social media handles.

The trade, which was controlled earlier by only a handful, now has hundreds of newcomers. Corporates and NRIs are also changing the way film business is done. The iconic NSC area has now been split into three, with Chengalpet becoming the most lucrative area in Tamil Nadu.

The overseas market, which was once influential, has now been reduced to smaller areas, as independent distributors are buying U.S., Canada, Europe and Malaysia as separate areas directly from the producer.

(To be continued next week)

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Printable version | Jul 27, 2021 5:52:11 AM |

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