Theatres need govt. help, says Archana Kalpathi, AGS Cinemas CEO

Archana Kalpathi

Archana Kalpathi  

The 'Bigil' creative producer of AGS Entertainment speaks about how the COVID-19 pandemic might have threatened the existence of the movie exhibition industry, but has also created new opportunities

The COVID-19 pandemic might have threatened the existence of the movie exhibition industry, but it has also created new opportunities.

With millions stuck in their homes around the world, Over The Top (OTT) platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are aggressively seeking to purchase premium movies for digital-only release.

Are we looking at a scenario where the sun is slowly beginning to set on the movie exhibition industry?

Archana Kalpathi, CEO, AGS Cinemas, and creative producer, AGS Entertainment, who has a ringside view of both the worlds, says production of movies is going to be a challenge, not their exhibition.

“It (exhibition) is an organised sector. I expect a huge surge at cinemas as people are waiting to come out. We already have trained staff – we just have to reduce the contact points and make it a safe experience,” says Ms. Kalpathi.

Actor VIjay fans clelbrating Bigil movie release at Vetri Theatre, Chrompet in Chennai. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan/The Hindu

Actor VIjay fans clelbrating Bigil movie release at Vetri Theatre, Chrompet in Chennai. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan/The Hindu   | Photo Credit: K_V_Srinivasan


More shows

Despite an expected reduction in theatre capacity, she says the revenue for producers will not be greatly reduced if the State government allows them to screen more shows. “On weekends, we operate at 80% of occupancy, and on weekdays, we operate at probably 25% occupancy. With respect to ‘big’ movies (with stars), there is a challenge.

“If the government helps us and allows us to screen early morning shows, we will double the number of shows – instead of four shows, we can run eight shows. Fans will come to theatres anyway for big star films. On weekdays, occupancy will go up,” said Ms. Kalpathi.

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What does she think about movies releasing directly on OTT platforms?

“From the multiplex point of view, we have been paying salaries without pay cuts and rent and there are fixed costs. We need movies to come to theatres as they would bring back the audience. But, from the production side, there is the interest, right? Every day the interest keeps increasing. Theatres can’t support the interest cost of producers if they are asking them to wait. So, they (producers) will have to find ways to survive,” said Ms. Kalpathi.

She adds, “We see the 7 films that have managed to get an OTT release – there are 100s of films which have not. This is a unique scenario. The OTT platforms have been able to watch the film and take a call. When things go back to normal, no producer will be willing to show the film. And how will they assess the value of the film? It is based on the film’s theatrical performance. Right now, they (producers) are trying to survive. A producer is never going to get back money without a theatrical release.” The challenge, she says, will be in managing film production.

“Now, everyone has to focus on pre-production more. There is so much work that needs to be done, as safety is very crucial. Even if one person is infected, we can’t shoot for three weeks. Production is going to be very, very challenging,” she says.

Ms. Kalpathi, however, finds a silver lining in the lockdown as she feels that producers can finally wrest back some form of control, more so when it comes to big-budget films.

“Only experienced production houses will be able to undertake big productions. The length of shooting is going to increase as shooting abroad will mean a 14-day isolation.

“Masks and physical distancing have to be made mandatory and technology - green mats, CG - will be used more in production. We will have to do shot breakdowns We did that when we were shooting for Santhosh Subramaniam. Now, we need to go back to what it was,” she added.

Speaking about creating a safe environment for people on set, she says, “Every one will have to be tested – they will finish shoot, quarantine before going back to another set. Definitely, speed of production will come down. If we are able complete the screenplay and shoot only what is required – we should be able to manage. We wouldn’t need ‘200 day’ schedules. Planning is key – you should be able to convince your cast and crew that you can give them a safe environment.”

She also says that it is only a matter of time before big stars also join the bandwagon of doing a show on OTT platforms.

“They can experiment here which they cannot do in mainstream cinema. OTT is not a competition to mainstream cinema. It caters to a different niche audience. Keerthy Suresh has done it, Hansika Motwani and Saif Ali Khan have done it. What more do you want,” she says.

Ms. Kalpathi says more than huge salaries of stars, the charm of having a theatrical release might be a deal-breaker for now. “The theatres create stars – OTT hasn’t created a star.”

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Printable version | Jul 9, 2020 10:14:17 PM |

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