The Tamil Nadu government’s decision to restrict the occupancy at theatres to 50% to curb the spread of COVID-19 has frustrated the stakeholders of the film industry.
The restriction was announced a day before the release of the Dhanush-starrer Karnan , which is directed by Mari Selvaraj, on Friday. The film has already received critical acclaim. Actor Kangana Ranaut’s Thalaivi , to be released on April 23, has been postponed. Producers and exhibitors feel the industry has become a “soft target”, especially after political parties mobilised large crowds for election rallies without worrying about precautions.
Tiruppur Subramanian, president, Tamil Nadu Multiplex and Theatre Owners Association, is upset at the decision, like many others in the industry. “The government and the media seem to believe that COVID-19 spreads only at cinema theatres and not on trains, buses and aircraft, and at political rallies. In fact, at a theatre, people just sit with their mask and do not interact much, unlike in a textile showroom or a jewellery shop,” he says. With the government imposing more restrictions, the theatre owners will not be in a position to continue paying their staff, he points out.
G. Dhananjayan, producer and vice-president, Tamil Film Active Producers Association, calls the restrictions opportunistic, given how all parties flouted precautions during the election rallies. “It affects everybody, and films have to be postponed. Films like MGR Magan and Thalaivi were planned for release... It is damaging the industry,” he says. “The fear among people should go. Audience will come to theatres only when big films release and big films will release only when people are coming back to theatres without fear. It is inter-connected. The industry will suffer if this chain breaks. It is unfair that the film industry has become a soft target.”
Producer S.R. Prabhu, whose film Sulthan starring Karthi is playing in theatres, says the decision will affect the film’s revenue. “We did take the COVID-19 scenario into account and released it. It is bad for a film that is a good family entertainer. It is a film made for the summer holidays. The film did collect well, but it should have done more.”
The Tamil film industry has suffered for long in the past year. “We have to respect the decision to protect the safety of the people. But the industry has been severely affected by the lockdown. We have not received any assistance in the form of interest or tax rebate. The State government still levies 8% in local body tax on every ticket. We expect something from the government to help us out,” Mr. Prabhu says.