Film industry heading for yet another crisis

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM Sept. 26. The Malayalam film industry is heading for yet another crisis. Dwindling collection in theatres due to the spurt in video piracy and lack of effective preventive measures are taking a heavy toll on the cinemas.

Majority of the 780 theatres in the State, except those in the Malabar region, were running at heavy loss. Theatres in major cities including Thiruvananthapuram had cut down the number of shows, owing to poor turnout. The piracy menace had added to the woes of the exhibitors who were already burdened by high power tariff and entertainment tax, sources said.

New films were usually released during Onam, Christmas and Vishu. The number of new releases was fewer than that in the previous years during the Onam season. The collection had also come down considerably even in the `A' class theatres in major cities. The situation was pitiable in `B' and `C' centres. The revenue returns were insufficient even to meet the daily expenses, sources said.

The CDs of the Onam releases, `Balettan', `Pattalom', as well as the earlier releases including `CID Moosa' `Chronic Bachelor' and `Nandanam' were in circulation even in rural areas immediately after they were released in the `A' centres. Certain local television networks had shown these films on their network. Hence families did not turn up in theatres during the Onam season, sources said.

Following occasional raids on video shops, the trade on pirated CDs and cassettes had been shifted to grocery shops, pan shops and the houses of those who were running the business, to escape the attention of the local police. CDs were stored in houses and delivered to the clients on demand. Students were also being roped in to distribute CDs and cassettes, offering handsome pocket money, sources said.

There were complaints that the police had been abetting piracy and were allegedly reluctant to strike on time despite getting the right leads. The piracy was thriving due to police inaction, it was alleged.

According to Kireedom Unni, president of the Film Distributors Association, the initial enthusiasm of the Government on bringing to book the culprits has tapered off and piracy has become more rampant. "The Government seems to be interested only in collecting entertainment tax. If the number of films released till June last year was 35, it has come down to 15 this year and it is likely to go down again. Producers and distributors are becoming bankrupt and the industry will soon grind to a halt," he said.

"But one cannot take law into his own hands to check piracy. We can only request the Government and wait for action. We are helpless,'' he said.

According to S. Chandran, chairman of the Kerala Film Exhibitors Federation, stringent action had not yet been taken against those trading on pirated cassettes and CDs. The repeated requests of the theatre owners to revise the power tariff and rationalise the entertainment tax structure had fallen on deaf ears. Video piracy had only increased the problems of the exhibitors, he said.

The Government had formed a Cabinet sub-committee comprising the Finance Minister, K. Sankaranarayanan, the Culture Minister, G. Karthikeyan, the Information Minister, M.M. Hassan, and the Local Administration Minister, Cherkalam Abdulla, to look into the problems plaguing the industry, but precious little had been done so far, Mr. Chandran said.

A study comprising suggestion to save the industry at the behest of the Chalachitra Academy, which was submitted to the Government two years back, was gathering dust. Mr. Chandran attributed the fall in the collection to the deluge of film-based programmes on television during the Onam season.

``If the channels air popular films and programmes featuring actors and playback singers, families will be glued to television sets and this will have a bearing on the collection in theatres. But, this should not prevent the Government from stepping up action against piracy and redressing the long- standing grievances of the industry,'' he said.

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