TAMIL NADU

Pirates or no pirates, industry is star-crossed

CHENNAI. OCT. 8. The police have cracked down on the pirates. Most of them have shut shop, at least temporarily.

The Government has cut down the tax. Now, it is apparently the "best in the country."

The film industry is ecstatic. Things seem to be looking up.

Really?

No, warn trade pundits.

"The industry needs to put its house in order first," says Sreedhar Pillai, a trade analyst.

"It needs to think of ways of cutting down costs. The bane of the industry is the star-driven system. It is spending 50 or 60 per cent on star fees. Either the stars should take a cut or take their share after the film is sold. Producers should not cater blindly to the star system," he says.

The average budget of a film with a top hero is about Rs. 7 crores, half of which goes to the star.

"It is ridiculous. Some of these stars charge as much as Shah Rukh Khan would. A Shah Rukh Khan movie has an international market of at least Rs. 50 crores. And the King Khan takes his fee only after the film is sold. Here, even the biggest hit of the year makes only about 15 crores and a star wants over Rs. 3crores."

Distributors' role

Distributors believe that the audience goes only for star-based films. As the stars call the shots, the themes are so stale that it is the same formula, of six songs and six fights, that is rehashed film after film, explains Mr. Pillai.

Out of about 1,500 theatres in the State, only 500 are active and that too because of the ancillary industry — canteen and parking.

The rest, in rural centres, bank on fan clubs. The clubs buy up all tickets and sell them in ``black'' to create an opening for the film.

In cases where the theatre has paid a minimum guarantee amount to the distributor, the management runs up to seven shows a day and accommodates extra seats, making accounting impossible.

Computerisation

Because of the role of black money, theatre owners are hesitant to computerise their systems.

Once every ticket sold is accounted for, even producers of low budget and smaller films will get their due because they know how much exactly it is.

Computerisation of the ticketing system will check artificial demand and under-declaration.

Thus, distributors too will be encouraged to accept even smaller films and subjects with different themes, feel experts.

In Andhra Pradesh, the compounding tax system for theatres has encouraged computerisation, notes Sundaresan Kumar, regional manager of Shrinagar films.

With computerisation and recording of transactions, not only will the Income Tax department finally get proper records, stars will also be bound to honour commitments. Right now, most disputes are settled internally and most contracts are oral.

"We are like a family," says a senior star. "Once we give our word, we honour it or we settle it within ourselves."

It is this attitude, which has led to pressure on producers and distributors, some of whom are terrorised by financiers through goondas.

`Creating a villain'

"The industry needed a villain. So they blamed us for everything. How much damage can we do? If a movie is good, won't you go to the theatre and watch it," asks a video storeowner at Anna Nagar here, who has now shut shop and started an ice-cream parlour. "Now, the truth will come out. The real problem is within the industry."

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