Kollywood, Mollywood’s big crisis: Too many film releases result in over Rs 150 cr losses

by Sreedhar Pillai

A major crisis is brewing in Kollywood and Mollywood, and it’s a case of too much of a good thing. Every week, there are too many films in theatres and as a result, they’re all bombing at the box-office. This year, as of last Friday, there were 37 Tamil releases and only Shankar’s I proved to be a profitable release as far as theatre earnings go.

The other three movies which may break even for their producers from theatricals and other rights (audio, satellite, dubbing etc) are Ajith’s Yennai Arindhaal, Dhanush’s Anegan and Sivakarthikeyan’s Kakki Sattai. As per industry sources nearly Rs 150 Crores have been lost in film production in the first two months of the year.

In this glut, films with little known artists and hardly any promotions are bombing. Yet the mad rush to release in theatres continues. Today, a new record was set with 11 Tamil films releasing on the same day. All of them star either newcomers or little known artists.

Dhananjayan, who heads up UTV in the south, says, “A large number of releases will only lead to indifferent response from audience to view them in theatres. What is surprising is many films planning to release in the coming weeks were not even marketed or created sufficient awareness among audience before scheduling their release, which is a pre-requisite for films to get the audience in theatres.”

In the past year alone, we’ve seen 72 actors making their debut as heroes (most of them have an industry connection or somehow funded their first films). In 2014, there was a record number of release in Tamil – 215, to be precise – out of which only 12 were profitable for their producers.

A poster for the film I by Shankar.

The situation with Malayalam film is similar. Thirty films have been released in 2015, till last Friday. Only two of these have turned out to be average grossers – Mammootty’s Fireman and Prithviraj’s Picket 43. As in Tamil cinema, there were far too many releases in Malayalam and audiences just refused to throng to the cinema.

However, while Malayalam films are failing, Tamil big hero spectacles are doing good business in Kerala. Shankar’s big – budget, Vikram extravaganza I grossed a whopping Rs 20 Crore from Kerala, with a record distributors’ share of Rs 10 Crore. That’s as big as any Malayalam blockbuster, in terms of earning.

Nandakumar, president of Kerala Film Chamber and leading Palakkad-based exhibitor, said, “The content in recent Malayalam releases is pathetic, with some heroes having four releases and in each film they look and act the same. There should be something different to attract the audiences. I strongly believe today content is king, if there is something new in story and presentation audiences will lap it up.”

Meanwhile the supreme body of producers – Tamil Film Producers Council (TFPC) – is wondering if it should take some action to stem the flow of new releases. TFPC is an elected body of producers and gets its voter strength from small time producers who are demanding that big-budget, star-driven films should release only during festival days. In a meeting of TFPC on 8 March, members reportedly decided big budget films would only release on 10 festival days – primarily Pongal, Tamil New Year, May Day, Independence Day, Aayutha Pooja, Diwali and Christmas. Any films which exceeds a budget of Rs 15 Crores or films involving the top stars in Kollywood should be released only during these days, so as level the playing field for smaller-budget films.

But the big stars and their producers who bring in 85 percent of the total revenue from films have cried foul and have argued in private that the TFPC decision cannot be implemented. At the same time, TFPC is seeing a connection between the number of releases and piracy, the bane of Tamil cinema. Some producers feel the only way to stop video piracy is to stop releases of films for at least three months.

Kalaipuli S Thanu, TFPC president, said, “To stop piracy, there should not be any new content for some time. When we stop new film releases, say for three months, the movie pirates will go out of business. We are looking into this option because film producers have suffered heavily and this is one way to stop piracy.”

However, stalling releases doesn’t address the main reason for this proliferation: the large number of new producers who are entering business without any basic knowledge about the industry. Attracted to the glamour associated with films, almost anybody with money or connections in the industry can become a hero in Tamil cinema. Many of these debut films are by producers who burn their fingers in the process of making a film with only amateur knowledge of what it takes to make a film. Often, they go back to whatever they were doing earlier.

Also, Tamil Nadu politics’ nexus with films continues. For instance, actor turned politician, Vijayakanth’s son Shanmuga Pandian’s debut movie, Sagaptham, has got a U certificate from the censor board. Vijayakanth’s DMDK is the official opposition party to Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK in the state. Sagaptham is scheduled for release on April 2.

On the same day, DMK strongman MK Stalin’s son Udhayanidhi Stalin will release his new film, Nanbenda. Udhayanidhi is today a popular hero and his films, laced with comedy and sentimentality, have worked well at the Tamil box-office. Will Vijaykanth be able to secure a tax exemption for his son’s film? And if he does, what will it mean for in terms of the competition between the two releases?

The battle is going to intensify in summer of 2015, as nearly 20 big and medium films in Tamil and 10 in Malayalam have been slotted for summer releases over April and May. There are hardly 900 screens in Tamil Nadu that are fit to screen these new releases. The number in Kerala is around 400. The new releases will be fighting for theatre space, and it looks like a battle for survival among the fittest.


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