Kerala film theatres to down shutters this weekend

The exhibitors have been stalling Malayalam movies for the past three weeks or so, but were running movies in other languages in Kerala


At one point, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan intervened and tried to break the ice between the two warring groups, but the efforts went in vain. Photo: Mint
At one point, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan intervened and tried to break the ice between the two warring groups, but the efforts went in vain. Photo: Mint

Bengaluru: The crisis being faced by the Malayalam film industry is set to intensify this weekend and set to affect other film industries, with exhibitors deciding to pull the shutters on all theatres in Kerala under their control from Thursday.

The exhibitors have been stalling Malayalam movies for the past three weeks or so, but were running movies in other languages in Kerala.

The industry is facing huge losses as directors have not been able to release a single Malayalam movie since 16 December because of a fight between producers and exhibitors over revenue sharing.

Usually, in Kerala, the producer makes 60% of the box office collections in the first week and the remaining 40% goes to the exhibitor, said Kerala Film Producers’ Association (KFPA) president Suresh Kumar The exhibitors’ share increases 5% or more every week, thereafter. This is the case for most theatres—which are categorized as class ‘A’, ‘B’ and so on—except for multiplexes which are considered a different club altogether, he said.

In the years when superstars rolled out box office hits one after another, the exhibitors’ community was happy as the longer a movie ran, the more money they made. But with fewer movies doing well now, the exhibitors do not like the old revenue-sharing arrangement.

Exhibitors are now demanding that this revenue sharing pattern be altered into a 50-50 arrangement, as practised in multiplexes that are relatively more advanced in terms of infrastructure. The producers, however, are refusing to blink.

“We have filed a complaint before competition commission against forcing us towards a restrictive trade practice. They are grouping up like a cartel and trying to force our hand. We cannot allow that,” said KFPA’s Kumar in a telephone interview. He said the producers’ stand is supported by the union of film technicians and distributors.

He said the producers’ stand is supported by the union of film technicians and distributors.

However, Exhibitors Federation president P.V. Basheer Ahamed, widely known as Liberty Basheer, said they are not willing to step back from their strike, unless their demands are met. “350 (A class) theatres of ours will shut down. The only solution to avert this is to agree to prior discussed agreements,” he said over phone.

At one point, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan intervened and tried to break the ice between the two warring groups, but the efforts went in vain, said minister for culture A.K. Balan.

“The ball is in the exhibitor’s court, but the government cannot can’t force anything upon them,” said Balan over phone.

Industry observers like Chandrakanth Vishwanath said the crux of the problem lies in the refusal of theatre owners to allow grading of their infrastructure and installation of digital practices to track ticketing sales.

The efforts to bring in a grading system in Kerala’s theatres goes back to almost six years, and was strongly resisted by theatre owners. “If it was completed, we could give a sense of the quality of ‘A’ class theatres, thereby helping to understand whether their demands are justified,” he said.

So far, the crisis has stalled indefinitely the release of four movies that were supposed to be out on the Christmas weekend, including that of top paid actors such as Mohanlal and Dulquer Salman.

Notably, some of the biggest box office hits in Malayalam, like the 1988 movie Chitram or 2013 movie Drishyam were Christmas releases. The crisis has so far cost Rs30 crore losses for these four producers, according to KFPA’s Kumar.

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