Mumbai: Cinemagoers queuing up at multiplexes across India later this month might be forgiven for thinking they have wandered into the wrong venue, when instead of the latest masala flick, they are treated to a variety of stage plays.
In sync: A file photo of (L-R) Geetika Tyagi, Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal, Varshaa Agnihotri, Dolly Thakore and Rasika Dugal rehearsing for the Hindi version of The Vagina Monologues, titled Kissa Yoni Ka. Kunal Patil / Hindustan Times
Fame India, the multiplex group, has signed a deal with Poor Box Productions to stage up to 10 performances of The Vagina Monologues in its cinema halls in April, amid a deepening stand-off over revenue-sharing terms between production houses and multiplexes that will see the halt of all cinematic releases scheduled for April and May, from Saturday.
Meanwhile, Fun Cinemas, which is also in talks with various theatrical groups over producing plays in its cinema halls, has negotiated a deal with NDTV Lumiere to screen world cinema at its multiplexes in India’s major cities in a bid to secure alternative revenue streams while the planned releases are put on ice.
The deal kicked off in Delhi on Friday with a screening of Persepolis, directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi, and will also cover other arthouse and international films, including The Orphanage, Caramel and Turtles Can Fly.
“There is nothing moving right now,” said Shravan Shroff, managing director of Fame India, referring to the ongoing talks between producers and multiplexes, in an eleventh hour attempt to break the deadlock.
“In case nothing works out, we will effectively shut our screens down. We are also looking at options to screen independent cinema but that is not going to fill up the theatres. We are in talks over plays too, and have agreed to host between eight and 10 performances of The Vagina Monologues with Poor Box Productions for Mumbai and Bangalore, but this is just a drop in the ocean. There are not too many theatrical performances in this,” he said.
Reiterating that he was “confident” there would be a satisfactory resolution to the dispute, Shroff added that Friday’s release of Percept Picture Co.’s 8 x10 Tasveer as well as Fast & Furious, starring Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, would help plug the gap for a few days until alternative entertainment options were in place.
He added that he was also hopeful that the cinema halls would be able to screen cricket matches from Indian Premier League (IPL), due to start in South Africa on 18 April.
Multiplex owners are also pinning hopes on the possibility of screening IPL matches in cinemas, which will bring in additional revenue.
The in-theatre telecast rights for the cricket tournament are currently going through a tender process, with Group M, the media buying agency, and UFO Moviez reportedly in pole position, according to the Business Standard.
However, multiplexes face a series of obstacles before screening the matches in cinemas, including getting special censor clearance for all IPL matches as well as permission to show “live” matches in cinemas.
It comes as the current stand-off between multiplexes and producers marks the culmination a series of wrangles over the terms of revenue sharing from new releases, with producers lobbying to take a larger share of the pie and multiplexes seeking to secure insurance against the prospect of a flop.
In the absence of a deal, producers have asserted they will hold back all planned releases over the next two months, putting the total cost for multiplexes, which are not insured against business risk of this kind, at anything up to Rs500 crore.
The stand-off will affect a series of releases, including Mukesh Bhatt’s Jashn, as well as New York, which is produced by Yash Raj Films and was due for release on 1 May.
“We are looking at some experimental stuff,” said Shirish Handa, senior vice-president of marketing at Fun Cinemas. “We have signed a deal with NDTV Lumiere to screen world cinema in Bangalore and Delhi. We have entered into an annual arrangement with them. Also, we are planning to run a day-long film festival for short films in Mumbai at the end of the month. In addition, we are in talks with theatre production houses about hosting plays. Though we will remain a cinema house, we see this as an opportunity to give our audiences more of the sort of content they want.”
INOX Leisure and Cinemax India are among the multiplex chains also exploring a range of alternatives to fill the void during this period, including recruiting theatrical groups to their cinema halls.
“The issue is still not resolved,” said Alok Tandon, chief executive of INOX Leisure, which runs 91 screens across 26 multiplexes.
“We hope it will be soon but until then, we have 8x10 Tasveer, Fast & Furious, as well as some good regional content which we are planning to show. The Hindi content during this time was very lean anyway. We are also talking to performing groups but this will be for the audiences in the metros, such as Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore,” Tandon said.
Meanwhile, Cinemax India is examining the logistics and possibility of running a play festival at its cinemas.
“We are going to run whatever content is out there for the next two weeks and hope that a solution will be reached by then,” said Devang Sampat, senior vice-president of Cinemax India. “We are talking to the producers every day but alternative content cannot replace movies: It just gives extra benefit to the viewer. We are planning a play festival where we will have a series of plays in our multiplexes in the evenings and we are in talks with two or three producers of plays, but we still have not finalized this.”