Hyderabad: Last year it was the economic slowdown, the slump in real estate and piracy that laid the Telugu film industry low.
Security show: Police personnel outside Odeon theatre in Hyderabad that is screening Adhurs, a movie starring Jr NTR, son of senior TDP leader N. Harikrishna, who is opposed to the creation of Telangana. Bharath Sai / Mint
This year, it is the ongoing political movements for and against the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh that is wreaking havoc on the industry, bigger than Bollywood in terms of number of releases and second only to it in terms of business.
For the film industry, the move to create a separate state, Telangana, from Andhra Pradesh, couldn’t have come at a worse time. The industry saw only 130 releases last year (of movies made in Telugu and not dubbed into it) as compared with at least 200 in 2008. And of this, only 12 movies did well.
Of the 105 movies dubbed from other languages (including English) and released last year, only around 10 did well.
“The drastic fall in number of successful movies last year had a chain effect on the entire film industry, from producers to distributors to exhibitors all of them suffering huge losses,” says T. Prasanna Kumar, secretary of Telugu Film Producers’ Council, an industry body.
And the year has started off with pro-Telangana agitators targeting actors and others associated with the film industry, attacking shooting crews, vandalizing sets, even stalling the screening of movies in the region, comprising 10 districts, including state capital Hyderabad.
The result could be another year of losses for an industry that directly and indirectly, serves as the means of livelihood of over one million people in the state. K.C. Sekhar Babu, a film producer and secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Chamber of Commerce, says: “We are losing Rs7 crore daily owing to issues such as postponement of releases and rescheduling of shootings.”
Andhra Pradesh has the highest number of cinema halls in the country, around 2,800 across the three regions of the state, of which Telangana alone accounts for around 800, which contribute approximately 40% of total box-office collections, says Mareddi Vijayender Reddy, president of the Telangana Film Chamber of Commerce, another industry body.
Pro-Telangana agitators, led by Kavitha, daughter of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) president K. Chandrasekhar Rao, say that they are targeting only those actors and producers who are either directly or indirectly associated with supporters of a united Andhra Pradesh.
That covers several larger-than-life actors and producers many of whom had releases lined up for Christmas or Sankranthi (the harvest festival). Typically, movies of top heroes are released during the festive and holiday seasons, mostly during Christmas and Sankranthi—box-office takings in this period contribute up to 30-40% of annual collections.
The agitation has forced film-makers to postpone these releases, says Prasanna Kumar.
Among the actors being targeted by pro-Telangana protestors are Ram Charan and Allu Arjun, son and nephew, respectively, of Chiranjeevi, the actor-turned-politician; Manchu Manoj and Manchu Vishnu, sons of another actor-turned-politician Mohan Babu, a former member of Parliament; and Junior Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (Jr NTR) from the family of late NTR, which is backing the Telugu Desam Party (TDP).
Both Chiranjeevi and Mohan Babu are strongly opposing Andhra Pradesh’s bifurcation, while Jr NTR’s father and senior TDP leader, N. Harikrishna, had resigned as a member of Parliament protesting the Union government’s move to create Telangana. On Tuesday, the Andhra Pradesh high court directed the director general of police to provide adequate police protection to theatres in the Telangana region screening Adhurs, a movie starring Jr NTR, following a petition filed by the producers of the movie.
On Thursday evening, TRS withdrew its call for the boycotting of Adhurs. This followed a meeting of an all-party Point Action Committee, which includes TRS, on Wednesday that found fault with the party for attacking theatres screening the movie.
Like Jr NTR’s family, most people in the Telugu film industry have their roots in coastal Andhra Pradesh. Many of them are either directly or indirectly associated with people opposing bifurcation of the state.
“There is lot of confusion and nervousness. We are basically here to entertain people and we can feel comfortable only when there is peace and normalcy around,” says D. Suresh Babu of Suresh Productions.
The protests for and against Telangana, which gathered momentum in the dying moments of 2009, made their impact that year itself. Kumar claims the industry lost around Rs50 crore in 2009 because of these.
More than protests
The protests, and the ensuing losses, could force the already-ailing Telugu film industry to reinvent itself, say producers and others associated with the industry.
Piracy and staleness (in plots) are identified by most of them as the primary reasons behind the industry’s decline. And the situation hasn’t been helped by producers throwing money at films in the hope that they may succeed.
“The producers’ council has recently appointed a committee that would look into the issue of needless expenditure and suggest measure to the members on avoiding such unjustifiable expenses,” says Kumar. The industry is looking forward to the government’s policy on tackling piracy, he adds.
Meanwhile, the industry’s misfortunes appear to be having a cascading effect.
“With a number of flops throughout the year, film shootings have significantly come down, affecting the livelihood of thousands of families,” says J. Laxmikanth Reddy, a leading supplier of generators and lights for outdoor film shooting in Hyderabad.
Film-makers typically pay their dues when they release films, added Reddy, and the postponement of releases hasn’t helped the cause of suppliers like him.
“We used to get wages of Rs365 a day, at least for 15-20 days in a month. We don’t have work for the last two months as film and TV shootings are virtually stalled,” says Siddhanthi Ashok Kumar, general secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Motion Pictures and Television Drivers’ Union, which has over 800 members on its rolls.
“At least 400-600 members lost their means of livelihood when the film shooting of (actor) Mahesh Babu was stalled after agitators damaged film sets worth couple of crores of rupees last month,” he adds.
D. Vijayudu, a driver who works for the film industry, says he hasn’t had a day’s work in two months. “I migrated to Hyderabad from Mahaboobnagar district in Telangana 12 years back and had never seen such bad days for people like me.”
Still, Vijayudu adds, he is better off. “As a driver, I can at least try and shift to other work. I feel pity for thousands of junior artists who can’t do this.”