Kolkata: Can supply create its own demand? It does, in some cases, and the state government of West Bengal is of the view that it can for Bengali movies.
Conscious of the moral hazard of interfering with private businesses, the administration last week issued an order making it mandatory for all movie theatres to screen Bengali films at least 120 days a year during prime time—from noon to 9 pm.
Though a small ask, it is aimed at pressuring some 65-70 single-screen theatres to start exhibiting Bengali movies, according to key officials behind the order. These do not screen any Bengali movie at all, they said, adding that the state government is trying to make it easier for small budget films to get screen release.
While issuing the diktat, West Bengal was guided by the experience of Maharashtra, which took a similar step to promote Marathi movies, according to Vivek Kumar, principal secretary in the department of information and cultural affairs.
Maharashtra had issued a similar order, but with a three-hour prime-time window from 6pm to 9pm, according to Kumar. Exhibitors were immediately up in arms and moved the Bombay high court challenging the order. Eventually, all stakeholders came to an agreement to extend the prime-time window from noon to 9 pm, Kumar added.
Filmmakers and producers in Kolkata, however, are not convinced the move will make a difference.
When his first film was ready to hit the screens last year, Manas Mukul Pal figured that it would be “impossible" to distribute his film if it is seen to be a small-budget production. “The battle is half lost if you are seen as an independent filmmaker making small budget films," he said.
Though Sahoj Pather Gappo (Colours of Innocence) eventually turned out to be commercially successful as well as a critically acclaimed film, getting screens for it was a “huge challenge". It released in 36 movie theatres in West Bengal and other states, but the figure quickly went down to five as it couldn’t compete with the big Durga Puja releases from big production houses.
Eventually, after being in theatres for 99 days, the film was allowed to be screened at state-run Nandan in Kolkata. It ran for five weeks at Nandan and raked in over ₹ 10 lakh in box office collections, recalled Pal, 30, who gave up his acting career to make films.
“To level the playing field for newcomers, you need more screens," said Pal.
Most theatre-owners already comply with the order issued last week, said Arijit Dutta, managing director of Priya Entertainments Pvt. Ltd, which runs popular single-screen theatres. “You could achieve the target by screening 15-20 movies whereas some 150 Bengali movies are produced a year," he added.
The minimum requirement of 120 can be scaled up, said the unnamed officials cited above. Setting a big target immediately could have been viewed as “interference" with private enterprises, one of them said.
Eastern India Motion Picture Association (EIMPA), a lobby group for the film industry, described the state government’s mandate to theatre owners as meaningless. Its president Krishna Kumar Daga said EIMPA was lobbying the government for orders that would make it easier for all filmmakers to get screen release. This, in his view, will not make any difference.