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Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Cinema theatres lean on regional cinema as Bollywood gives cold shoulder

  • The Bhojpuri industry released three new films for the Chhath festival last weekend while Bengali and Telugu cinema have new offerings scheduled for November and December

NEW DELHI : Unlike the Hindi film industry which is not releasing new movies in theatres ever since the government allowed them to re-open, cinemas point to the enterprising regional movie industries that have scheduled a bunch of films and registering decent occupancies.

The two Tamil Diwali releases, Biskoth and Irandam Kuththu, reported 50% occupany (currently allowed by the government as per physical distancing norms) as did a Bhojpuri film called Mehndi Laga Ke Rakhna. The Bhojpuri industry also released three new films for the Chhath festival last weekend while Bengali and Telugu cinema have new offerings scheduled for November and December.

In Hindi, scheduling big-ticket films like Sooryavanshi and ‘83 that are complete and ready for release for the first quarter of 2021 does not make sense, according to producers as these are big budget films and may not be viable at such low occupancy protocols. As of now, Bollywood has only one mid-budget film for December, Kiara Advani’s Indu Ki Jawani produced by T-Series.

The two Tamil Diwali releases, Biskoth and Irandam Kuththu, ran to packed houses, following which the industry brought out another new film last week titled Quota and has scheduled a crime thriller called Kavalthurai Ungal Nanban for this Friday. The Bhojpuri industry too built on the success of its Diwali offering Mehndi Laga Ke Rakhna 2 with three new films for the Chhath festival last weekend—Dostana, Nagdhari and Dil Dhak Dhak Kare. Kannada film Act 1978 has registered 30-50% capacity in its initial days after which the industry has scheduled a film titled Yuvarathnaa for 2 December while Zee Studios is ready with a Telugu film called Solo Brathuke So Better for December. Bengali cinema, the first state to restart operations as early as Durga Puja, has Pratidwandi and Kakababur Protyabortan slated for Christmas.

“Bollywood needs to understand that people will come if there is new and attractive content in theatres," Bihar-based exhibitor Vishek Chauhan said. Scheduling big-ticket films like Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi and sports drama ’83 for the first quarter of 2021 may make sense for producers but they are digging their own grave by starving the pipeline entirely of content all these months in the interim, trade expert say.

“We’ve never said they should release big blockbusters right now, they need to maximize theatrical business but at least release small films that can help theatres survive, completely abandoning them will kill cinema. Regional producers are feeding cinemas," Chauhan tweeted last week.

Film trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar said houseful boards in the south have proven theatre-going is a much stronger habit in the region along with the fact that producers have dished out attractive content within days of reopening. As further incentive, digital service providers such as UFO Moviez and Qube Cinemas have announced 100% waiver of virtual print fee (VPF) for the month of December and 60% reduction for January.

“Costs of releasing Hindi films pan-India are such that they seem some time away," Johar said.

On their part, producer like Reliance Entertainment, backing both Sooryavanshi and ’83, pointed out that important overseas territories like the UK are shut, further dimming possibilities for Hindi films. The 100 crore plus budgets of these films plus marketing and promotional costs of at least Rs. 25-30 crore will have to wait for better times to be recovered.

“Everyone knows this is going to be a slow burn and that there is no way any film can turn out to be a blockbuster at this point. But if nobody takes the first step, the cycle will never move," Shariq Patel, CEO, Zee Studios said. Apart from Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari and Solo Brathuke So Better, Zee has a Korean zombie film called Peninsula slated for this Friday.

“If theatrical is the fountainhead of our business, it needs to be fed with new content. We have to think of the larger good of the industry than take a myopic view of gain or loss," Patel said.

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