This Friday, March 17, seven Tamil movies are waiting to rush into the projection rooms. Among the seven are Bruce Lee, Kattappava Kanom, Kanna Pinna, Oru Mugathirai, Senjitaley, Vizhithiru and Vaanga Vaanga.
Much like the old adage of too many cooks spoiling the broth, an excessive number of Tamil films has been causing an unbearable headache to exhibitors, distributors and producers. With nearly 200 Tamil movies churned out last year (compared to 120 in Kerala and 109 in Bengal) and just about 40 earning some kind of profit, there is a virtual traffic snarl at the cinemas. And in any case, there are not too many of them in Tamil Nadu. A prime reason being the state government cap on ticket price - which cannot, under any circumstance, exceed Rs 120 a seat in a multiplex - which also has to reserve the first row for Rs 10 a seat. Another reason for the comparatively smaller number of theatres in Chennai and other places in Tamil Nadu is the cap on the number of shows. On a weekday, no cinema can hold a screening before 11.30 or 12. This condition is relaxed on holidays and weekends.
With this kind of humungous production numbers, small and meaningful and independent cinema gets crushed out of existence. Now, take Kuttram 23 and Maanagaram (both reviewed in these columns). Both picked up an impressive patronage a few days after their releases - because of laudatory media reviews and excellent word of mouth. But despite this, Kuttram 23 found itself being edged out in its second week, because theatres were under intense pressure to accommodate a whole lot of fresh films.
As one public relations officer tells this writer, there was a time when great movies from men like Sridhar and K Balachander picked up footfalls only after several weeks, and cinemas had the patience to wait. Also, there were not too many movies being made in those days. “The digital technology has admittedly made film making easier and far less expensive. One can also wrap up a movie shoot in no time, and the absence of having to buy film/raw stock - which involved almost a lakh of rupees every day of the production - help producers and directors make merry with digital camera - shooting and re-shooting the same scenes and editing and re-editing the same sequences.”
All this is good, but the flip side is that an awful lot of awfully bad movies are popping out every day.
If this is a nightmare for theatres, it is a heartbreak for good cinema. Maanagaram -- which opened last Friday, may find it a struggle to get a second week slot or a prime-time slot. If it is allotted a late night show, most young people or most working men and women will find it difficult to watch Maanagaram. This will be a shame.
Arun Vijay was quoted in The Hindu as having said: “My Kuttram 23 was a hit but it would have become a super hit if multiplexes had given us more shows and prime screens in its second week. In certain places, our shows had to be cut down despite full occupancy to accommodate a bigger film. That’s how the trade functions today, with multiple releases fighting for screens. And if I wait for a solo release date, my movie will never see the light of day.” He is bang on.
Adding to this bottleneck are movies in Malayalam, Hindi and English -- which find themselves being treated as poor cousins.
Obviously, Tamil film production needs to be regulated, but with members of the Tamil Film Producers Council now fighting a bitter internecine war amongst themselves, good Tamil cinema finds itself being sacrificed at the altar.
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