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Poor Productions, Expensive Tickets and Fading Footfalls Ruining Tamil Cinema

The recent months have been pretty bad for the Tamil industry – with demonetization, hike (after a decade) in ticket rates, and the State Government adding a local entertainment tax to the price.

Gautaman Bhaskaran | News18.com

Updated:February 8, 2018, 12:25 PM IST
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Poor Productions, Expensive Tickets and Fading Footfalls Ruining Tamil Cinema
The recent months have been pretty bad for the Tamil industry – with demonetization, hike (after a decade) in ticket rates, and the State Government adding a local entertainment tax to the price.
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The other evening, I walked into a plush theater in central Chennai to watch Daniel Day-Lewis's pre-retirement swan song, Phantom Thread. Brilliantly crafted, engagingly narrated, Paul Thomas Anderson's 1950s story of an exceptionally gifted fashion designer and his romance with a much younger restaurant waitress managed to attract just 15 or so people to the hall that evening !

If this is the sad plight of some great cinema , most Tamil movies also stutter and stammer and stumble on day four of their opening. And if the word of mouth -- which these days begins inside the auditoriums with the young and the old furiously punching their opinions on WhatsApp, Facebook and myriad other social platforms – is not too favourable for a film, tickets go a-begging even on the first Sunday!

As far as Hindi movies in Chennai are concerned, they seldom do well – unless they star one of the Khans, preferably Shah Rukh or Salman. Talent-wise, Aamir Khan is way ahead of these two stars, but he garners fewer seats. Irrfan Khan, despite being a wonderfully natural performer, probably loses his deposit in Tamil Nadu – so to say!

A box office report from a consulting firm, Ormax Media, avers that both Bollywood and the Tamil film industry have shown disturbingly declining trend in the past five years. Mumbai's Hindi cinema fared poorly in 2017 with domestic theatrical collections dropping by nine per cent from Rs 2780 crores in 2016 to Rs 2525 crores in 2017.

Tamil cinema's net domestic collections fell by five per cent from Rs 996 crores in 2016 to Rs 946 crores last year. In 2017, some 200-plus Tamil movies were produced, compared with 150-odd in Hindi.

The recent months have been pretty bad for the Tamil industry – with demonetization, hike (after a decade) in ticket rates, and the State Government adding a local entertainment tax to the price. This is in addition to the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Though, a Tamil movie is the cheapest of the lot with Hindi and English pictures costing more, a lull in Tamil theater attendance is perceptible. I have walked into several Tamil film shows on an opening-week Monday or Tuesday to find the halls sadly empty.

The reasons are not far to seek. With India's one percent of the population enjoying 73 per cent of the total wealth, the remaining 99 per cent of the citizens have to do with just 27 per cent of the resources. Obviously, the spending power of an average Indian family has been dwindling over the years, and with essentials like house rent, school fees and basic food (rice/wheat, potato, onion) hitting the roof in a country ironically called the sixth richest after USA, China, Japan, Britain and France, the man on the street is finding himself pushed to the precipice. How can he think of cinema then! And, movies have become a luxury now.

To top it all, with digitization, just about every other person turns a director. And to find a screen is getting tougher. Take February 9th for example. There are three Tamil movies – Arjun's Sollividava (with the Kargil war as the backdrop), Sundar C's Kalakalppu 2 and Mysskin-Ram starrer Savarakathi – vying for space in a State where there are not many theaters. Much like an election constituency with too many candidates splitting the votes, these three releases will end up confusing the ticket-paying public. With only X number of patrons available, the box office jingle of each of the three will get fainter.

Obviously, there is very little unity among Tamil producers. Look at an Akshay Kumar, who postponed his Pad Man to accommodate Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat. Or, look at a Neeraj Pandey, who has put off the opening of his Manoj Bajpayee-starrer Aiyaary to February 16 so that Pad Man can open on February 9 and hopefully do good business. Such unity is totally missing in Tamil Nadu, and the result of this one-upmanship or whatever you want to call it is there for all to see. Fading footsteps.

Also, with filmgoing being increasingly associated with food and drinks, most theaters in Chennai and elsewhere charge a bomb for these. A tub of popcorn will touch Rs 200, a plate of samosas Rs 90, a can of Coke Rs 60. Once-upon-a-time India described this kind of business as profiteering. This word has been forgotten in these days of making a fast buck in the quickest possible time.

All these factors now combine to encourage piracy, and Tamil Nadu and Puducherry have earned the dubious title of “Piracy Capitals”. An illegal DVD of the latest movie can be had for as low as Rs 40, and one can see the film as many times as one wants to, and any number of people can watch it. All for Rs 40 compared with Rs 160 or so in a multiplex.

The solution may not be easy. But I feel that the Tamil film industry must place some kind of restriction on themselves by cutting down on the number of productions. It is time that greater attention is paid to quality, not quantity. And some kind of discipline and give-and-take must be thought of in releases. Too many openings on a single day will mar the prospects of each one of them.

Yes, it is also time to be prudent in another aspect: No point arming oneself with a camera and rushing to shoot a story that may be poorly conceived, poorly scripted, poorly mounted and poorly performed.

By the way, February 9 will also see the opening of Clint Eastwood's 15:17 Paris. So, for a Tamil Nadu population – more specifically a Chennai population – the choice of five new releases, including Pad Man, can be but a nightmare. More importantly, for those not into English or Hindi, the choice of three Tamil titles can be equally unnerving.


(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic)
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