The ‘real’ problem with cinema

What’s happening between the theater owners, distributors, producers and film makers? Why does there always seem to be some sort of dispute or the other between any two of these four categories of people involved in cinema? Peacetime seems to be lesser than times when squabbles and bickering are going on! The ongoing strike by film makers and producers of Bollywood withholding all new releases until theater owners bow to their demands makes this an appropriate time to discuss the issue of constant disagreements. The current face off has already proved costly to both sides with many multiplexes in the North having to temporarily shut down a few screens and producers having to incur heavy losses due to the delay of the release of their movies. Now, this is not something that happens only in Bollywood, it is common in our very own Kollywood too. The only bright side being that the disagreements have never precipitated into blocking of new releases and other such serious measures.

That takes us to the first question. Over what do they disagree? Well, most often (read always) the issue is financial. Revenue sharing arrangements, profit percentage splitting, minimum guarantee payments etc…, the list goes on. To put it simply, it is the numbers that are the problem. If the problem is just about numbers, then why have the solutions never worked? To the best of my knowledge, they are the same issues that keep resurfacing again and again every time a new adjustment or arrangement is reached, but it does not hold good for long. What one might infer from this is that solutions are not being found to the actual problem.

So, what is the actual problem? Let us take a look at the last few instances in Tamil cinema when major disputes have taken place over various issues. This is not an attempt to project the movies of any one star or director in poor light. These are plain facts that have been observed over the past few years. The most recent instant is that of Villu. In this case, theater owners were really upset and got together and decided that minimum guarantees would not be paid to movies in future. Before that, it was Kuselan where theater owners turned to distributors for compensations to the losses that they had incurred, the distributors turned to the producers and finally after many negotiations even Rajinikanth had to pay up quite a sum to cover the damages. Something very similar had happened with Baba. In between Baba and Kuselan, Aadhi had caused issues between theater owners and distributors over MGs and other allied matters. Now, in Bollywood, the problem is revenue sharing- how to split the profits?

What is common to all the instances cited above? The issues are not the same, if it is MG in one case, it is compensation in another while it is revenue sharing in yet another case. The actual common factor in all the above cases is that the movies in question are poor quality products. In Bollywood too, the problems started surfacing only after a string of huge flops which included Chandni Chowk to China and Billu Barber. In fact, the Hindi film industry is still waiting for the first hit of 2009. It is flops that create the problems. Let’s put it simply. Bad movies flop, fail to make money at the box office, bring about losses and there is less money to share. When there is less to share and more hands to fill there will obviously be squabbles and that is what we see happening very often between theater owners, distributors and producers.

Let’s also offer a strong counterpoint to any doubts against the above arguments. Have you ever heard of similar issues cropping up in relation to any good movie? The answer has to be a no! Movies that have quality never give way to any kind of dispute between anyone. If the movie has been made on a huge budget like Sivaji or Dasavatharam (60 crores each) and carries big risks, it does not matter if the movie in question is good. There wasn’t a single issue in the Tamil film industry concerning these two mammoth films. Let’s also take the case of Bollywood which is currently going through a stand off. Looking back at the recent past, as close as December 2008; everything was looking hunky dory with Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and Ghajini doing smashing business at the box office. It is only 4 months of continuous flops that have brought about the current crisis.

The overall inference is quite simple for anyone to draw. The actual problem that is behind every dispute and disagreement is poor quality cinema. The only viable and sensible solution is to work towards consistency in delivering high quality products that won’t let anyone down. Other measures like new MG rules, revenue sharing arrangements, reduced budgets and star salaries are never going to purge the industry of disagreements. They will only be like symptomatic treatments that don’t address the heart of the matter. Here’s hoping for better films and a more harmonious film industry.

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