Producer Parthan Mohan (Olappeeppi and Crossroad) talks about the struggles of indie filmmakers in finding good theatres for their cinema.
At a time when Malayalam cinema is opening itself to newer experiments and ideas, Priyanandan - the National Award winning filmmaker - known for his offbeat films, has hired a single screen theatre in Thrissur for a day to screen Pathira Kaalam (which made the rounds at several film festivals). He is also requesting people to buy tickets—“This is the only way I can show the film to the public,” he says.
Kerala was a state where independent cinema bloomed in the 70s. Since then, with a host of avant-garde films, they have put Indian cinema on the national and international map. But today they find themselves at the mercy of a few hundred exhibitors who understand only the language of economics.
Smaller, independent films seldom get the screens they want and are often withdrawn from the theaters after the first day. Theater owners administer their severe “law of holdover” upon these film: run full house on day one or face the exit on day two. That also puts a lid on the possibility of word of mouth publicity.
Sunil Ibrahim, director of the recent release Y, thinks theater owners at least need to show the basic civility of a luxury bus owner—“When you board an AC Volvo Bus to Bengaluru or Chennai with just 10 passengers in a 42-seater bus, they do not refuse to operate as that would be a breach of trust. Of course, they might incur some loss, but that can be compensated in a good season. But here, the theatre owners want houseful shows only and that’s when small films get pushed out of the theatres.”
Riding solely on stars
Understandably, mainstream films with stars get a much better deal, and often despite poor reviews and crowd, the films are still screened for weeks. The losses in such instances are conveniently overlooked by the exhibitors.
Director Sivaram Mony, who debuted this year with Matchbox, admits that his film was replaced on a Friday, despite running to a full house the previous evening, “Why are low budget films looked down upon by our exhibitors? I have nothing against commercial cinema but this attitude is not helping in any way. Eventually the audience will think such indie films can only be seen in festivals. Independent films will be fewer if this goes on.”
It doesn’t help the situation that the front runner in this campaign against small films is the state-run Kerala State Film Development Corporation. While the same corporation aids in the production of more than a hundred small and independent films through their film production package, they adopt a hostile attitude at the time of its release. Like in the case of Matchbox and Olappeeppi (directed by Krish Kaimal); they both earned positive reviews at the theaters during their limited run, but were replaced in no time by the KSFDC citing lack of audience. This show of greed by a body that was formed with the idea of promoting culturally rich, independent cinema in the state is unfortunate.
The reason given by the theater management rarely hold. They say that the huge number of films releasing a year makes it difficult for them to allot any more screens than the ones allotted. But then why do they consider commercial films that only run for the minimum period and also qualify for satellite networks to be of a “satellite value” and allow them so many slots? In contrast, smaller films get only the Noon and Matinee slots on the day of release, which in turn ensures that they don’t meet the holdover rate and fade away.
Cinema is definitely a profit making enterprise but it’s unfair to administer two different laws in the same industry. History is testimony to the fact that money-spinners at the box office aren’t necessarily great films. And expecting super-duper hits all year round is delusional. Those involved in cinema should rise above such economics to promote good, quality cinema, irrespective of the budget and beyond star-driven films. Eventually only enriching cinema will remain for posterity.
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