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Rate rift risk on releases
- Plexes refused films on equal terms, distributors cite footfall for revenue share

Be ready to undo a three-year-old habit of movies at the multiplexes and, instead, book a balcony seat in a standalone theatre near you to catch Aamir Khan romancing Kajol for the first time in Fanaa.

If the sudden spat between the city's exhibitors and distributors is anything to go by, the Kunal Kohli film, along with other forthcoming blockbusters like The Da Vinci Code, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna and Dhoom 2, may not make it to the four city plexes.

It all started in mid-April when the quartet ' INOX (Forum), INOX (City Centre), 89 Cinemas (Swabhumi) and Fame (Hiland Park) ' joined forces to demand equal terms for all the properties.

Till April, some of the distributors had been charging different revenue percentages from the different plexes, depending on occupancy levels.

Case in point: with the Elgin Road address of INOX recording higher footfall, the revenue percentage it had to give to the distributor was less than what Fame (Hiland Park) had to shell out. Sometimes, plexes like Fame and 89 Cinemas would not even get certain movie titles.

'The four of us, under the Multiplex Association of India body, want the distributors to give us the movies on the same terms, like the Mumbai model,' says INOX (City Centre) general manager Subhashish Ganguly. 'With more and more multiplexes coming into Calcutta, this would only help in the dealings becoming more transparent.'

The distributors are not ready to buy such a theory. Says Pritam Jalan of Jalan Distributors, who handles all Yash Raj films in Calcutta: 'If one plex registers 65 per cent occupancy and another 20 per cent, how can I deal with them on the same terms' We all want to be reasonable but this is illogical and unwanted.'

The plexes label this 'resistance' unjustified. Says 89 Cinemas vice-president Prashant Shrivastava: 'In the past, we have not been given certain titles for various reasons and we do not want to deprive our patrons of good films.'

The distributors claim this is not a level-playing field. 'Fame and 89 do not even cover the print cost, how can I give them every movie' demands Arijit Dutta, East India representative for Walt Disney, Paramount and Sony Pictures, and who will be distributing The Da Vinci Code here. 'The terms for any cinema hall are set as per its collection, and not on a uniform basis.'

With other major distributors in the city raring to jump on to the differential-rate bandwagon, the plexes run the risk of being blanked out of new releases. 'How will these distributors manage without the multiplexes screening their movies' wonders a spokesperson for one of the plexes.

Distributors seem confident that the single-screen theatres will be able to bring them the returns. 'We will earn more because the ratio of revenue-sharing is much higher at standalone theatres like Priya and Menoka. For a film like Fanaa, these two halls can give me Rs 30 lakh in one week, which the multiplexes can never give,' argues Jalan.

If the frenetic parleys in Mumbai and Calcutta cannot bridge the rate divide, the midsummer movie madness could well spark a return to the single-screen theatres in town.

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