And so, the mighty Kamal Haasan had to blink first. While the actor’s constant need to experiment with his work has always drawn abundant applause, his recent move to mess with the release pattern of his new film Vishwaroop was humbled by the cold response he got from his business associates.
Before the release of Vishwaroop (earlier scheduled to be released on January 11), a boisterous Kamal had thundered that there was no way he could go back on his (Direct To Home) deal where the film could be seen at home a day prior to the theatrical release by paying the cable operator. “Foul,” cried the theatre people who refused to release Vishwaroop in any of their prime cinema halls.
For days, Kamal wouldn’t budge as he stubbornly made statements like, “I don’t want to burn any bridges or disturb the existing ecosystem of the business. Going to the cinema is a cultural habit — it’s a part of our milieu and it will never go away. But we are evolving and this is a part of growth. Both can co-exist, there is enough for everyone. A TV premiere is entirely different from a set-top box premiere.”
He also stuck to his view that as the man who had put “Rs 95 crore” into the film, he had every right to decide how to sell or screen his film. Kamal was equally adamant that viewing Vishwaroop on TV would not take away from the theatre experience.
The argument did not work with anybody who was releasing the film. It was clear that if Kamal went ahead with the DTH premiere on January 10 and viewers could see the film at home, there was no way the theatres would touch it. A hectic round of talks that saw Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji (the distributors of Vishwaroop), Kamal and theatre owners in a huddle finally forced the actor to step back. He will get a decent chain of theatres two weeks later and the DTH experience will come only after the cinema halls have reaped the first-viewer advantage.
In other words, experimenting with his creativity was one thing. But trying to vary the business model was no cakewalk for Kamal who had to eat humble pie in this round. He is confident that his suspense thriller will “blow you away”. If Vishwaroop indeed lives up to its maker’s expectations, then maybe Kamal will be allowed to experiment with the economics of a film release the next time around.
Across the seven seas comes this little bit of information about Rani Mukherjee who was asked to be the Grand Marshal at the Independence Day celebrations in New York last year. One hears that Rani accepted the invitation and a contract was drawn up (as is the practice today) before she boarded the flight. Once there, she was taken aback to see a little known acting aspirant (one of those who win beauty contests in the US) and our own bad man Gulshan Grover also participating in the parade.
Rani, who has known Gulshan since her debut film Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat (1997), was overtly effusive when greeting him. But inwardly, she was perhaps seething at having to share a platform with him. Oblivious to her true feelings, Gulshan strutted around happily since he does fancy himself a celebrity in the West because of his brief appearances in a few English language films. He even took Rani forward with him to move together as Grand Marshals.
Imagine Gulshan’s surprise when he soon discovered that the organisers of the parade in New York were quietly being hauled up by the lawyers of Yash Raj Films in Mumbai over the contract they had signed for Rani’s appearance there. It was pointed out that there was no mention in the contract that she would have to share the Grand Marshal honours with anyone else. Clearly, Rani was not pleased at having to stand under the same spotlight as Gulshan Grover, never mind if he thought she was thrilled to see him there.
This is the film business. Whether you are a Kamal Haasan trying to get yourself a better deal by selling your rights to a new party which could eat into the earnings of the existing chain of buyers, or you are a senior villain who has seen a heroine take her baby steps, you can’t mess with equations and hope to get away with it. A heroine steps out only with a hero from her own bracket. Got that, Gulshan?
Bharathi S. Pradhan is editor, The Film Street Journal