The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Halls halt new Bollywood

Waiting to catch Sunny Deol as The Hero or be Stumped by Raveena Tandon, first day first show' Hoping to be floored by Akshay Kumar’s Andaaz or be bitten by Ishq Vishk on an April Friday'

You might be better off changing plans and picking a Hollywood or Tollywood flick, instead. For, Bollywood releases have hit a no-show sign, with no Mumbai films being distributed, effective April 1, till a dispute between the Filmmakers’ Council and Film Distributors’ Council is resolved.

Satellite telecast of films younger than a year has kicked off a controversy that threatens to keep new releases out of the halls.

The two Councils are at loggerheads about an agreement to allow producers to sell a film to television channels before the present deadline of a year from release date.

Distributors, backed by exhibitors, have refused to sign on the line that will, in principle, allow producers to sell the TV rights “the very day of the theatrical release”. This would be a big blow both for distributors and collections at cinemas already crippled by piracy.

“The producers are just trying to safeguard their returns, without a thought to the effect it will have down the line. We cannot give in on this. We would rather take on short-term losses than a long-term headache,” says exhibitor and distributor Arijit Dutta, of the Eastern India Motion Pictures Association.

The conflict comes ahead of Poila Baisakh, usually strong for celluloid in Bengal. “Nowadays, most people watch films on weekends and holidays. We are missing out a crucial period,” explains Mahendra Soni of Venkatesh 2000, with the eastern India distribution rights for The Hero, slated for an April 11 release.

The producers’ association in Mumbai sees this more as a struggle for free trade. “Why are there so many restrictions on what producers can do' We want the freedom to sell films to television two or three months after the release,” says Ganesh Jain, a producer with the Filmmakers’ Council in Mumbai.

Till a year ago, there was a “lock-in period” of two years before films could be telecast on satellite TV. This has already been reduced to a year. To beam on Doordarshan, producers have to wait three years. “But if films don’t run well in the halls, we have to make up our investment somehow. All our money is on the line,” Jain adds.

“If producers don’t have confidence in their films, they shouldn’t produce them. Or they can stick to making telefilms,” counters Dutta.

Early television screenings effectively ruin the chance for a film to have a good run in the districts. “Producers release limited prints. A film often reaches the suburbs and districts six to eight months after it’s launched. If it has already been shown on TV, no one will pay money to watch it,” adds Soni.

Depending on negotiation skills, distributors could buy the distribution rights outright for a territory, or pay an advance on commission, which is later adjusted against actual revenues. If the film fares poorly, distributors are meant to refund the excess advance money paid.

But the preferred mode for big-ticket films is “minimum guarantee”, by which the distributor pays a minimum amount to producers before a film’s release, based on box-office predictions.

“If this problem persists, no distributor in the eastern region will go in for minimum guarantee,” observes Dutta. And big-screen buffs will have to make do with some stale Bollywood fare.

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