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Small regional film industries set for a dark future as losses mount

Smaller regional language film industries such as Marathi, Bengali and Punjabi that do not boast of large budgets of Hindi, Tamil and Telugu cinema, are bleeding with the pandemic having created losses of nearly 600 crore, said two trade experts who declined to be named. Not only are multiple projects stuck with interest costs mounting for producers, bcontent in these languages has also still not picked up in a big way by large video streaming platforms which focus on languages with a bigger draw.

Producers active in these language industries have kept all future plans on hold, not green lighting any new films with the bigger worry being whether theatres will allot adequate shows to these niche offerings once theatres are allowed to re-open.

“These movie industries were not doing that well even before the pandemic and now, of course, they are bleeding,” Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema said. In 2019, for instance, Mohan pointed out, around 130 Marathi language films were released in theatres but only four or five managed to do well at the box office. As the heart of the Hindi film industry, Mumbai often tends to overlook rich Marathi cinema that has remained on the periphery for years, with films like the 2016 blockbuster Sairat remaining a rare exception, he said.

“Things are going to be tough even for big-budget films since nobody knows if or when people will come back to theatres,” Mohan pointed out, adding that it will be even more challenging for industries with smaller markets. Further, unlike Bollywood, Marathi, Bengali, and Punjabi industries are mostly unorganized, relying on individual producers rather than established corporate houses.

Marathi film producer Akshay Bardapurkar said movies made in smaller regional markets barely ever make more than the cost of their production at the box office. Part of this has to do with the fact that these films are concept-driven and do not come with much star value. “Actors in these industries are not really hero-worshipped like in Bollywood and in the south,” he said. “Even OTT platforms are not as keen to pick these films up,” Bardapurkar said, adding that at least 60-70 Marathi films are ready for release. Their producers are just waiting to sell these movies somehow and exit the business since they have already gone bankrupt with interest costs mounting,” he said.

Even in other states such as West Bengal and Punjab that boast active film industries, Bollywood is the bigger draw. In an earlier interview with Mint, Rudra Prosad Daw, business head at SVF Cinemas in West Bengal, had said that though the state was the first to restart cinema operations with a bunch of Durga Puja releases last October with some films like Dracula Sir and Cheeni running to packed houses at 50% capacity, all cinemas across India were waiting for a big Bollywood star vehicle with hopes pinned on films like Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi.

Mahendra Soni, co-founder of Bengali production house Shree Venkatesh Films (SVF) had also agreed earlier this year that the uncertainty around the future of theatricals had put a stop to all ongoing film shoots, even though states like Bengal had permitted them. “There is no point starting anything new unless there is clarity,” he had said.

Film producer, trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar said such niche films have long been sidelined by multiplexes. “Theatres will now have to realize they can’t just depend on the few big films that come a couple of times a year and learn to nurture small-budget films to keep up the volume game,” he said. Live Mint


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