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Southern film industry lost ₹1,000 crore during COVID

South Indian language film industries comprising Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam have incurred an estimated loss of ₹1,000 crore in nearly 18 months when theatres remained shut off and on, new film releases were delayed or sold directly to OTT (over-the-top) streaming platforms, according to two trade experts who declined to be named.

Additionally, unlike after the first lockdown, states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala have been slower in permitting cinemas to reopen after the second wave as governments remain cautious about spread of infections in public spaces. Also, no big films like Vijay’s Master, a standout performer last time, are being made available for theatres as several have been sold to streaming platforms.

“Even if theatres in Tamil Nadu reopen sometime in July, it will be a soft period of testing and the real action can only begin around the Independence Day period in August. Things in Kerala, on the other hand, are even tougher and reopening there could take as long as September,” said independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai.

Even if theatres do reopen, the 50% capacity rule will be in place at least for the next one year, he added. Unlike Tamil Nadu where there is a friendly relationship between the government and movie industry with several top stars having served as chief ministers in the past, Pillai said cinema is not a priority in Kerala.

In states like Telangana and Andhra Pradesh where cinemas have either received reopening permits or are expected to, theatres have neither resumed operations nor have producers scheduled any new releases. Last week, the Telangana State Film Chamber of Commerce wrote to the state government to reconsider the cap on ticket pricing besides asking producers to hold on to films until October and not opt for direct-to-digital releases. Theatres are also asking to lift curbs on occupancy, which is capped at 50% and seeking permission for night shows without curfew.

Unlike the last lockdown from which exhibitors in the south had seen substantial recovery thanks to Vijay’s blockbuster Tamil film Master, Pillai said there are no films to come to their rescue this time. While Fahadh Faasil’s Malik and Dhanush’s Jagame Thandiram are among the many titles that have migrated to OTT, Telugu flicks like Narappa and Drushyam 2, both starring Venkatesh, and Virata Parvam featuring Sai Pallavi and Rana Daggubati are also in talks with platforms.

“There is definite change (among southern audiences) and the old star craze is not there, though the impact may not be as strong as the north,” Pillai said. Even big star films could see a drop in collections after the first weekend, going forward, Pillai said. At the same time, Mukesh Mehta, founder of Malayalam film production and distribution company E4 Entertainment pointed out that while everyone is noticing these big films, several small films may never even see the light of the day with no digital platform or satellite television channel ready to buy them.

Film exhibitors, however, are placing their bets on the inherent movie-going culture in the south to help the industry bounce back. Rajendar Singh Jyala, chief programming officer at INOX Leisure Ltd said the southern industry has seen multiple releases every week even pre-covid and out of the seven to eight at least two to three grab eyeballs, and that will continue.

“Multilingual movies do very well in the south, so in general there is always a big movie pool. Even Hollywood and Bollywood movies are released here and they do phenomenally well. If the movie has a good story line, irrespective of the language or budget, it will always do well in the south industry,” said Rahul Puri, managing director, Mukta Arts and Mukta A2 Cinemas. Live Mint

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