The pandemic took a huge toll on Tamil cinema as several big and small budget films are stuck in various stages of production. Over 60 medium-budget films are yet to see the light of the day and the industry is facing a staggering loss of over Rs 1,200 crore in terms of production and theatres shut down till today.
With OTT being the only respite for now, the who’s who of the industry feel that Kollywood can break the shackles only when theatres reopen and stars willingly reduce their remuneration. President of Tamil Nadu Theatre Owners’ and Exhibitors’ Association Tirupur Subramaniam says, “Actors will never reduce their salary even after the pandemic is over. That is the reason they have been signing films for corporate companies and not individual producers who take loans to produce films of late. They have started to look out for producers outside Tamil Nadu.” However, lack of transparency over box-office collection has been one of the factors in actors’ sky-rocketing remunerations in Tamil Nadu over the years. With manipulation in numbers stars obviously tend to increase their salary with each film. “There is no question of transparency here.
Every ticketing system is now tied up with a corporate company that can give us the right numbers. Only a few single-screen theatres in TN do not have the facility. So we have been honest. It is the producers who are to blame. Actors tell them to advertise manipulated numbers on social media and newspapers in terms of collection and producers end up doing it. Which in turn makes the government think that we are a profitable industry and not waive taxes. The stance which these so-called stars have taken has affected the industry really hard,” adds Subramaniam.
Actors like Vijay Antony have reduced their remuneration by 25 per cent and says that other actors should come forward to do so. “I am a producer too so I know how difficult it is. Also, with the pandemic and the interest being paid by the producers, I feel actors should reduce their salaries,” says Vijay Antony. One such star is Rajinikanth, who voluntarily came forward and reduced his remuneration by 25 per cent for Annaatthe.
Despite this situation, trade analysts, actors and producers feel that theatres will play a key role post lockdown. Gautam Jain, Partner of Ormax Media, says that big movies will continue to release in theatres and might not take the digital route. “The bigger films, with top stars, will continue to be made for a theatrical first release. For big-scale films with huge stars and big budgets, a theatrical release will have to be considered to ensure economic viability of the film. However, stories which don’t demand these three could be considered for a direct-to-digital release,” he says.
National award-winning actor Joju George, whose films Nayattu and Jagame Thandhiram that released on OTT went on to become popular globally, still feels that theatre releases are crucial. “Yes, people watch our performances across 190 countries when a movie releases on the OTT platform. I still would want my movies to be released in a theatre any day. That is a different ball game altogether,” he tells us.
Another important reason is that stars haven’t lost their sheen in the last 18 months and people still love to watch their favourite on the big screen, adds Gautam. “The experience of watching your favourite star on the big screen cannot be replicated on a smaller screen. While audience tastes will evolve as they get exposed to more content, the lure of stars will remain as one of the factors which entice audiences to cinema halls,” he adds.
Producer-director CV Kumar seconds that and says OTT is just a temporary respite for producers as well as actors. “The revenue stream that we generate from theatres cannot be compared with OTT platforms. We get 20 to 30 per cent more than what an OTT release could fetch us. Corporate producers need stars as the face of their brand, so they don’t mind paying the salary that actors demand,” he reacts. As the blame game continues, we would have to wait for theatres to open to see how films fare at the box-office.