Exorbitant production cost stifles Tamil cinema

Rising production costs and clauses from the workers’ union have stifled the Tamil film industry. DT Next talks to producers, FEFSI office-bearers and actors to find out the reasons and brings you the number game on production costs and its cascading effect on Tamil cinema
Representative image
Representative image

CHENNAI: We entered the sets of one of the Tamil films that is shot in the city limits and it was buzzing with activities. One person is seen carrying the light while the other is seen spreading colour papers on the floor. Three to five people at different times of a shot are setting up the camera trolley and on a table we see the production executive calculating the daily wage of a 200 member unit which goes in a few lakh. On the other hand, the back entrance of the sets has 50 more people with a few in deep sleep while others play Temple Run in their mobiles. While we try to figure out what is happening, the production executive whispers, “These people will get their wages too according to the clause set in the workers’ union.”

Of late, on the internet, every other film gives out a positive box-office report. But how true are they? “I don’t want to get into those details. But the truth is that out of 223 films that were released in 2022, only 10 percent of the films turned out to be profitable ventures and 10 percent of films managed to break even. 80 percent of Tamil movies lost out at the box-office “miserably,” says producer Dhananjayan. COVID is not the reason anymore. According to him, production costs have gone up after the pandemic. “When I say production costs, it includes daily wages of labourers, actors’ remuneration and set cost. Everything has now gone up. In fact, making a film now costs 50-100 per cent more than what it was before the pandemic,” he adds.

When a movie unit shoots away from Tamil Nadu or abroad, there are hardly 25-members including the actors. However, in Chennai or anywhere in Tamil Nadu there are as many as 300 people in the set. “Exactly. I have asked this ques- tion several times to everyone. Why do we need these many people on the sets and then blame actors for their remunerations? We shoot with 15 people abroad and get the work done with the same or better quality. It is a tough time for smalltime producers to make films right now,” says actor Vishal Krishna, who produced a dozen films under his banner Vishal Film Factory.

RK Selvamani, who heads FEFSI, comes in defense of his members and says, “In abroad, everything is done on a self service basis in a film unit. They take only 18 people from here at the maximum. Stars even serve food to others in overseas shooting spots. Do they do that in Chennai? They don’t need a lot of Lightman as they have light meters and shoot in good sunlight. Here they need people to carry and set up lights.”

For instance, a shoot takes place down south and a worker is taken from Chennai, his payment starts right from the time he leaves his house is what industry insiders tell us. Selvamani denies and adds, “Gone are those days. We only charge half bata for days we don’t work. Our workers are only upset with the current pay model.” Vishal lashes out and asks, “Then why do union members need car everytime when there are private cab services? The food quality is bad too, compared to prices we pay per per- son. Which is why we introduced that any producer can work with any person he chooses to work with. At the end of the day, it is his money.”

Producer IB Karthikeyan says that a specific clause from the union says that daily wagers have to be paid regardless of whether or not they work on the sets. “There is a clause that says these many workers have to be hired from the union and they all have to be paid on the days they are on the sets. This in turn increases the production costs and several films find it to break even the costs upon its re- lease,” he says. While stars’ remuneration have been the biggest point of debate in Tamil cinema over the years and even a few percent cut from their salaries would have a huge positive impact on the film’s production, Karthikeyan replies, “It is their face value that establishes a film as a brand. A film needs familiarity among the audience to attract them to theatres. So we need stars as well as good promotions for it to reach people,” he re- marks.

Tamil cinema of late, is surely right there on the top in the Indian film industry, but it should also be a place for every- one and the day would come only when small producers thrive too.

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