Culture, business of cinema

The celebrations, which were observed across India, involved discounted tickets being offered to audiences, as a token of gratitude for patronising the big screen, in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Representative image
Representative image

Last month, on account of celebrating India’s rich legacy of filmmaking and film-going, the Multiplex Association of India had observed National Cinema Day. The celebrations, which were observed across India, involved discounted tickets being offered to audiences, as a token of gratitude for patronising the big screen, in the aftermath of the pandemic. It was not just an act of giving back to the audiences, but an attempt to reignite the movie-going fervour among the masses, who had been through a rough patch during the Covid lockdowns when most multiplexes across the nation had remained shuttered.

The film industry was among the hardest hit during the coronavirus crisis when several single screen theatres were compelled to shut shop owing to the absence of patronage, and mounting costs vis-a-vis fixed overheads like rental, electricity and maintenance charges. Before the pandemic, between 2010 and 2019, the number of single screen cinemas in India had dwindled from about 10,000 odd screens to 7,000.

Box office returns in 2018, vis-a-vis Bollywood films were estimated to be Rs 3,300 cr while in 2019, the number had shot up to Rs 4,400 cr. Compare that to the abysmal returns earned in 2020 when the theatres finally opened up in October after months of circuit breaking lockdowns – a measly Rs 650 cr. A year later, the picture has turned even more dismal with the total box office numbers pegged to be Rs 450 cr in 2021. To put these numbers into context, the individual budgets of some of the big ticket, blockbuster releases planned this year have exceeded the quantum of earnings made by the industry during the pandemic. This tells you how dependent the industry is on the success of these multi-crore projects.

Attracting audiences back to the theatres is just one aspect. Filmmakers today struggle with challenges posed by the diminishing attention spans, the formats of content delivery and the threat of piracy. In Tamil Nadu, ticket prices have been fixed by the government. So the pricing falls within an economical bracket, which can be afforded by a middle class family. What the government hasn’t controlled is the F&B that goes along with the movie-going experience, which in cities like Chennai, ends up costing more than the price of tickets (read caramel popcorn, cold coffees and nacho platters).

Also, OTT platforms have changed the game in a big way. The average film gets less than a week, or at the max a fortnight to recoup its investment while running in theatres. Small budget, independent films do not have that luxury as well, as their fates are decided on the opening day turnout. Films are pushed onto streaming platforms in a heartbeat, which might guarantee a certain revenue, but it’s nowhere near the windfall that can be made in theatres. Such quick turnaround times have changed the nature of the filmmaking business.

Keeping the industry in good stead will require the contribution of all stakeholders, including audiences, and not the least of all, the government itself. Considering the sector is such a significant contributor to State and Central revenues, it is imperative that the government officially categorises it as an industry, which will not only help corporatise and formalise its workforce, but also bring in measures that can help it mitigate unforeseen events, and ensure the welfare of those earning their daily bread from this business.

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