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While cinemas finally reopened today (15th October) after a seven-month shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, the harsh reality is that all the cinemas have not reopened. One is not referring to the cinemas in those states (like Maharashtra) where cinemas have not yet been granted permission to reopen, in view of the pandemic situation. What one is talking about are the cinemas in those states where they are allowed to restart operations from today. Many cinemas in such states have not yet reopened. Yes, several of them will reopen tomorrow (Friday) but there will be quite a few which will not open their doors to the public — neither today nor tomorrow — even though they have the permission to do so.
Several of them will reopen tomorrow (Friday) but there will be quite a few which will not open their doors to the public — neither today nor tomorrow…
Delve a little deeper for this state of affairs and the cracks between the various sectors of the film industry will be visible. And these cracks are the reason why several cinemas have still not busied themselves with sanitisation procedures to welcome the public.
The problems are threefold. The first problem relates to availability of playing programmes. Since cinemas haven’t reopened across India and, what’s more, they haven’t yet restarted in Bombay (Maharashtra) which is the nerve centre of the film industry, no producer has shown inclination to release his new film. Also, since multiplexes have refused to screen films which have been premiered on OTT platforms, the films premiered in the last four-and-a-half months on streaming platforms are also not available to them. One had heard that some multiplexes and single-screen cinemas were in favour of releasing the recent OTT-premiered film, Zee Studios’ Khaali Peeli, but Zee Studios spoilt its own chances when it asked the cinemas to bear the VPF (Virtual Print Fee). This has angered the cinemas so much that they’ve simply declined to accommodate the Ishaan Khatter and Ananya Pandey starrer. Resultantly, cinemas have had to make do with screening already released films or regional films or a few Hollywood films.
The first problem relates to availability of playing programmes.
The second problem relates to the VPF. While digital projection system companies like UFO and Qube today (14th October) announced their new tariff of lower VPF to kickstart the film industry, producers and distributors are quite firm that they will not pay any VPF henceforth. The dispute over VPF has long been going on between digital projection system companies and producers/distributors but the matter precipitated during the lockdown when producers and distributors decided to once and for all refrain from paying VPF which amounts to approximately Rs. 22,000 – 25,000 per week per film. Interestingly, national multiplex chains like PVR, Inox and Cinepolis had some time back replaced the digital projection equipment of companies like UFO and Qube with their own equipment so that the VPF would then accrue to them (multiplex chains). In such cases, the dispute for non-payment of VPF is between producers/distributors and the multiplex chains. The producers/distributors won’t supply films till the digital projection system companies and the national multiplex chains agree to forgo the VPF. And that doesn’t seem to be happening.
The second problem relates to the VPF.
The third problem relates to the past dues of multiplex chains to distributors. As all the multiplex chains have faced humongous losses during the seven-month shutdown, they were not in a position to pay the distributors their portion of shares for films released in January, February and half of March this year. Of course, while chains like Cinepolis have cleared all the dues and thereby brought down their owings to zero level, some other big chains still owe distributors money, it is learnt. It is also learnt that the payment plans of these multiplex chains are in order as without that, the distributors to whom monies are owed have refused to supply them new content. So, till the dues are cleared, this is the third problem.
The distributors to whom monies are owed have refused to supply them new content.
It’s unfortunate that on the one hand, the exhibition sector had been clamouring for cinemas to reopen and on the other, despite the permission to reopen cinemas, many are unable to do so because of the problems listed above. As an exhibitor remarked, “The film trade is stuck in a chakravyuh. Till all the sectors do not come together and help each other, it may be difficult, even impossible, for the film industry to come on track.