Releases of all forthcoming films are uncertain in view of the ongoing cinema closure in Maharashtra. A number of producers have planned their releases from Feb. 7 onwards to take advantage of the Idd period, but the release plans are all subject to the reopening of cinemas in Maharashtra. Saawan Kumar’s Salma Pe Dil Aagaya will, perhaps, be the only major film which will be released on 9th February even if the bandh is not called off.
Cinema Closure In Maharashtra
The deadlock in the matter of cinema closure in Maharashtra continues, with the government adopting a tough and rigid stand that it would not grant any relief or concession before March 5 until which the election code of conduct would remain in operation in the state. The code of conduct precludes the government from granting any relief, benefits or concession to anybody. The industry leaders, on their part, are making efforts to get negotiations restarted with the government. In a bid to woo the BJP ministers, who are said to have objected to the earlier settlement arrived at (on 6th January) between their partners, the Shiv Sena, and the action committee of the film industry, the latter is now seeking appointment with BJP’s Gopinath Munde. An early meeting with Munde, who returned from Delhi only on 16th January, is not ruled out.
In the meantime, TOA president U.A. Thadani on behalf of the action committee denied that the industry had been asked to reopen the cinemas before any settlement came about.
The action committee is also going all out to seek a more pronounced support from the production sector. Towards this end, it has arranged a meeting with several top producers and those whose films are ready for an early release, on Monday, January 20, at Gaiety-Galaxy cinema complex.
Whilst the leaders are making efforts for a settlement, exhibitors, especially from ‘B’ and ‘C’ class centres, have started losing their patience and and are pressing the action committee for calling off the bandh. Some cinemas in ‘A’ class centres are also said to be keen that they be allowed to reopen soon in view of the Idd festival during which box-office collections are known to look up. But distributors of C.P. Berar submitted a written memorandum to the CCCA, asking it not to call off the closure by accepting 100% entertainment tax, under any circumstances. The memorandum states that if 100% tax rate is accepted, the business of small and flop films will be badly affected as admission rates will go up.
Even as the cinema closure entered its 18th day today, cinemas of Marathwada continue to function and are paying entertainment tax at the new enhanced rate of 100%.
Meanwhile, a couple of Marathi film producers and distributors have decided to offer their prints to any cinema owner who is prepared to release them, in view of the fact that there is no solution in sight for the ongoing bandh. The current season is one of yatras (pilgrimages) in Maharashtra, a period known to be bountiful for the box-office. The Marathi film producers and distributors do not want to lose out on this golden period and hence their decision to call off the bandh. It may be mentioned here that touring cinemas in the state have been permitted right from the start to continue their operations and not remain closed.
Whatever the progress on the front of the cinema bandh, the next two or three days will be very crucial and a final and definite outcome may materalise next week.
It is reliably learnt that Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray has expressed the Maharashtra government’s inability to grant any relief in entertainment tax till 5th March, on which date the election code of conduct will cease to apply. While he is also said to have expressed a desire that some concession needed to be given to the industry in the matter of entertainment tax, he is reported to have asked that the closure be called off immediately.
It is, therefore, likely that after a meeting with Maharashtra deputy chief minister Gopinath Munde in a couple of days, the action committee might decide to call off the cinema closure with the hope that some concession will be granted after March 5, 1997.
SANTOSH SINGH JAIN KO GUSSA KYON AATA HAI?
CCCA president Santosh Singh Jain lost his cool at the action committee meeting on 16th January when both, U.A. Thadani and N.N. Sippy, did not turn up at the meeting which was called to take stock of the situation of the cinema closure. When contacted, Thadani is said to have told Jain that since there was no headway made in the matter, he had excused himself from the meeting.
Upon this, Jain is said to have threatened to ask his members to reopen their cinemas without a settlement if the Bombay leaders continued to show scant interest in the matter. In fact, this statement of Santosh Singh Jain soon started doing the rounds of the trade circles and news spread fast that the C.P. Berar distributors and exhibitors were calling off the bandh. When contracted, Jain told Information, “No, we aren’t calling off the closure. My remarks were made in the heat of the moment, we don’t intend carrying out our threat.”
“We’d rather close down our cinemas forever than pay 100% entertainment tax”
– U.A. THADANI
Bombay exhibitor U.A. Thadani is known for his sharp tongue and short temper. The man minces no words and never hesitates in calling a spade a spade. When we called on him on 15th January, he was having an afternoon siesta in his office. “I’ve nothing to do,” he grinned as he opened his eyes and straightened himself in his chair. He was, obviously, referring to the ongoing cinema bandh in Maharashtra, precisely the reason why we had decided to interview him.
What is the latest on the closure front?
– Nothing. We are trying to fix up on a meeting with deputy chief minister Gopinath Munde but he is in Delhi today. Shatrughan Sinha, who is also in Delhi, met him there. We’ll, perhaps, get a chance to see him once he returns to Bombay.
But there are press reports that the government wants the closure to be called off before it has a dialogue with the industry.
– Rubbish! Nobody has conveyed this to us.
Will the action committee call off the bandh if the government asks it to do so before it has a dialogue?
– No way! We will not open the cinemas till we get the relief we are demanding. We can’t pay 100% entertainment tax, it is impossible.
What is the industry expecting to achieve?
– A definite relief, not merely promises.
Will the industry accept the 3-tier entertainment tax structure agreed to between Pramod Navalkar and the action committee on 6th January?
– Yes, we will accept that even today. We are not like the government which goes back on its word.
But what if the government refuses to grant any relief?
– We won’t open the cinemas. We’d rather close them down permanently than pay tax at the rate of 100%.
Exhibitors of small towns are getting impatient and want to reopen their cinemas as they are convinced, the government won’t grant any relief before March 5. Comment.
– This is not true. On the contrary, I receive phone calls everyday from cinemas in moffusil places, pledging their unstinted support to the bandh. Finally, the bandh will bear fruits for the benefit of all. If we agree on the 100% tax rate, a number of cinemas will find it difficult to run. They will close down. Already, with 50% entertainment tax, several cinemas have downed shutters. Imagine the scene then, with double the tax rate.
The government is said to be sore about exhibitors not spending the money collected by way of the tax-free service charge, for the maintenance of cinemas. How justified are exhibitors in not utilising this money for the purpose for which it has been allowed to be collected?
– If exhibitors don’t spend the money on maintenance, they have to refund the amount unspent to the government at the end of every year. Why, my own Deccan cinema in Pune refunded over Rs. 46,000 last year. On the other hand, there is no system of carrying forward any excess amount spent in a year on maintenance of a cinema, to be adjusted against the service charge collected in the following year.
How true is the government’s claim that 50% entertainment tax concession was given to the industry as a cinema centenary year gift?
– It is totally false. The gift was given in the 98th year of cinema and withdrawn in the centenary year which was 1996!
Why are the Marathwada exhibitors not supporting your call of cinema closure?
– There are various reasons for it. Of them, one is the fact that some cinemas in that region are owned by ministers. But let me tell you, the total revenue to the government from cinemas of this region is a mere 2 crore per year.
How true is the claim of some Marathi film producers that cinemas in districts of Sangli and Satara have reopened?
– It is utter nonsense. Not a single cinema in Satara or Sangli district is running. The bandh is total, barring the Marathwada region.
Do you think that the election code of conduct is a genuine excuse for not granting relief to the industry or is it a lame excuse?
– See, even in September 1996 when the 50% tax rate was extended for three-and-a-half months, till December 1996, the extension was given while the code of conduct was in operation. If the government wants to, it can still help the industry before 5th March.
Do you think that the BJP ministers did not approve of the settlement between Shiv Sena and the industry and, therefore, the relief was withdrawn before being granted?
– The BJP ministers may have felt ignored, and the industry is to be blamed for this. Quite unwittingly, we did not meet the ministers of the BJP but we have convinced them that this was not done intentionally or with any motive.
Why, according to you, is the government not keen to grant the relief being demanded by the cinemas?
– It has got a wrong impression that if the tax rate is doubled, from 50% to 100%, its revenue will also double. It should realise that attendance in cinemas will come down when the tax rate goes up. So, how can it earn more with 100% tax?
Till when do you think will the bandh continue?
– Till as long as the government doesn’t grant us relief. We are prepared to go on even after 5th March. But we do hope to break the ice with the government shortly, once we meet Gopinath Munde.
– Komal & Gautam
Firoz Nadiadwala Starts ‘Raftaar’ In Style
Producer Firoz A. Nadiadwala launched Base Industries Group’s Raftaar on Jan. 11 at Oberoi Towers. There was heavy security at the launch venue as it was attended by three VIPs — Maharashtra chief minister Manohar Joshi, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray and Hollywood star Steven Seagal.
Bal Thackeray lit the traditional lamp, Bharat Shah switched on the camera, Steven Seagal sounded the clapper-board, and Dilip Kumar directed the muhurt shot taken on Sanjay Dutt and Akshay Kumar. Before the muhurt shot, a brilliant audio-visual was played for the invitees. Its sound was impeccable and it had been excellently shot.
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who flew in from Karachi, also attended the launch party.
Raftaar is being directed by Priyadarshan. Its music is scored by Anu Malik, and lyrics are written by Majrooh Sultanpuri.
Government Talking Through Its Hat
The Maharashtra government, in its talks with industry leaders over the issue of cinema closure, among other things, expressed displeasure that cinemas in the state were not screening Marathi films for a minimum fixed number of weeks, as desired by the government. Perhaps, the government does not know that if all the cinemas decided to screen Marathi films even for just one week in a year (of course, the government wants them to screen them for several weeks), many of them will have to remain closed. Because there just aren’t enough Marathi films produced. In 1996, only 11 Marathi films were made as against 22 in 1995 and an equal number in 1994.
Cheer Up, Monsieur Munde
Now that it’s clear that Gopinth Munde and his BJP put the spoke in the wheel during the talks for settlement of the issue of entertainment tax in Maharashtra and the consequent cinema closure, because they felt slighted and ignored by the industry, here’s a song which industry people should now sing to Maharashtra chief minister Manohar Joshi:
Joshi dekh, haan dekh
Tera Munde bigda jaaye
Joshi dekh dekh dekh dekh dekh….
Maybe, then Joshi and Munde may have pity on the industry and do something for it!