Kamal Haasan's decision to air the movie on DTH a day ahead of its release in cinema halls throws up several issues -- economics is just one of them
The controversy over the screening of the latest Kamal Haasan flick Viswaroopam on the DTH platform, pitting the actor against a section of the film distributor community, has raised several issues that would have a bearing on how successful the effort is.
The celebrated actor is known for thinking ahead of his time and his bold decision to show the film on TV screens through the DTH medium a day before its release in theatres shows that the fire to experiment has not diminished despite his age.
Four DTH operators have signed up with him to show the film; Tata Sky and Sun Direct do not figure on the list yet. If both operators, who have a substantial subscriber base, were to opt out, their customers would miss the chance of viewing the film on TV unless they happen to be customers of multiple operators. Such multi-dish subscribers are relatively less.
The price of viewing the film at home while seeming prohibitive at Rs 1,000 per connection is really not so, if one takes into account the expense incurred by a family of say five to watch a film in a theatre. Since new films in well equipped theatres command a price, a five-member family would spend much more than Rs 1,000 if one were to include expenses such as transport, food, etc.
However, one has to admit that watching a film on the TV screen cannot match the theatre experience, especially since Kamal Haasan is known to bring much innovation in terms of picturisation and sound quality to his creations. TV screens, however big, are no match for theatres in terms of screen size and sound quality.
But the biggest problem for TV viewers would be the availability of uninterrupted power supply in their homes. In Tamil Nadu, only Chennai city enjoys power for about 22 hours a day. The rest of the State has power cuts for 14-16 hours a day and rarely is power supply available for a three-four hours at a stretch.
For instance, in Coimbatore, an important market for the industry, the power cut extends from 5 a.m. till 8 a.m. in the morning. Sometimes, the power cut could be in force from 5 a.m. to 12 noon. Then again power supply is cut from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Things get worse at night when for every hour of power, people have to endure an hour of darkness.
How will customers be able to watch the film for about three-and-a-half hours (including break for ads)? For anyone who pays Rs 1,000 to watch the film on his or her TV screen, this will be a major dilemma. DTH operators too would have to time the show carefully because it has to be uniform across the State and they would have to factor in the power shedding timings, given that not many houses have the UPS facility that could support four hours of TV viewing.
The owner of a leading theatre in Coimbatore told Business Line that Kamal Haasan knows what his fans expect from him and is aware of what he is going to deliver. He felt that showing the film on TV would work like a film trailer and fans would flock to the cinemas for the experience of watching their favourite hero on the big screen.
He said the "craze is there" among Kamal fans to watch his films on the big screen. The teenagers of today know that Viswaroopam is a good film. Terming the DTH experiment by Kamal Haasan as a "very big success", he felt that the controversy was not a big issue. He concluded saying that those who know Kamal need not fear for the movie's success!
Kamal is, of course, taking a big bet since he expects nearly six lakh DTH subscribers would watch Viswaroopam on TV on January 10 paying Rs 1,000 each in Tamil Nadu alone, bringing in a revenue of Rs 60 crore through this platform in the State. With the actor himself estimating that the film might gross Rs 150 crore, the success of this DTH experiment would be keenly watched.