After attracting national and international attention with pan-India blockbusters such as RRR, Pushpa, and Bahubali, the Telugu film industry, or Tollywood as it is referred to, finds the ground beneath its feet shaky and crumbling.
It is facing its biggest crisis yet as filmgoers turn their back on the theatres. Of the nearly 40 films that were released after RRR and Pushpa, KGF 2, and Vikram—the only notable flicks that could attract audience to the theatres—only 2-3 films made some money.
Unable to afford sharp increase in ticket prices and snacks in theatres, the audience have shifted their loyalties to OTT platforms, where the new films are released in no time. Faced with heavy losses and apathy from the patrons, top film producers have threatened to stop shootings from August 1 to reflect and rein in the production cost.
If the shootings come to a halt, it could impact the livelihoods of over 20,000 technicians . D Suresh Babu, Managing Director of Suresh Productions, told BusinessLine that there are varied reasons for the audience shunning theatres. “The film industry should seriously reflect on the sharp increase in the cost of production. There is an urgent need to discuss and take action on the need for changes in the content to win the audience back,” he said.
Suresh Babu, whose production house has made many films in several languages, feels that the issue is serious. Will this end up in a minor or a major correction? Will it continue for some time or just a recessionary trend—we need to see,” he says.
Though the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a serious blow to the industry as it did to the several other language films, the problem of audiences’ showing reluctance to watch films in theatres has already set in before the advent of the pandemic.
The CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of the footfalls witnessed no growth during 2015–19, indicating the seriousness of the problem. “During the period, the Telugu film industry showed no growth, with the annual footfalls hovering around 180 million. After suffering heavily during the pandemic, the footfalls made some progress and reached 161 million in 2021,” research firm Emkay said in a report.
The Telugu film industry is the biggest, in terms of the number of movies in the country. It produced 238 movies in 2019 (after Hindi and Tamil) and 204 in 2021 (after Tamil and Hindi).
With nil growth in footfalls, the production cost has gone up significantly with the remuneration of top heroes, directors, and heroines shooting up sharply.
“In some cases, the remuneration component has gone up five times. This has a cascading impact and increased the budgets. They should think seriously and reduce the costs to save the industry,” a senior producer Thammareddy Bharadwaja said.
He, however, asserted that the remuneration paid to technicians is only a fraction of the total cost of production. “It hardly constitutes 3–5 per cent of the total spend. The average earnings of a technician is just ₹2,000 a day and any reduction in this category will not reduce the overall spend,” he said.
Finding the OTT platforms as a major reason for the crisis, the film producers are mulling over delaying the releases on the big screens. “We are planning to bar small films (made with budgets under ₹10 crore) from being released on OTTs only four weeks after their theatrical releases. In the case of big budget films, it will be over 10 weeks,” a source in the film chambers said.
Film critic R Bharadwaja felt that the crisis was the industry’s own making. “The cost of production has gone up so high, of late, that it is virtually impossible to recoup the investments. The audience will find it far more economical to sit and watch the movies at home on the OTT platforms,” he said.
“They (the audience) are deciding which films to watch on the big screen and on OTT platforms,” he said.