Tamil film industry, theatres reeling from pandemic blow

NARAYANAN V Chennai | Updated on April 09, 2020

The Tamil Nadu government on March 16 declared shutting down of educational institutions, malls, theatres and bars   -  Bijoy Ghosh

Industry expects up to ₹200-crore revenue loss; small films to be worst hit

The pandemic has dealt a severe blow to the Tamil film industry. Film shoot cancellations and postponement of movie releases amid the lockdown has put hundreds of crores of business at stake and rendered lakhs of film industry workers, mostly daily wage earners, indefinitely jobless.

“The scale of the impact is so huge and the whole problem is the uncertainty. We really don’t know when this is going to end,” producer and distributor G Dhananjayan said.

Dhananjayan estimates that Tamil cinema alone will face a revenue loss of ₹150-200 crore per month due to the lockdown while Indian cinema, as a whole, will lose ₹1,000-1,500 crore.

The Tamil film industry faced the onslaught of the coronavirus even before the nationwide lockdown was announced. As a precautionary measure, the Tamil Nadu government on March 16 had declared the shutting down of educational institutions, malls, theatres and bars till March 31, dealing a severe blow to theatre owners. This was later extended till April 14 commensurate with the nationwide lockdown.

Zero revenue

“Theatre revenues have come to zero after the shutdown but expenses like minimum electricity charges and staff salaries have to be paid,” Abirami Ramanathan, President of the Multiplex Association of Tamil Nadu, said, adding, “the expenses will differ from theatre to theatre and is huge in the case of multiplexes.”

“You can’t just throw away your employees because you will not be able to hire trained staff immediately when the business resumes,” said Ramanathan, who is the Managing Director of Abirami Mega Mall.

Overseas business takes a beating

The rapid increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the US, Malaysia, Singapore and the UAE came as a major jolt to the big films waiting to be released in April and May.

“Big films have a huge problem since they are dependent on overseas business. They can’t even think of releasing their movies until the overseas market stabilises,” Dhananjayan said.

Some of the big star movies like Vijay’s Master, Suriya’s Soorarai Pottru and Dhanush’s Jagame Thandhiram, besides a dozen other small and medium budget movies, that were scheduled for April and May release, have now pushed their release dates indefinitely.

Films shoots — including those of Rajinikanth’s Annaatthe directed by Siva and Ajith’s Valimai directed by H Vinoth — have also been suspended due to the lockdown, rendering thousands of daily wage-earning technicians jobless.

“The entire supply chain has stopped. There is no shooting going on. On one side, a huge amount of producer’s money is stuck in movies at various stages of completion and, on the other, the interest amount on their borrowing is going up,” said Ramesh Bala, who tracks the entertainment industry.

With the spike in fresh coronavirus cases, industry experts and movie exhibitors believe that theatres and malls will see an extended shutdown.

“Even if the overall lockdown is lifted on April 14, there is no guarantee that theatres and malls will be allowed to operate since these are typically crowded places,” Bala said.

“The State government closed the malls and theatres even before the lockdown, so when you do the reverse timeline, theatres will be the last one to open because it is one such place where you cannot maintain social distancing,” he added.

Ramanathan, who is also the President – Chennai City Film Exhibitors Association, said, “Even after the whole atmosphere is cleared, it will take minimum six months for theatres to recover business because people will be initially hesitant to go theatres and will prefer to watch movies at home.”

Small budget movies suffer

The industry shutdown has also placed the small and medium budget movies at the risk of being crowded out — a situation they faced in 2018. In March 2018, a strike call made by the Tamil Film Producer Council (TFPC) brought the country’s second biggest film industry to a grinding halt. Although the stalemate ended after 48 days, the battle for screen space between small and big budget films and crowding of films on important release dates continued till the very end of the year.

“Small movies are at the mercy of big budget films. When the situation becomes favourable and conducive, the big movies will come our first because of their huge investment,” Bala said, adding, “big movies can pull more crowd and hence have the advantage.”

“Everybody is going to be in a hurry and everyone will rush to release their own films when the situation returns to normal but, at the end of the day, they should understand that everyone will get an opportunity and there is no need to panic,” producer Dhananjayan said.

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Published on April 09, 2020
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