Kollywood's problem of plenty: Too many Tamil films are releasing, to too little screen time
The Kollywood box office is going through a slump in the first quarter of 2017. As of 31 March 2017, there will be 44 Tamil film releases — the highest for any film industry in India. Out of this, hardly three will be profitable for their makers. And still, every week there are three or more releases. Too many films are releasing every week, resulting in none of them realising their box-office potential.
Many of these films are directed by first timers and unknown producers without any stars or promotions. The increase in the production of films is due to the sudden entry of a lot of first-time producers. And some of them are star struck and pay upcoming actors high salaries without understanding the financial risks involved. There are so many small-budget films releasing; many of them not even getting reviewed. Mainstream newspapers and the hundreds of internet sites are doing exactly what The New York Times did when there was a glut of Hollywood independent films: they just stopped reviewing them!
This has created audience apathy to new releases as nobody knows or cares for some of them. For example this Friday (31 March) six Tamil films are releasing: Dora, Kavan, Arasakulam, Attu, Seveli and Nalu Perukku Nallathuna Edhuvum Thapilla. Among these only the KV Anand-directed Vijay Sethupathi-starrer Kavan and Nayanthara’s Dora have recall value among audiences. The previous Friday (24 March) had seven releases out of which only Vijay Milton’s Kadugu had generated some buzz.
The producers complain that theatres — especially multiplexes — are not giving small films their due. The multiplexes prefer Other Language Films (OLF) in English Hindi, Telugu and Malayalam which have better occupancy and bring in more money through concessions (food and beverages, parking and advertisements). There are 1,080 screens in Tamil Nadu and today, single screens prefer playing four different films across available show timings, rather than give a single Tamil film four shows a day.
A multiplex programming manager said, “Every year, there are around 200 Tamil releases and 300 other language films to be accommodated in a slot of 52 weeks. The average life of a Tamil film is just a week and only big hero or films with decent word-of-mouth (WOM) work, the rest are a waste of playing time.” So most of these films will have one or maximum two shows in 40 to 50 screens in Tamil Nadu and then disappear after the weekend. Multiplex operators dump small Tamil films which are not able to sustain after the weekend and replace them with OLF which will have better occupancy.
Producer G Dhananjayan, who also runs a film institute, says, “Too many releases are not only clogging the release pipeline but also eating into each other’s collections. It is cannibalisation of the worst kind. And even films with good WOM like Maanagaram and Kuttram 23, suffered as a number of shows got reduced in their second week to accommodate newer releases, affecting the collections.”
Today, it is very difficult to get back your production costs from Tamil Nadu theatrical rights alone. The Tamil Film Producers Council is unable to stop piracy and are fighting among themselves to take control of the association. They are unable to streamline the releases and ensure a film gets a fighting chance to recover a chunk of its production cost from Tamil Nadu theatricals.
Take a look at the Tamil summer release schedule: On 31 March, the season starts with two noted films — Kavan and Dora. A week later, on 7 April, Mani Ratnam’s romantic thriller with Karthi and Aditi Rao Hydari (Kaatru Veliyidai) will hit the screens.
On 14 April, the Tamil New Year Day/Vishu and Easter weekend, three medium-size films are slotted for release. They are Dhanush’s directorial debut Power Paandi with veteran Raj Kiran playing the lead; Arya’s big budget jungle adventure Kadamban and Lawrence’s P Vasu directed horror comedy Shivalinga. And the biggest of them all on 28 April — SS Rajamouli's epic period action drama Baahubali 2: The Conclusion — is releasing in 650 screens across the state.
It is going to be a nightmare for the producers of these films. Where will they get proper playing time as releases are likely to be crammed? Even if a film is a hit, the number of screens and shows in the second week will come down, as theatres have to accommodate newer releases. Nobody is going to be a real winner except for Baahubali 2, which has a clear two-week window from 28 April on, and most of the screens will give it priority over other films.