As Tamil releases for 2019 fall below norm of 200-mark, a look at factors that led to declining numbers
As of Friday, 22 November, the number of Tamil releases for 2019 stood at 175, with only five Fridays more to complete the calendar year.
Will Kollywood score a double hundred this year? Over the last few years, there have always been more than 200 Tamil film releases per annum. As of Friday, 22 November, the number of Tamil releases for 2019 stood at 175, with only five Fridays more to complete the calendar year. Trade analysts seem to believe that the rate of production has declined, and consequently, for the first time in many years, the number of releases may not cross 200.
Dip in numbers aside, 2019 has been one of the most successful years for the Tamil film industry in the recent past, with a record 17 films turning out to be profitable (or in other words, a nearly 12 percent success rate at the box-office) — almost double that of previous years'. However, trade analyst Annamalai points out that, "It is only star-driven films that are raking in the money; small films are falling by the wayside as content is weak and marketing is poor, with most multiplexes avoiding releasing non-star films in Tamil and preferring other language films.”
Until a few months ago, for small films without stars, there was a market — mainly provided by satellite television and OTT platforms. But television channels have now not only reduced their prices but also stopped procuring new releases. With the theatrical-to-OTT release window reducing from 50 to 28 days, streaming services also prefer picking up star-driven films, which have a wide reach. The combination of all these factors has led to a tremendous slowdown in the production of small films without stars in Kollywood.
A recent count by the Tamil Film Producers Council indicated that there are nearly 145 films which started production in the last three years but are still stuck in the cans. Some an into trouble mid-production, while others couldn't find buyers on any platforms post-completion. Many of these films are associated with reputed directors and stars who are yet to emerge from the resulting financial mess. For instance, five of Gautham Menon's films, with which he was associated either as director or producer, are yet to see the light of the day. Attention is now focused on Menon’s Dhanush-starrer Enai Noki Paayum Thota (ENPT), whose negative rights have been procured by leading production house Vels Films, with a 29 November release date.
More alarming is that traditional film financing of Tamil films has virtually stopped, as financiers have lost huge amounts on bad loans. The South Indian Film Financiers Association no longer funds small movies, and even for star-driven ones their terms and conditions have changed. A leading film financier explained on condition of anonymity: “Once, Tamil producers and financiers had an excellent understanding and trust. This was shattered as loans were defaulted on, and we were left holding unfinished films as collateral, which had no value in real world. This year, over 30 Tamil films had delayed releases as loans were not settled on time.”
Another factor impacting the slow down in production has been the lure of OTT platforms for reputed directors. There are nearly a dozen Tamil OTT platforms which are looking for fresh content and they have roped in film directors to make web series for them. It's proven to be a good alternative for filmmakers who have been unable to get star dates for their big screen projects. Again, the flip side here has been that unlike in Hindi, But the sad story is that there has been no Tamil trendsetter or hit originally made for these platforms. In Bollywood, digital platforms are already paying as much as television broadcasters to get films to premiere first on their service. Tamil original content is still at a nascent stage, especially when juxtaposed with the success of Hindi originals such as Amazon Prime’s Breathe or Netflix’s Sacred Games.
So, OTTs are also going the predictable way of buying proven, star-driven movie content. The internet rights depend on the box-office pull of the star and how successful the movie has been in theatres. Still, some producers have moved over to the streaming video platforms as recovery from and dependence on theatrical rights alone is becoming risky. Already, OTT is becoming a bigger outlet for multiplex-driven films. Industry trackers believe that over the next year, the price for OTT rights will be higher than satellite television rights for Tamil films.
Over 2020, these converging trends may very well result in even fewer Tamil releases. What that will mean for Kollywood remains to be seen.
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