Single screens face content crunch as moviegoers deal with with cash crunch, post-demonetisation

Devansh Sharma

Dec 13, 2016 12:10:27 IST

It has been over a month since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetisation. Many members of the Hindi film industry came out in support of the historic move back then. But just like everyone else, they have also borne the brunt of the cash crunch in the time since.

While the producers of Saansien and Wajah Tum Ho postponed their release, Excel Entertainment decided to stick to the immediate Friday for the release of Rock On 2.

However, the makers ensured that the theatre owners adopt a coping mechanism to deal with the negative impact of demonetisation. As a result, a chain of theatres decided to waive off the convenience fees that is charged at the time of online booking in order to encourage people to book online since they were fervently saving their Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes. A few more incentives like special price for college students and free tickets on every buy on a particular e-commerce app were offered to lure the audiences into the theatres.

Single screens face content crunch as moviegoers deal with with cash crunch, post-demonetisation

(L-R) Stills from Kahaani 2, Dear Zindagi, Befikre

Rock On 2 failed at the box office and the onus was placed on single screens as hardly any of the single screen theatres offer the facility of online or non-cash purchase of tickets.

“People are busy queuing up outside the banks and even if they are able to get the new Rs 2000 note, they are not able to get the change for it which is affecting the overall collection of the film. If we had any clue about the decision we would have definitely pushed the release date,” said co-producer Ritesh Sidhwani of Excel Entertainment, as per a news report by The Indian Express.

The next major release was Force 2 which, according to its lead actor John Abraham, could have garnered 50% more collections had demonetization not affected its business. But the actor, according to the Times of India, maintained that the move affected the collections of Force 2 only by a small margin.

Though the next major release Dear Zindagi was backed by three gigantic production houses in Red Chillies Entertainment, Dharma Productions and Hope Productions, the makers decided to release the film only in 1200 screens, as opposed to 4,000 screens in a typical Shah Rukh Khan film.

However, they argued that since Khan only played a supporting role in the film and it was Alia Bhatt who carried the film on her shoulders, it did not get the same kind of treatment that a Shah Rukh Khan potboiler does. Also, the film was projected as a slice-of-life, the genre conventionally reserved for the classes or the multiplex audience.

Intentionally or not, the success of Dear Zindagi at the box-office, and its achievement of touching the magical figure of Rs 100 crore worldwide, established a trend that saw production houses divert a large number of their prints from the single screens to the multiplexes, probably in the hopes of replicating the success of the Gauri Shinde directorial.

Though the next release Kahaani 2 was also a female lead film like Dear Zindagi, it comes across as more `classy’ in nature than ‘massy.’ Since its prequel fared well among both sections of society, the single screen owners felt deprived because of the makers’ decision to not release the suspense thriller in a number of single screen theatres.

Film distributor K Sera Sera accused the producers of Kahaani 2 for resorting to ‘anti-competitive practices’ and violating certain sections of Competition Act, 2002.

“The respondents [Pen India Ltd and Bound Script Motion Pictures] have entered into understanding/agreement with its local distributors and select theatres to oust competition and limit/control the supply of movie, to increase demand in selected theatres by prohibiting hundreds of theatres from screening the movie,” read the Bombay High Court petition of K Sera Sera.

However, the film did not perform as well as Dear Zindagi at the box office. “We have taken a hit of Rs 10 crore in our profits since we have to bear some of the expenses for every theatre we release our film in and today it's not possible to recover this money,” says Jayantilal Gada, co-producer of Kahaani 2, according to a report by Outlook.  “In fact, if the promotions hadn't begun we might have held the film back,” he goes on to say.

In pursuit of the same trend, there were rumours that Befikre, which hit the theatres on Friday, 9 December, would not release in single screens. This enraged the fans who were looking forward to the film, particularly the fans of Ranveer Singh, the archetypal single screen hero.

#MissYouRanveerSingh started doing the rounds on Twitter as the actor’s fans in tier-2 and tier-3 cities expressed disappointment in Yash Raj Films for choosing to opt for this business strategy. Trade analyst Komal Nahata confirmed the development and tweeted, confirming that Befikre would not release in single screens.

However, Bollywood Life reported that Yash Raj Films issued a statement reassuring the fans that Befikre would release in single screens, and that these venues accounted for about 35 percent of their total screen count. While the fans rejoiced, the single screen owners were skeptical of the risk they were taking by screening Befikre.

“There is no cash rotation in the economy right now. Even if our customers have cash, they have currency notes of the denomination of Rs 2,000. While we can accommodate them to some extent, we are forced to deny the offer of selling a ticket in the event of dearth of lower denomination currency. After all, we can give them change only if someone gives change to us,” says Manoj Desai, executive director, Gaiety Galaxy and Maratha Mandir.

Desai has a special association with the Yash Raj Films as it is in his theatre that Aditya Chopra’s directorial debut Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge has been running successfully for the past 22 years. He agrees that while Kahaani 2 and Dear Zindagi may not come under the bracket of single screen-friendly films, Befikre certainly qualifies for that category.

“Let’s see how Befikre performs this week. We have high hopes but if there is no adequate cash rotation in the economy, we will not be able to help the situation at all," adds Desai, in an exclusive chat with Firstpost.

If that happens, it would be quite ironic that the filmmaker who infused life into a single screen for over two decades may witness his next film run in empty theatres.

Updated Date: Dec 13, 2016 12:37:50 IST