Why Tamil cinema has had a disastrous summer 2019, from release delays and financial issues to box-office failures
There have been 102 Tamil releases this year up to last Friday (21 June), and most of them have been failures.
Tamil film industry, popularly referred to as Kollywood, is facing its worst ever crisis. The summer of 2019 has been particularly bad as films continue to get postponed at the last minute over financial and other issues. It has caused havoc at the box-office with a drop in collections and theatres running out of content and having to cancel shows.
The summer of 2019 is a disaster for Kollywood, as there was only one genuine blockbuster - Raghava Lawrence’s horror comedy Kanchana 3, the rest were all failures. What worked for Kanchana 3, which was torn apart by the critics, was its perfect release date of 19 April for the Easter weekend and the beginning of summer holidays. At the same time in the last two months, five films which had announced a release date could not make it to theatres and had a delayed release due to last minute financial issues and court orders. Films like Vishal’s Ayogya, Jiiva’s Kee, Atharva Murali’s 100, Nayanthara’s Kolaiyuthur Kaalam (more to do with film’s title being registered with another director) and last Friday, Vijay Sethupathi’s Sindhubaadh could not hit the screens on the release day.
Recently Vishal, who was at that time the general secretary of Nadigar Sangam and president of Tamil Film Producers Council, could not get his Ayogya released on the announced date. Due to the delay in release, Ayogya lost out its promotional steam and ended up as Vishal’s biggest flop. A leading producer said: “If Vishal considered as the most powerful man in the industry could not release his film due to last minute financial issues cropping up, imagine the plight of the common producer with hardly any clout. There are hundreds of small films stuck in the cans due to unresolved financial tussle running into crores between producers and financiers.”
Last Friday popular star Vijay Sethupathi who is riding a wave found to his dismay that his eagerly awaited Sindhubaadh, failed to release due to a Telangana High Court order! One of the film’s producers SN Rajarajan is yet to settle his dues for distributing the mega blockbuster Baahubali2 in Tamil Nadu, with its Hyderabad based producers Arca Media. This High Court order was hanging like the damocles sword over the producer’s neck for months, but he still went ahead with the release plans of Sindhubaadh, thinking he can manage to wiggle out of it with his clout.
Last minute financial issues is nothing new for Kollywood; it has been happening for some time now. There is a large number of first-time producers making films in Tamil who do not understand the finance of film making. Today, a saleable hero’s salary accounts for almost 50% of a film’s total budget. And in most cases, the budget goes haywire with the film in a deficit at the time of release. There is also a lot of cheating over the sale of rights, which leads to the same rights (satellite, digital or overseas) being sold to two different people who at the time of release go to the court against the producer.
If a film fails at the box-office, the producer is caught in a financial mess it is hard to come out of. And even if he is able to produce his next film at the time of release, his past financial mismanagement catches up with him leading to more trouble. A large number of producers who have committed suicide over financial issues are from Kollywood. Trade analyst PL Annamalai said: “ The maximum number of films made in India are in Tamil. There are over 200 films being released every year in Tamil, and to get theatres to screen them is a huge problem as people jump into production without looking at the cost factor.”
What happens when Tamil films do not release as scheduled? Rakesh Gowthaman of Vettri Theatres in Chrompet (a suburb of Chennai) said: “It is total chaos for the exhibitors when films don’t get released on the scheduled date. This weekend I had scheduled Vijay Sethupathi’s Sindhubaadh, but at the last minute it failed to release and I had to continue with existing content in my screens which were below average. It is not only ticket sales but our concessions also suffer, causing huge losses.”
Leading producer, distributor and Tamil film analyst G Dhananjayan said: “In Hindi and Telugu film industries, large production houses operate with proper financial planning and depend largely on their own release for the movies than depending on third parties to buy the theatrical rights to recover their investment. However, in Tamil cinema, producers are dependent on third parties/distributors to invest in their film, to pay back their lenders to release a film. When the distributors fall short in making the payment, they are unable to pay back their lenders, leading to delay in release of their film.”
Financial indiscipline and dependence on third parties is the major reason for stoppage of films at time of release. The trade analyst are unanimous that small and medium budget film producers should go for cost cutting. The star's salaries must be slashed and budgets should be trimmed. The producers should complete the film with other revenue (satellite, digital, Hindi and Telugu dubbing, music and overseas rights) streams and keep Tamil Nadu theatrical rights revenue towards the print and publicity cost and their profits. It is the only way forward.
There have been 102 Tamil releases this year up to last Friday (21 June), and most of them have been failures. Out of these films, there are three blockbusters Rajinikanth’s Petta, Ajith’s Viswasam and Lawrence’s Kanchana3. The small films which can be categorised as super hits are RJ Balaji’s LKG and Santhanam’s Dhilluku Dhuddu 2. None of the other films can fall into the hit category list. Another 100 odd films are getting ready for release in the second half of 2019.
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