What ails the Indian film industry?

BANGALORE: A panel discussion on ‘What ails the film industry - A reality checkup of the filmed entertainment sector‘ at the third edition of the Ficci‘s two-day Media and Entertainment Business Conclave highlighted a number of issues that plagued the film industry in India.

The session, moderated by actor, director and screenwriter Kamal Hassan had film producer, director and scriptwriter S Priyadarsan, South India Film Chamber of Commerce Secretary L Suresh, Cinemax CEO Suresh Shenoy and Real Images co-founder Senthil Kumar as panellists.

Piracy, multiple sales of the same ticket and the state governments‘ role in fixing movie ticket prices were highlighted as the main banes of the Indian film industry.

In the case of producers, besides piracy, the other major ailments were high cost of talent and high cost of production; cost inflation; lack of understanding of Intellectual Property (IP) and Copyright (CR) rules; lack of access to institutional funding; lack of good scriptwriters and original content.

From the exhibitors point of view, archaic rules and regulations, some as old as 1947, such as getting licenses and renewals, needed a relook since most of the theaters had gone digital. The laws based on the Electricity and the Projection Acts were not really relevant today.

From the distributors point of view some of the problems faced included exorbitant acquisition costs; because of non-availability of institutional funds, regional distributors were finding it difficult to grow beyond their limits, hence making it difficult to release films during peak season time because of high prices by the exhibitors and also multiple releases during a week makes it difficult for the distributor to get good show timings from the exhibitors who control the last mile.

The industry needed to embrace technology at all places down the value chain. Priyadarsan shared the approach of the Kerala Film Industry to curb piracy and revenue leakages through wide releases of films and computerised ticketing. Instead of the 30 or 40 screens that a film was released earlier, it is now being released across 100 screens. In the case of computerised tickets, Priyadarsan said that sitting in his house, he could know how many tickets of his film were sold in real time.

Shenoy cautioned that the viability of a wide release varied from movie to movie. It should be based on the merit of the film. He pointed out the wide release had brought down the shelf life of a movie from 4 weeks to 1 week, hence there could be problem with maintaining a flow of content for the exhibitor. The number of movies being produced had to be at least doubled to maintain a steady flow of content and to advocate wide releases for big ticket films.

Shenoy also suggested that the government should take up piracy issue on a pan India basis and bring in a suitable law and impose it on the states, rather than the current situation where piracy which came mainly under the ambit of state governments‘, many of whom did not take the matter seriously.

Suresh said that Tamil Nadu had one of the best laws to combat piracy that was being emulated by a number of states, but bemoaned the fact that implementation of the law was very poor. Piracy could be eradicated only if the administrators in a town were adamant and ruthless in implementing the law.

Suresh also questioned a state government‘s (like Tamil Nadu) curbs in the pricing of film tickets. The ticket price of a small budget film could be low, while in the case of the big budget film, the producer, with the knowledge-not permission from the state government, could fix whatever price he chose. Computerized ticketing would ensure that a government would get its taxes.

Hassan agreed with Suresh saying that the state government should treat films as any other business, more so in the case of the southern states, where the governments saw films more as a political platform.

Suresh also suggested dynamic pricing of film tickets, maybe, the price could be higher for the first few weeks and then lowered later. He further said that the in the case of other major cities and towns, the benefits of dynamic rates that were being arbitrarily fixed by theater owners depending upon show timings did not filter down to the producers who owned the copyrights of the content.

Shenoy informed, "In some cases, the cost of talent is almost 60 per cent of the film‘s budget". He suggested that rather than paying per film, the actors should be paid a fixed sum and part of the profits which depended upon the box-office performance of a film, a model similar to the one followed in Hollywood.

Senthil agreed that most of the problems faced by the industry could be alleviated with the right application of technology. Piracy, which caused leakage of 30 to 50 per cent revenue leakage, could be prevented to a great extent. Technology made it possible for piracy to be curbed in all means except through a cam-coder brought into the movie hall. Technology will make the necessity of a film print redundant.

Shenoy said that there was a need for open dialogue between all the stakeholders and the government as well as a constructive dialogue amongst various stakeholders in the film world is critical. For example the multiplex impasse a couple of years ago impacted not only the warring parties, but everyone in the value chain. "The industry must keep channels of communication open and look for alternative means for dispute resolution," he suggested.

Shenoy further suggested that producers should garner together an initiative to train scriptwriters and paid great importance to research and development to enable only quality scripts being made into films.

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