Confusion over status of some films on Zee list

MUMBAI / NEW DELHI: Have Zee Telefilms' ambitious plans on the movie front already hit a speedbreaker? Not quite. Though producers of some of the movies the Subhash Chandra network hopes to have on air over the next four months are singing a different tune, Zee has said the matter is being sorted out.

The Indian Motion Picture Producers Association (Imppa), the apex body of film producers in India is not involved in the controversy generated by producers denying that any agreement about airing their movies has been reached with Zee. Imppa president Ramdayal Sabharwal says negotiations are currently on between the channel and the producers but that the IMPPA is not mediating the discussions. Sabharwal says there is currently a six-month lock in period agreed upon jointly by producers and distributors on the issue of satellite telecast of new films. The problem of course being that there is nothing down on paper.

According to a senior executive of Zee Telefilms, meanwhile, the issue with Venus, as also some other film producers, is being sorted out and, in all probability, Hathyaar will be aired on Zee TV next year.

"There is no real problem with the films. We are in talks with producers to sort out the matter and are hopeful that a solution will be found out to everbody's satisafction, including the viewers of Zee TV."

However, with the current Bollywood scenario shaky in the extreme, Sabharwal says producers are willing to try any route that will help them recover some of their costs. "The satellite market is finished as well," he says. "Earlier, producers were able to recover at least 10 per cent of their costs by marketing satellite telecast rights. Now they are not in a position to recover even five per cent."

With the music rights too, not yielding a comfortable figure, producers are in such a dire situation currently that Sabharwal sees a simultaneous theatrical and satellite release for movies by producers desperate to get rid of movies already completed and lacking distributors.

Currently, however, it is the distributors who are irked by Zee's full page advertisements which gave details of the movies to be aired along with their telecast dates. The irritation has obviously rubbed off on the producers who backtracked on their commitment to Zee and issued statements to the media on Thursday saying their agreements with the channel were yet to be formalised.

Shyam Shroff, promoter of Shringar Films, which is distributing Road and Hathyar (two of the films on the Zee list) for the Bombay territory was quite clear that a lock-in period did exist. "Whenever the minimum guarantee amount is involved between the producer and the distributor, there's a lock in period of 1 year for television and other rights."

"I think advertising the telecast date even before the movie is theatrically released is not in the interest of movie itself. If the trend continues, no distributor would offer minimum guarantees to the producer," he says.

Queried whether any distributors' association had taken up this issue, Shroff said, "Distributors have very strong associations. They would safeguard their members' interest. But, it all depends upon the terms of the contract between the producer and the distributor." Shroff is however quite clear on one point. And that is that the Zee had not done anything that was out of line in its attempts to get hold of as many films in its inventory as possible. "I don't think Zee needs to talk to anybody (else) in this regard. It's between the producers and them."

High ticket rates and piracy of the new movies have already built up the film industry's woes. Sabharwal says there are at least 10 to 12 films currently awaiting release, but are stuck for want of distributors. Nor is there any unity among the film producers. There are at least four motion picture producers' associations currently, none of which portrays a unified voice of the fraternity.

Director Yash Chopra, who runs Yash Raj Films, has issued a strong statement denying the fact that Zee had rights for its films Mujhse Dosti Karoge and Meri Yaar Ki Shaadi. The films are scheduled to air on the channel on 7 November and 21 November respectively. Another controversy revolves around Hathyar. The film which is yet to be released has been touted by the broadcaster as one of its yummy forthcoming attractions for the New Year through a marketing campaign which included a full page newpaper ad. MD Venus Films Ratan Jain said that though discussions had been held a final decision had yet to be taken and so the broadcaster had made a mistake.

Roshan Jumnani of DD Films Combine has pointed out that theatres were already seeing a decline in attendance and campaigns like the one Zee is running will see the situation decay further. He pointed to a clause where a film cannot air on the tube for at least six months to a year after its release.

On the positive side Jain said that the channel had the rights to air Humraaz later this month. The Zee executive meanwhile, has also said that the response of the first blockbuster aired on Zee TV on October 10, The Legend of Bhagat Singh has been very good.

"We also took great care to juggle around with the commercial breaks so that the viewers did not feel that there were too many breaks," the Zee executive said, adding that special care was taken not to have commercial breaks during the film's emotional moments, so that viewers did not lose the continuity.

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