While theatres are all set to open in Tamil Nadu from tomorrow (November 10), there is still a big question mark on whether the Tamil film industry will be releasing new releases for Deepavali, on November 14. Traditionally, Deepavali, one of the biggest festivals across the country, is a sought-after release day by top stars and filmmakers in the industry. In fact, actor Vijay, one of the biggest stars in Kollywood, released his films — Mersal (2017), Sarkar (2018) and Bigil (2019) — during the Deepavali weekend.
But this year, the fact that theatres are opening after an eight-month gap, following the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, has made the bigger names hesitant to release their films for Deepavali as they are not sure if audiences will come to theatres, especially with COVID-19 still posing a huge threat. Even the team of Vijay’s Master, which is ready for release, have chosen to break tradition in 2020.
However, even if some small and medium-budget are keen on cashing on releasing their films on the festive date, the ongoing tussle between producers, exhibitors and digital service provides (DSPs) over the payment of virtual print fee (VPF) is threatening to result in a situation in which we might have no new Tamil film releasing for Deepavali, a first in Tamil cinema history. The three parties have been involved in talks over the past four days to sort the issue out.
This morning, director Bharathirajaa, who is the president of the Tamil Film Active Producers Association (TFAPA), released a statement on behalf of the association stating that producers will not release new films in theatres until producers are asked to not pay VPF.
Following his press release, Qube, one of the major DSPs, has come out with a statement condemning TFAPA’s decision. “Our industry has faced immense losses over the last seven months due to the lockdown, and will continue to take time to recoup due to being allowed to operate at only 50% capacity for the time being. Qube Cinema had initially and proactively announced a 50% reduction in VPF during this period, which was later amended to 60% after pressure from the TFAPA, who now insist on a complete elimination of the fees… Both the Central and State governments have supported the view that the tradition of new releases for Deepavali should continue this year, which is why the boycott by the TFAPA is not only unethical towards theatres and digital cinema providers but also
unfair to audiences. It is our understanding that producers who have been eager to release new films have been pressured to conform to the boycott. The TFAPA is leveraging this unprecedented period of struggle in order to gain as many concessions from theatres and digital service providers as possible for itself, without regard for how it affects the industry at large or the cinema audience. The theatre experience simply cannot be replicated at home or on streaming platforms, and the satisfaction of the audience is our ultimate goal. We have already offered a significant compromise in the VPF charges as digital service providers, and it is vital that producers agree to it rather than threaten the livelihoods of vulnerable theatres. This is a time when the industry must come together to ensure that cinema survives, and we are shocked by the TFAPA’s opportunistic demands,” their statement read.
In 2018, the VPF issue had led to an industry-wide strike, which ended after the DSPs reduced VPF rates by over 20%.