So, the theatres have reopened in many states from last Thursday, but Ananya Panday and Ishaan Khatter’s action thriller is not playing in any multiplex following the decision of the multiplex association to not screen a film that has already premiered on the digital platform. “We offered it to everyone and there were a few independent multiplexes who wanted to pick it up. But the service providers were not ready to write off the Virtual Print Fee (VPF) charges,” grouses Shariq Patel, CEO, informing that overheads like VPF add to the producer’s burden and the time has come to reimagine the way forward. “I’m shocked that after six months of no revenue, the multiplexes continue to stick to such rules and let go of fresh content that could have got them an audience.”
It has another film, ‘Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari’, fronted by Diljit Dosanjh, Fatima Sana Shaikh and Manoj Bajpayee, lining up for a Diwali release. And while Shariq has committed to a theatrical release, he wants exhibitors to make it financially viable for the studio too by reducing VPF and the gap between theatrical and OTT release. “Any producer planning a release with only 50 per cent capacity is taking a huge risk. It’s important for exhibitors, large multiplex chains and service providers to re-calibrate the terms for the first few months. Hopefully, they will take a step in a positive direction,” he says fervently. He is, however, quick to assert that the family comedy won’t arrive before Mumbai, the biggest market for Hindi films, and Punjab, where Diljit rules, reopen. “We are hopeful that these markets will start business before Diwali,” he avers.
PV Sunil, MD, Cinemas, stands by the multiplex association’s collective decision to not screen a direct-to-digital release, as it would set a wrong precedent. “We will be following all norms which existed before the lockdown, including a six to eight-week window between a theatrical and OTT release,” he informs.
Sunil is confident that the filmmaking business will undergo a huge change in the coming year leading to a clear demarcation between the two platforms. “It will become common for content to be identified much in advance for theatrical and digital platforms,” he predicts.
VPF made news last year when Ronnie Screwvala filed a case against multiplexes in the Competition Commission of India (CCI) for its imposition. The CCI pronounced its verdict in favour of the multiplexes. Prod Sunil on the subject in the light of the ongoing pandemic and he shares that the issue is under discussion and a number of changes are on the way. “The service providers, UFO and Qube, are getting into distribution by offering a cut in VPF charges, and in some cases even waiving it off totally. It will be a new system of distribution which will lead to cost saving. Positive changes lie in the future,” he promises, but reiterates that there’s no possibility of reducing the window between theatrical and OTT release as things stand today.
Trade analyst Komal Nahta feels that getting even one OTT film to the theatre will set a new trend. “As far as VPF is concerned, it’s a policy decision to be taken by the stakeholders,” he signs off.
WHAT IS VIRTUAL PRINT FEE?
Virtual Print Fee (VPF) is an amount charged by national multiplexes to producers/distributors for upgrading the technology, thereby improving the cinematic experience for the audience. On an average, producers/distributors pay Rs 20,000/ per screen as VPF to the theatres.
In case of non-national chains, VPF is collected by service providers like UFO, Scrabble and Qube. Interestingly, the charges are levied only on Indian films. Hollywood studios are exempt from paying the fee.