Box office worries in multicultural Mumbai

Written By kom nampultig on Kamis, 09 April 2015 | 22.23

Mumbai: A common perception in the movie industry is that Marathi movies may be bringing in the awards, but has some catching up to do when it comes to luring movie-goers to theatres.

"Many films, including Oscar-nominated 'Shwaas', got hardly 3% occupancy, especially in areas like Fort. Trade reports say Hindi movies get 70-75% occupancy during weekends. How will this order work if Marathi movies draw even less people?" asked Ram Vidhani, exhibitor-distributor and vice-president of Film Federation of India.

Multiplex owners, who went into a huddle on Wednesday awaiting a clear order, wondered whether the government thought about the 'overall customer experience' they provide at their plush halls before taking the populist call.

Many language-proud states like West Bengal and Tamil Nadu have experimented with local-only movie policies with varying degrees of success. Industry observers say the going will be tougher in a multi-cultural Mumbai with a healthy appetite for big-budget Bollywood and Hollywood flicks.

For the exhibitors this is an old battle as in 2009, the Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India had successfully petitioned the Bombay high court to reduce the number of mandatory screenings of Marathi movies from 112 to 44, said Vidhani. Multiplex owners had then also baulked at a political demand to give primetime slots.

"Many films like 'Drishyam' (Malayalam) did extremely well, especially on Sundays. 'Gravity' ran for 13 weeks and that shows we need quality regional as well as Hollywood and Bollywood movies," said an industry insider in the city. There are around 166 in Maharashtra and 122 in Mumbai-Thane, said Vidhani.

The keyword here is quality, said historian-filmmaker Ashok Rane. "Multiplex owners don't treat Marathi films with respect. They insist that we cut movies to two hours 15 minutes; they wouldn't ask that of Salman (Khan) or Shah Rukh (Khan) films. These have to change but you cannot compel people to watch movies if they are not good."

Even the legendary V Shantaram didn't jeopardize his Plaza theatre's profits despite requests to promote Marathi. He did lobby the government in 1975 to start a tax-return scheme for the industry. A grant-in-aid scheme, which gives lump sums up to Rs 30 lakh, was started later and has been periodically tweaked.

The new way movies do business by mopping up all the profits in the first four weeks, banking mostly on star power, is also hurting. "No Marathi star can give this kind of guarantee. The government should understand the realities before trying to impose this," said Rane.

But hopes are rising. Sushilkumar Agrawal, producer of Marathi movies, says evening shows at multiplexes will draw in more crowds. Also, there is scope for turning this slot into one for regional movies. "If the Marathi movie for the week has few viewers, why not screen good Gujarati, Bangla or Tamil movies in its place? That could be a win-win for everyone," he said.

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