Thottal Thodarum

Mar 5, 2015


1.    Cinema Industry

            Arguments are very common amidst Kollywood fans about the budget of their favorite stars’ movies. They claim sky high the budget and sales figures of the movies to the fans of their conceived opponent heroes. But they do all the boasting without knowing the basic facts like how the movie is sold, how a movie is distributed or even if the movie could collect back the huge amount of funds gone in the making. They don’t cost them anything. Just plain talks! Same time, it is also fact that some shoestring budget movies, which had costed the producer a few crores have surprised the whole K-town with tremendous success and amazing collection.

            Do Tamil films have a market huge enough to generate the income of mega budget movies in triple digit crores? It is generally told that the whole Kollywood films business can be included in seven areas. Within this confined market place how is it possible to collect back all the investment, not to mention the profit? Is the movie theater tickets only source of income for a film? Does the producer invest all the money counting only upon ticket income? Are there any other avenues for income for a film? Do small budget movies have the same exposure to these markets? All these questions are quite common for an outsider.

            Slum dog Millionaire – The British movie which was celebrated across the world and swept the academy awards was a micro-budget (In Hollywood scale) film shot with digital camera, which coasted a mere US $ 15 million. Collections crossed twenty times of movie budget. This is not a miracle but was possible only after a production house giant called Twentieth Century Fox bought the movie rights and marketed the movie in a stellar manner. Typically a movie has multiple avenues of income from box office sales, DVD, music rights, satellite channel rights, music download rights, pay-for view channels and many more, and a movie is traded in these many fronts as well.

            Folks make a case that Hollywood movies enjoy multi faceted trade opportunities due to their worldwide business and incomparable reach. They glaringly miss the crucial element called marketing, which is the key factor for such success, lying behind the humongous success of Hollywood films. Is movie marketing that important? YES!

            In the 79-year-old Tamil cinema industry, there were times when the number of movie releases had been progressively increasing. Movie halls witnessed even 100 plus releases in a year during the good times. Also there were times where the annual release count has declined to mere sixty plus due to the multi-thronged attack from VCDs, DVDs and cable television. It is interesting to note that even during these tough times, superstar studded movies have flopped and humble movies with moderate budget and small stars have emerged victoriously, turning in to the proverbial dark horses. For instance, many films from the stables of veteran directors K.Balachander and Barathiraja are small budget movies as said above. Barathiraja’ s trendsetter movie 16 Vayathinile was shot within a few lakh rupees budget. So are many of Balachander’s films. Visu’s Samsaaram adhu minsaaram was completed with a mere thirteen lakh rupees but went all the way to win national award and golden lotus award. There is a similarity in all these giants’ films. They were all milestone hits in Tamil film history and most of them were trendsetters.

            Let me talk about Sethu, a small budget film that stormed the entire state and turned out as a classic dark horse. It takes courage for a new producer to venture a movie with a new director, then not-so-strong Ilayaraja and a hero jaded with successive flops. After the completion, the film has run for 100 shows in the preview theater itself. No one choose to buy the movie rights. Me along with a bunch of friends planned pooling our funds together and in turn to try to buy an area right. We watched the movie and were really impressed. We all were so moved that we were in tears and almost hugged Bala, the director. That was the kind of impact the film left with us.

            The price quoted for our targeted area was Rupees Eight lakhs. We were novices in the movie industry but motivated by a boy-racer enthusiasm to elevate Tamil movie fans’ standards by introducing them a cult movie of universal quality. However, we felt the price was way higher, so just evaded the imminent purchase claiming that we’d buy in more friends to invest and demanded a few more shows. We watched the film a few more times. Every single time I was reassuring to myself the movie is a surefire hit. Something was telling me the film has the potential. Finally we all negotiated to reduce the price to six and a half lakh rupees. But the producer was firm at eight lakhs. Also as few friends cautioned about the new crew and previous flop of the hero, we had to withdraw.

            Sethu released after much struggles. First three days, there was nothing to write home about in movie halls. I watched the movie again at Krishnaveni Theater, where I could count the audience with my fingers. After the curtains fell, I interviewed the audience with the zeal, which could defeat that of the distributor, since I was so impressed with the film since the entire ordeal. To my dismay, I was not answered by anyone. All of them kept walking with stone hard faces. My mind struggled. Don’t the like the film? If so, WHY? Questions were whirling in my mind. I started my bike with a heavy heart. It is then  I was startled with a heart-ripping cry from a mid-aged gentleman, who was pedaling his moped to bring it to life. I thought that he hurt himself when he was starting the moped and ran to his help. When I tried to lift him up, he cried even louder, calling out some female name repeatedly. I understood that the film has scraped his mental wound.

            From the third day on, the free advertisement called mouth talk had started spreading gradually. The crowd increased slowly. 2 weeks down, the screens were running full houses. Not even a poster advertisement when the film hit the ground, no advertisement in visual and audio media. For a film which struggled a lot to be sold out and released, the mouth talk created an astonishing level of advertisement and a successful one at that. Sethu was released with very minimal prints. After two weeks, more prints were increased.

At Cauvery cinemas, Coimbatore, the movie was lifted in a week due to poor crowd. Thereafter after mouth talk and success in rest of the state, the movie was re-released in a relatively smaller screen named Anupallavi at KG Complex. After crossing 50 days at Anupallavi, the crowd was unmanageable; the movie was shifted to the bigger screen Pallavi. In Chennai alone, initially the movie was released in four screens. After the fourth week, the movie was showing in more than eight screens, all full houses.
            Sethu was a movie waried by the majority. As a matter of fact, a doctor, who is not even distantly related to the industry of stardom, has seen the film preview and as mightily impressed as I was. He bought the area rights for an area, which was gunned by our group earlier. This changed the rest of his life forever. This erstwhile doctor’s life changed overnight and later he would go on to become a full time distributor and eventually a producer.

This small budget movie went on to become one of the biggest hits across all the centers of Tamilnadu. It also created a reputed identity for Bala and Vikram. It is due to this unexpected surprises and shocks the film industry lures everyone and remains attractive forever as a dream destination for many aspirants.

  • After a film production is finished, who decides the selling price for it?
  • How is the selling price fixed? Based on the Banner? Producer? Director? Cast? Technicians?
  • How this business operates?
  • How the sold movie’s collection is estimated?
  • What are the avenues for income for a movie except screen ticket sales?
  • How the screens release the movies? What is the mode of operation?
  • What are the pros and cons of satellite channels for a movie?
  • Movie is super hit; but the producer ends up with huge loss. How is this logical?
  • Movies bombs at box office; but it profits the producer. How this can be possible?
  • What are the distribution zones of Tamilnadu?
  • How the film distribution works?

            Let’s discuss them all here in the coming weeks.
Cable Sankar - Translation Of My Book In Tamil "CINEMA VYABARAM" Done By Rangs. Published in 

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