AT: So why don’t you support exhibitors first?
NG: No one is ignoring that.
AT: No, but with every film, everyone wants to raise ticket prices.
NA: Who wants to increase ticket rates?
AT: Nandu, every big film that releases.
NA: When a regular, mid-sized, mediocre film releases, then prices are constant.
AT: No, I am saying that if you don’t increase the ticket price, your numbers might just be the same. Guage when does the audience come in to see a big film first. They are not going to come in for average films because they cannot afford to do that.
NA: That is true but there are both good and bad single-screens.
AT: Speaking of the good single-screens, Nandu, what is the occupancy after a week?
NA: Anil, the point Kumar and I are making is that aren’t the good and well-maintained single-screens earning more revenue than the badly maintained single-screens?
AT: Of course they are. What I am saying is don’t increase ticket rates in the bad single-screens because there is a tendency to do that.
RA: Supposing you are going to watch a film at Juhu or Phoenix… If you have a choice like Regal near where you live, you would go there and not mind paying a little extra as you are getting a better experience.
AT: But the majority of film-goers cannot afford to do that.
NG: Let’s have a couple of exhibitors with us next time. (Laughs)
SK: Yes, this is a one-sided discussion. (Laughs)
AT: No, I am an exhibitor too.
NG: We feel your pain.
AT: You know, Neeraj, they have a property worth crores but they are like beggars today.
SK: Point taken, Anil. All I am saying is that quality should improve. The question is, who should do it? There is no doubt that quality screens and better projection systems can only help the industry.
AT: Some distributors threaten them, yaar.
NA: Okay, now let me…
AT: (Laughs) I am not pointing a finger at you.
NA: Let’s talk about the challenges we face as distributors.
NG: I think we are all aware of our daily challenges. I would like to think momentarily about how the world is changing in terms of distribution and how entertainment is consumed now. Yes, the experience of sitting in a dark room and watching a film with 300 people is great, but India is now sitting on the edge of a digital boom, and when I say that, I am talking about the 4G rollout a few months from now.
There was a news article in the US on how Netflix has better and higher revenue growth over a five-year period compared to other networks. They have nine million mobile subscribers, which is a massive base. I am trying to point out how the way entertainment is going to be consumed is poised to change. Is it going to be a challenge for us to make smaller films because the platform won’t have the big, cinema experience? And will people want to see films like that on their phablets while on the move? Nowadays, thanks to 3G and unfortunately piracy beats us to it, our films are being consumed on local trains on a daily basis.
VK: We need a windowing strategy, to ensure that there is a theatrical release window followed by a digital window. The international market follows a platform release strategy, which we cannot adopt in India as a small film cannot support a pan-India release. So, if I want to release only in the Mumbai circuit or purely in CP or CI, I should be allowed to do that. But I am not allowed to because the cinema guys prefer a pan-India release. But if smaller films are allowed a platform release – say, I am releasing in Mumbai today, in Delhi-UP next month and so on – I can go to more markets if the film works or I could shut shop if it doesn’t work in more than two markets. Then I wouldn’t have to incur the cost of a pan-India release.
NA: How can we do this with piracy?
AT: That’s a hand-in-glove situation.
SK: We still have to do submissions and we are able to do that in Hollywood, at least.
AT: That needed to be done.
VK: The Telugu market is doing a great job in the battle against piracy. We were at an anti-piracy meeting the other day, where there was a whole case study on Bahubali and how they are extremely focused on anti-piracy.
AT: But for Bahubali, the producer was very vigilant. How many of us actually take care of piracy as individuals?
PJ: Bahubali was available on Friday.
VK: It was. But again, the quality of the print…
AT: In the South, they have price control, ticket price control, and controlling piracy is top priority.
VK: To answer your question, obviously digital is big and there is money to be made there. As a film, you can exploit the digital window immediately after the film’s theatrical window, and before the satellite window comes in. But if small films are allowed a platform release, you can control you distribution cost. If the cost is low, you also make good money.
PJ: Barfi! released in 600 prints. The problem with national chains is if you’re releasing in Vadodara and if you escape the city then it’s okay. That’s what happens with English films. The thing is that they allow you three to four main markets.
RA: Just like Barfi! released, and I think we released Piku in 800 properties.
PJ: Haider was 800-900.
RA: But if to explore can we come down to 600 screens from 800?
NG: Hypothetically, Manjhi: The Mountain Man is a great film but you had to release it pan-India. If I released it in a platform manner, the film would have done more business and the cost could have been controlled. We also had challenges as it was pirated and, in spite of that, the film was well received and we got tax-free status in five states.
NG: Yes, but we had to convince filmmakers that although it was a good film, we didn’t want to go overboard and we should release it at only 500 locations. We filtered it.
AT: But even so, of the 500, how many were redundant? I assume 250 or 300 would have been redundant.
NG: It fired up really well in the North. It did well in places where we thought it would not do well, and getting tax-free status in UP, MP and Bihar really helped. So coming back to our first point rather than shouting about the big 4,000-print release, let’s shout about the 500 prints that we are doing. Actually, it is a wake-up call for filmmakers that they don’t have to go full-on with the number of screens.
AT: Masaan released in 230 to 240 screens and I wanted to do that number because I was afraid of piracy. I wanted to open pan-India but, as he was saying, a state-wise release would have been a better idea. If we don’t have to worry about piracy, we could open in Mumbai followed by Delhi…
NG: I think piracy can be controlled, we simply haven’t take it up on a war-footing. We already have the support of the law enforcing agencies. The cops are on our side. For Manjhi, they were, like, come to us and we will help you wherever we can. They are very particular about intellectual property rights. I urge all studios to start making a noise about piracy. We need to crack down and we need to get to know the source.
NA: We shouldn’t take it lying down.
AT: The revenues and averages will go up. The audience that frequents single-screens watches movies at home because they would rather spend `100 on a pirated DVD.
NA: Down South, fan clubs of the big
actors wouldn’t even think about buying a pirated DVD.