In 2017, the Tamil Film Producers Council (TFPC) formed a committee to come up with correctional measures for the industry, including keeping tabs on the number of releases each week to allow small budget films to get their due. A system was devised wherein release dates would be approved on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Things seemed smooth for a while, but in November last year, Thimuru Pudichavan brought out skeletons from TFPC’s closet as its release date changed. The Vijay Antony-starrer, which was produced by his wife, Fathima Vijay Antony, was originally scheduled for a Diwali release (November 6) along with (Ilayathalapathy) Vijay’s Sarkar. However, it released on November 16, which was allotted to Nakkhul-starrer Sei, Jyothika’s Kaatrin Mozhi and Utharavu Maharaja (starring Udhaya and Prabhu). This caused a change in the number of theatres for Kaatrin Mozhi and Utharavu Maharaja, leaving very few screens for Sei, whose makers had to postpone its release to the following week.
G Dhananjayan of BOFTA Media Works, which bankrolled Jyothika’s Kaatrin Mozhi, says, “There’s no cap on the number of films that can be released on a given day. In a chaotic industry such as Kollywood, order is necessary. There is no guarantee on how a film will fare. Given the uncertainty, at least knowing our competitors for that release date is helpful.”
However, internal guidelines cannot be considered rules. As Dhananjayan says, “That contradicts the Monopolistic and Restrictive Trade Practices (MRTP) Act of 1969. So, it cannot be enforced as a rule and can only be a guideline.” The producer claims to have lost more than a crore because of the sudden release of Thimuru Pudichavan. “They took over 100 screens that were meant for us. We targeted 250 screens in Tamil Nadu, but ended up with 160. It was worse for Utharavu Maharaja. If we had known that they (Thimiru Pudichavan) were releasing on the same day, we would have made alternate plans. We can’t file a complaint or ask for a ban on them, because that’s not going to compensate us.”
Actor Udhaya, who recently resigned from the Executive Council of the TFPC, has been vocal about his film Utharavu Maharaja bearing the brunt of the date shuffling. “When no big films release, distributors buy smaller films. But with Thimuru Pudichavan releasing that week, my distributors backed off. It was not at all sufficient considering we spent about 4 crore on it. Moreover, even the shows we got were morning and noon shows and not evening, which get more audiences,” he laments.
The actor, who also produced the film, says he is facing a loss of 2.5 crore. “We spent a lot and roped in veterans such as Prabhu sir and Nasser sir. We made sure the content is enjoyable. But what are we to do if we can’t reach the audience? I’ve asked the council to re-release the film but haven’t received a reply. I would need compensation along with proper show timings once the film re-releases,” says Udhaya.
At the press meet for Sei, actor Nakkhul said that the council had given a letter with the green signal for a November 16 release. The actor added that his team was scheduled to have a meeting with TFPC members regarding the Thimuru Pudichavan release date issue. However, that meeting never materialised, and Sei’s release ended up being pushed to November 23. A visibly upset Nakkhul said, “We were left in the dark. We tried approaching Vishal and other EC members but they weren’t reachable. We’re very upset and I want my producer, who hails from Kerala, to get compensated. He wanted to make his debut with a Tamil film and was keen on following the rules, but now, he’s shocked.”
Producer SR Prabhu, who is also the treasurer of TFPC, says it’s a case of a domino effect. “There are instances where we would have agreed to let a film release on a particular date but the producer sometimes isn’t able to organise the release. As they spend a lot on publicity, they try to get it released during the subsequent week.”
He believes producers don’t really see beyond their own problems. “You’ll hear people saying that the council isn’t functioning properly, but there weren’t any regulations before. Back then, they were mumbling their issues among themselves, but now, they have an organisation to blame. The council is trying to make things easier for everyone by bringing some order.” However, he assures there will be repercussions for those who don’t abide by regulations. “As per the prescribed norms, the council will take action. We’re already doing that with the makers of Thimuru Pudichavan. We will take into account the explanation for their change in dates too, which was actually an issue with the buyer.”
This month, two biggies, Rajinikanth’s Petta and Ajith’s Viswasam, are scheduled to hit the screens for Pongal. Prabhu doesn’t think it could cause a problem: “It’s a festival date; so big budget films have to share release dates.” With the sheer volume of films produced every year, it’s impossible to regulate, he explains. “Every year, 250-300 films are getting released, which is about six-seven per week. Other language films push the number to 10 per week. TFPC can regulate films for its members. But what about other bodies such as the Guild and the Film Chamber? They may release their films on the same day as ours. We can’t regulate their films, can we?” he asks.