TELENGANA: While the jury is still is out on whether the rich have the taken the hit or the poor, there is consensus in the Telugu film industry that the small guy has been affected most.
According to filmmakers, producers and industry insiders, some 45 films have been put on hold due to the cash crunch, and new production houses are hesitant to start fresh projects until the situation stabilizes.
“Only films that have completed shooting and are closer to release are going ahead. The smaller films have been badly affected. Everything is currently in pause mode because we depend on cash to make transactions and pay workers, spot boys, extras and so on,” explained Sai Rajesh, producer of a stalled film called Kobbari Matta (coconut frond).
“After seven days of shooting, we had to stop production. There was just not enough cash in hand to pay for the expenses and labour,” he explained. A lack of commitment from distributors is a big reason for most producers refraining from releasing their movies at the moment.
“Most distributors used to pay 70 per cent of the money in the form of unaccounted cash. After demonetisation, they are unwilling to pay us up front. Most of them are willing to pay only a portion of it ahead of release, and are willing to share the profits afterwards. With this, producers will get money only if the film runs and that’s not an idea most people are comfortable with. The distributors are safe but the producers aren’t,” he added. While production houses have not faced much trouble, daily-wage workers on the sets are facing the brunt of demonetisation.
“There are people who depend on that one payment to feed their families. Since payments are getting delayed, they are now suffering. Having said that, people believe that this is a temporary setback and that this is a good thing in the long run,” said Vajpeye, a junior artist. To put things in perspective, a junior artist travels every day to Krishna Nagar in Hyderabad to work on the sets. He is paid `450: `100 on the spot for travel expenses and `350 a few days later. However, he is likely not getting paid even `100. “We travel far distances every day to go to the shoot but we are not getting paid. From where will we get the money to commute if they don’t pay us? How will I manage my family if I’m unable to work?” cried K Venkatesh, who works as an extra at Annapurna Studios.
Mainstream Tollywood, however, is unaffected, with productions going on. “It hasn’t had much effect. There has been a minor impact with releases getting postponed and a marginal drop in collections at the theatres, but things are slowly getting back to normal,” said D Suresh Babu, a leading producer and owner of Suresh Productions.
“Cheque and online payments are being made. Problems could arise in productions where people don’t trust each other. But where there is trust, everything is going smoothly. My shootings are going on without any trouble whatsoever,” Suresh Babu said.
Producers also highlighted the benefits of demonetisation, and claimed that this move will help clean up the industry. “When payments are made in cash, there are a few middlemen who take a cut from the money that’s supposed to go to the worker. For instance, if I pay a light man `500, the middleman takes `150 and the light man gets `350. By making transactions digital, we are ensuring that the full payment reaches the workers,” explained producer Krishna Reddy.
“It’s no secret that most small-budget films are made with unaccounted money and only they are getting affected. The big budget films are managing with cheques and digital transactions,” he added. But the nerves are palpable among the big fish. Director Krish’s film Gautamiputra Satakarni is geared for release in January 2017 but there is a sense of unease in the crew. “All the business for this film was done before demonetisation. The distribution rights were already sold and production was completed. In the current situation all sectors have been badly hit. So given the cash crunch, the uncertainty is worrisome,” said Krishna Teja, a junior artist.