Andhra Government has issued an order laying down slabs for tickets in cinema halls of municipal corporations, municipalities, nagar panchayats and village panchayats
Two controversial government orders issued by the Andhra Pradesh government regarding entertainment and culture have created a lot of heat. The first GB released in April 2021 aimed to regulate the film industry. The second was recently released banning a popular and message-driven play “Chintamani”. Both issues could have been handled skillfully if the government had consulted stakeholders before making the decisions.
The government of YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, which has immersed itself in controversies of all kinds, added two more, involving the film industry and plays.
Around 170 of the roughly 950 theaters in Andhra Pradesh have been closed since the GO was published. Exhibitors say they lost hugely due to Covid in 2021 when cinemas were completely closed. They were reopened with 50% occupancy on July 31, 2021. Even before that, the state government issued GO 35 fixing slabs for tickets in cinema halls of municipal corporations, municipalities, panchayats nagar and village panchayats in economy, deluxe and premium classes for multiplexes, AC cinemas and non-AC cinemas.
Filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma met PA Minister of Information, Public Relations and Cinematography Perni Venkataramaiah (Nani) and told him that the government should not interfere in the matter. It is up to the exhibitors and the public to decide the price of the tickets. Movie hero-politician Pawan Kalyan (chairman of Jan Sena who allied himself with the BJP) was rather aggressive in his criticisms. He said that since the government has no money, it indulges in online ticketing and sets ticket prices. Minister Nani asked the actor why the government which has no money would reduce the ticket price instead of increasing it. The lead actor, elder brother of Pawan Kalyan and former Union Minister Chiranjeevi tried to break the ice when he traveled to Amaravati to meet Jagan Mohan Reddy over lunch last Thursday. Some news channels and newspapers said that Chiranjeevi was offered a seat in Rajya Sabha by the head of YSRCP, which was quickly and curtly refused by the mega star. He said the problem would be solved soon.
What’s the problem? Is it specific to Tollywood? So it appears. The industry’s problems started with fame. At least six stars today charge fees of Rs 45 crore each for a film. The heroines are also paid in crores, although their remuneration is far from that of the actors. Directors do not take all compensation by check or cash, but ask for a share of revenue. Together, they eat away at three quarters of the budget.
People working in 24 professions in the films receive a pittance. The presence of Chiranjeevi, Prabhas, Mahesh, Pawan Kalyan, NTR (Jr) and Ram Charan Teja makes the budget of any film exceed Rs 100 crore. Each actor plays in a film in one or two years.
In order to earn this kind of huge money, exhibitors hold benefit shows and extra shows to collect more. For benefit shows, the ticket price would be more than Rs 1000 for big budget movies in which any of these stars act.
If you have two stars like NTR (Jr) and Ram Charan Teja and a star director like Rajamouli of Bahubali fame like in RRR (Raudram, Ranam and Rudhiram), the budget would be around Rs 300 crore. The RRR movie was set to be released on January 7 after three postponements. Some other movies that were supposed to be released on Sankranti postponed their dates thinking that RRR would be released by then. The release of SarkaruvariPaata (with Mahesh Babu) has been postponed to April 1 and BhimlaNayak (Pawan Kalyan, Rana) to February 25. It happened because when a big budget movie, like RRR, comes out, it goes on display in most theaters for a week with special shows and higher ticket prices to recoup the huge investment. The poor and middle class among the audience are forced to pay their noses to pay the stars. During this week, no rooms would be available for other films.
The small cinema that previously flourished was completely discouraged. Small producers have to depend on OTT platforms or the sale of cyber rights. Artist compensation is much lower in Kannada, Malayalam and Marathi films.
Once the late Raj Kumar, the Kannada Kanteerava, invited all Kannada producers, directors and exhibitors to his residence, gave them a lavish dinner and politely asked for permission to increase his remuneration by Rs 25,000 since he has several children. Guests were stunned and told him he could raise his fees by several thousand dollars.
The late NTR starred for twenty years for less than a million rupees for a movie. The days of NTR, ANR, Sobhan Babu and Krishna were golden for Tollywood. Alongside the heroes, actors, directors, technicians and other artisans lived happily. If ticket prices are low, smaller films can get reasonable theaters and revenue. Some exhibitors went to the PA High Court which asked the government to appoint a committee to look into the matter. In the absence of compliance, the HC suspended the operation of the GO. Then the government staged raids on theaters that operated without proper licenses and sold refreshments at higher prices. This results in bickering between government and industry.
Meanwhile, the Telangana government agreed to the film industry’s request and allowed the fixing of ticket prices by producers and exhibitors. Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao wanted no problem about it. The ideal solution would be for the two Chief Ministers of the Telugu States to sit down with the important figures in Tollywood to settle the matter once and for all. Star pay, four-family takeover of hundreds of theaters in both states (Families headed by Dil Raj, Allu Aravind, Daggubati Suresh and Sunil Narang) and unethical exploitation of moviegoers opportunity for producers low-budget films to survive and the well-being of technicians and others (estimated at more than 50,000) must be discussed to the bitter end to arrive at a global and amicable solution. The sooner this is done, the better for the government and the film industry.
The ban on Chintamani, the popular play, imposed by Rajat Bhargava, the principal secretary through a GO, was not justified although a community complaint was well founded. The original play written by social reformer, writer and poet Kallakuri Narayana Rao exactly one hundred years ago was sophisticated and instructive. It was a criticism of the Devadasi system. Subbi Shetty, a character in the play, is a vaisya (bania), who loses his wealth to Chintamani and his character is used to engage the audience through his teasing conversation with Chintamani’s mother, Srihari, and his sister Chitra . It is true that some actors introduced vulgarity and obscene dialogues between Subbi Shetty, Chitra and Srihari, hurting the feelings of a community.
The Andhra government should have allowed the play to be broadcast on the condition that the vulgar characters and dialogues were removed. Even today, the coin has great relevance. The decision of the AP government must be reviewed.
(The author is the publisher of Primepost, the Hyderabad-based news site. Opinions expressed are personal.)