U.S. pix caught up in Bollywood battle

Sides fight over when films get cable, homevid release

MUMBAI — A majority of Indian movie distribbers had agreed to a compromise with producers that allowed for a six- to nine-month gap before new Bollywood pics are sold to cable or homevideo. However, since a majority of territories including the Hindi-speaking belt of New Delhi, and the states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar didn’t join this compromise, it doesn’t mean anything. Few producers are willing to release movies for just the territory of Mumbai and its state of Maharashtra.

Still producers of “Praan jaye par shaan nah jaye” and “Ishq Vishq,” who had announced April 25 as their release date, have now been persuaded to delay hold on till the end of the strike and have been promised a compromise by which the first week after the issue is resolved their movies alone will be released.

The quarrel between producers and distributors in India that has halted the release of Hindi films since April 4 has extended to dubbed versions of Hollywood pics.

Neither side can agree how soon a film should be released on cable TV and homevid circuits, leaving screens bare of Bollywood fare and only English-lingo films in theaters. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” and “Spy Kids 2 — The Island of Lost Dreams” are set to unspool here during the summer holiday season.

Distribbers want a two-year gap between theatrical and cable and homevid sales, while producers want to cash out in six to nine months, especially if their pics have not done well in theaters.

Sameer Nair, chief operations officer of Rupert Murdoch-backed cabler Star India, said: “Indian movies cannot follow international norms of a year’s gap between commercial and cable releases because of high cable piracy. When producers themselves sell DVD rights and cable rights before the commercial release of the movie, how do they ever hope to control that?

“We insist on all the distributors being compensated adequately and a no-objection certificate from them before we buy and air any movie. We are equally concerned about piracy because movies pirated by cable operators are very difficult to sell to the advertiser. And hence a movie we have bought for $800,000, on average, becomes difficult to market and needs two to six airings to recover our investment.”

In a meeting held Thursday night, the producers’ association decided to continue withholding pics and threatened that any producer defying the ban will “never” make a movie again.

But Dhirajlal Shah of Time Prods., whose “The Hero — Love Story of a Spy” raked in $500,000 at the box office in Mumbai in its first week, is defiant.

“I’m going to fight any action in court,” he said. “Once the promos are aired, the public wants to see the movie. The expectation, once built and dashed, makes it extremely difficult to re-sell the movie.”

While the industry doubts pic’s staying power, “Hero” has the small-budget, much-delayed “Praan jaye par shaan na jaye” hot on its heels. Its producers have announced a release date of April 25, and by all indications intend to stick to it.

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