Bollywood tiff bollixes India sked

Clash over theatrical vs. cable releases

MUMBAI — A quarrel between producers and distributors in India has halted the release of Hindi films, leaving the field clear for Hollywood pics in the prime pre-monsoon movie-going season.

No Bollywood films have been released since April 4 while industryites wrangle over how soon a film should be released on cable TV and homevid circuits.

Distribbers complain that some pics are hitting TV screens while they are still playing in theaters and are demanding at least two years’ gap between the commercial release and the cable TV telecast.

But producers whose films have not done well want to recoup their losses by selling the telecast rights as quickly as possible. They want a six- to nine-month gap.

“It is a lose-lose situation all around,” industry analyst Indira Mirani said. “If a movie is not released, the producer loses interest on the money he has borrowed from the market. The distributor is not in a better shape because, in the absence of releases, he is not making money either. Exhibitors are filling time slots with reruns. The audience is not interested in reruns. So all around the situation is pretty grim.

“This year in particular the situation is really serious. With the pre- and post-Diwali washout, Ramadan and the Cricket World Cup cutting into audience time, films have fared miserably at the box office.”

One movie that is being released today despite the embargo is “Hero — The Love Story of a Spy,” by Time Prods.”On the day I announced the movie, a year ago, I announced the release date,” producer Dhirajlal Shah said. “By not sticking to that date I will be incurring a loss of over $3 million. I don’t know of any producer who can take those kind of losses.”

Meanwhile, an impatient audience is unlikely to sit at home waiting for the producers and distributors to thrash out a compromise, especially with “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” “Chicago,” “Catch Me if You Can” all unspooling here.

However, with India’s quotas on imported pics and the fact that there are restrictions repatriating earnings, little of the dividend is likely to get back to the U.S.

Meanwhile, cable operators in India have threatened to go on strike beginning Sunday over the proposed bouquet pricing for terrestrial channels.

The Cable Federation of India claims the Rs. 71. 33 ($1.50) a month for 30 channels under the Government’s conditional access system is too low. They want the fee doubled before the July 14 launch date. CAS will allow the viewer to pay for only those channels he watches.

(Arti Mathur in New Delhi contributed to this report.)

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