A long road to recovery for Indian film industry

Interview with Ravi Kottarakara, general secretary, Film Federation of India


May 20, 2020

/ By / Mumbai

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Ravi Kottarakara, general secretary, FFI & SIFCC

In an interview with Media India Group, Ravi Kottarakara, general secretary, Film Federation of India (FFI) and South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce (SIFCC), shares on how the lockdown has impacted the Indian film industry and why is it not possible to restart the shootings anytime soon.

How has the lockdown impacted the cinema industry in India?

Lockdown began over 90 days ago in Kerala before being followed all over the country. Since then all aspects of cinema industry in India have been facing complete disruption, be it production, post production, distribution or exhibition. The problems are different for each sector. For instance, the producers have so many films that are ready for release and also some others that had already been released but had to be taken down when the cinema theatres were ordered to shut down. There were almost 100 films that were running at the moment and many of them had been doing very well on the screens. But now, even if the lockdown is lifted and theatres are opened, these films cannot be brought back to the screens. So, those can be enormous losses. Then there were films at various stages of production or post-production like either the shooting was going on, or the shooting had been completed and various processes like dubbing, editing or mixing were going on.

Do you think if the lockdown is lifted will the film industry pick up immediately? Will the shootings resume?  

The producers are not even sure about the feasibility of making new films as there is no clarity on what kind of rules would the government impose at that juncture, when the lockdown is lifted and shooting is allowed. Even if the government removes the lockdown and allows shooting to resume, there are numerous questions that need clarification before we can even think of restart shooting of films. For instance, how can the actor or the actress be expected to maintain social distancing while shooting a film? Also, there is no clarity on how we can shoot in crowded locations and yet respect the rules of social distancing? So right now, the idea of going on a shoot seems farfetched in the immediate future. My feeling is that shooting cannot restart before November due to these practical questions.

The distributors are also looking at zero revenues and zero business for a long while as they can not release any films unless cinemas reopen. The exhibitors are also in a quandary as they cannot maintain social distancing at all as even if the exhibitors leave half the seats in the cinema empty to respect social distancing norms, there would be movement of lots of people at the same time before and after the film show and during the interval as well. It would be a nightmare to try and regulate this traffic.

I have spoken with people in Germany, France and other countries and even there the film industry is at a standstill as no one wants to take a risk. Also, over the years the overseas market has become very important and for some films it accounts for a sizeable proportion of the total collection. However, today even the overseas market is closed. Hence, releasing a film immediately seems a bit farfetched.

What has been the cumulative loss so far?

It is very difficult to estimate the loss incurred by the industry as the data is yet to be compiled. Our industry loss is even more severe than other sectors of the Indian economy as our industry does not receive any bank credit and we are obliged to borrow from other sources in the market at much higher interest rates. So, to calculate our losses, we need to take into account the interest outgo that we have on our loans even while the industry is at a complete standstill.

What is your expectation from the government?

The government has announced relief for various sectors like MSME. We request for some measures for the cinema industry as well. Just before the pandemic, the government had introduced TDS of 10 pc, we request them to cut it down to 2 pc. We have sent proposals to the government to subsidise cinema exhibitors to help them run the theatres as they will have a lot of cost in sanitising the theatre every day and after every show. We have also asked for subsidy in power tariff as well as a reduction in GST.

Could the government have been more proactive in helping the cinema industry?

Today, the government is giving priority to the migrants and trying to take care of health sector. Entertainment is not an essential product, it is more like a luxury, so the government is not focussed on us. But I am sure that the government will help us – both state and central. Cinema is something that helps people in keeping a positive mind. I am sure our government will give us a very good package.

What do you think of films getting released on OTTs?

OTT is a different revenue stream, like so many others that we have – satellite channels, DVDs, cinematic releases, overseas rights etc. OTT by itself cannot replace all other streams and cannot generate adequate revenues for the producers. The general break up is that 50 pc of revenues come from theatre and the balance from the rest.



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