As in Kerala politics, film industry at war with itself

Thiruvananthapuram, Nov 10 (IANS) Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy defused yet another crisis in the Malayalam film industry by successfully persuading the Kerala Film Exhibitors' Federation to end their week-long strike. But, like in Kerala politics, there is never a dull moment in the industry with several associations and unions of producers, actors, exhibitors, distributors and film employees constantly at war with each other.

"The strike has been called off following the government assurance that within six months, a new cinema package will be unveiled to address the hike in the service tax and other issues raised by the film exhibitors," Cinema Minister K.B. Ganesh Kumar, an actor-turned-politician, said Friday.

Of the state's nearly 500 theatres where new films are released, around 350 are owned by members of the exhibitors' federation and had downed their shutters Nov 2 on the service tax issue.

After talks between the striking exhibitors and the cinema minister failed to resolve the issue, the chief minister had to intervene to break the deadlock.

With all the given problems in the industry, this year saw a considerable increase in the number of new releases in the state.

While last year around 75 films were released with only six going on to warm the box office, the number of films produced this year is expected to touch 110, Kerala Film Producers Association office-bearer Suresh Kumar told IANS.

One reason for this increase, he said, was a new trend in the industry called "new generation films".

"A good number of fresh faces have entered the industry. We term this as a churning process that will continue even next year. By then, a good number would have burned their fingers because the new players eye the satellite market (TV channels)," said Kumar.

As for the superstars, barring Mohanlal, the other two - Mammootty and Suresh Gopi - found the going tough this year.

"They continue to hold on because their films do have a market. May be some of the films starring them may not have done good business. But from the new generation film category, except for one of the biggest grossers, 'Diamond Necklace', that was made by ace director Lal Jose, most others failed to have an impact," Kumar added.

He said that films starring newcomers could be made for under Rs.1 crore, while those starring accomplished actors could cost beyond Rs.2 crore and films featuring any of the superstars could cost over Rs.3 crore.

On when the next row would erupt in the Malayalam film industry, a stakeholder, who did not wish to be identified, told IANS: "It won't be long."

He said the state government has decided to go ahead with e-ticketing that would enable authorities to track sales in all the 700 theatres in the state through the click of a mouse.

"This could be the start of the next tussle between the film industry and the government," said the stakeholder, who did not wish to be identified.

(Sanu George can be contacted at sanu.g@ians.in)

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