Covid brings new Challenges for Tollywood

While the governments of both the Telugu speaking States have clarified that there won’t be any lockdown (subject to the situation), the second wave of COVID-19, coupled with the issue of operational efficiency of theatres vs. ticket prices, is prompting filmmakers to delay releasing their films.

Audiences apprehensive

Filmmakers feel audiences may avoid coming to the theatres fearing they may contract the virus. Ram Mohan Rao Puskur, Chairman, Telangana State Film Development Corporation, and one of the producers of Love Story, feels that it is very difficult to draw family audiences to the theatres in the present situation.

“There’s a lot of craze for the film and director Sekhar Kammula garu is a name to reckon with among the youth, so we thought we could go all out. But since our film’s target audience (youth and family) think twice before coming to the theatres now, we have decided to postpone the release,” explains Ram Mohan, adding that most film releases have been postponed fearing that infections may go up in the next 30 days.

There has also been speculation that theatres in Telangana will be allowed to function at only 50% occupancy. Asked to comment on that, Ram Mohan says “There isn’t any official communication so far, but the government may clarify matters in a few days’ time.”

Pressure from buyers?

There’s a buzz that pressure from buyers is one of the strong reasons for filmmakers to delay releases. Having bagged theatrical rights for a higher price, the buyers feel that releasing films at this point will not be viable, as low viewership will not get them quick returns.

The Telugu Film Chamber of Commerce (TFCC) Vice President Mutyala Ramadas blames it on the rising production costs. “The lockdown and subsequent delay in release dates have added to the woes and forced producers to sell films at higher prices. The buyers have to get back their investments,” Ramdas points out.

Dim outlook for single screen theatres

Ever since the country went into lockdown last year, theatres have been badly affected. With many theatre owners indicating that they would have to shut down if no action was initiated on ticket pricing, filmmakers fear they might lose out on wider reach.

Several exhibitors have been complaining that the high maintenance costs are forcing them into the red. In fact, ticket prices for Vakeel Saab were raised for the first two days in Andhra Pradesh before the government raised objections. Eluru Suresh, an exhibitor in West Godavari, laments that the situation in small towns is even worse. “Almost all the theatres in villages and panchayat centers have been renovated and now have air-conditioning. So with power, diesel and other expenses on par with cities, how can theatre owners sustain themselves with low ticket prices?” he asks.  Suresh hopes that the industry biggies will bring this matter to the notice of the government.

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