The Other Side : Multiplexes and desi indies

Posted: October 10, 2012 by moifightclub in Indie
Tags: , ,


With every independent film release, we hear the same questions again and again – why are the tickets priced so high? Why there are no shows in my city? Why there’s no show at my time of preference? It’s always the story from our side. So here’s Shiladitya Bora of PVR Director’s Rare telling us the story from the other side. And the bigger question – why haven’t we seen a breakout indie in a long time? Are we just making indies and not the good ones? (Maybe we need to learn it from the French on how to do this. More here). Over to him.

I am a film programmer.

I earn my livelihood by handpicking independent films for theatrical release.

As a part of my job, I receive, on an average, 3-4 independent feature film submissions/requests every week. Out of these 12-16 films we receive every month, about 90-95% films are very bad and do not even deserve a release on DVD-release, forget theatrical release.

With the advent of digital technology, making an independent film has almost become child’s play. So this 90-95% films that I refer to, are mostly experiments by amateurs in the digital medium. They record footage that is more than 60 minutes in length and feel they have made a feature, and a theatrical release is their birth right.

If every man with a video camera is Steven Spielberg, then I am surely Harvey Weinstein. But, then, I am not.

The remaining 5% of indies that make the cut, they get a small theatrical window in the form of a limited release in selected cities.

Now, an indie getting a limited release does not imply that it is the next best thing to happen after Citizen Kane, all it means that…

1. It is one of the better ones of what is available

2. There is a little bit of awareness of the film

3. It simply got lucky

4. It is backed with very strong recommendation. This may sound unfair but this is how the world functions. Otherwise, how do you think some of the disastrous films make it to the prestigious festivals?

And then, there are some genuinely good indie films that are unlucky.

What I consider my biggest failure was not being able to get a show for Kshay at a regular multiplex in Delhi during its theatrical run.

If Good Night Good Morning was made with Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra, it would have been a super-hit. This doesn’t mean that Seema Rahmani and Manu Narayan are any less talented but this is how things are.

In addition to the above, there is one more type of indie films in our country.

These are made by people who started their careers as members of the crew/technicians and finally graduated into directing. Such indies mostly have known cast, technically and quality wise also are superior to the first timers, and when it comes to release, they generally get more number of shows than the others.

Now the big question is

How many shows per day a multiplex should give to an independent film?

If we go by the thumb rule of any business – that profit making should be the primary objective of the business –  indies should NOT get a single show in multiplexes.

A mainstream film will any day earn more than an indie programmed at the same slot. Then why do multiplexes take initiatives to showcase indie cinema even by incurring losses?

The answer is corporate Social Responsibility. It’s a way of saying thanks to your ecosystem. It’s a goodwill gesture. Most of the independent filmmakers whom I have interacted with, they all loathe the mainstream, but one thing we all fail to realize is that indies can even think of getting a theatrical release only because multiplexes earn their revenues from the mainstream.

Now, let’s have a look of the costs involved in running one show at a multiplex in Mumbai irrespective of whether one person is sitting inside or a houseful show.

1. Mall Rental Charges

2. CAM – Common Area Maintenance charges

3. Electricity Charges

4. Xenon Lamp charges – this is calculated on the average life of the projector lamp

5. Human resource costs

6. Miscellaneous costs – this may include the huge volume of complimentary tickets that needs to be given to law enforcing agencies every month for running a multiplex.

In addition to the above we should also note the 31.03% applicable tax (Mumbai) on Gross Box Office (45% of Net Box Office receipts).

As per the data available, the occupancy percentage for the best performing/well-known indie films is not more than 25%, making screening of indies a direct loss making proposition for multiplexes.

The setting up of a multiplex is a highly CAPEX driven business and tax rebate/holiday is given as in the case of other infrastructure based industries.

The main idea is to attract investors/foster entrepreneurship and I am not very sure how much valid a reason it is to demand a dedicated auditorium showing indie cinema only.

Initiatives to support the cottage film industry of the country should be voluntary decisions and demanding it from corporates who are already doing their bit, seems unfair. I am sure we do not want reservations in our highly talent-driven film industry.

The next big question : Is there a scope of dedicated theatres screening independent films only?

To be honest, I do not have an answer to the same right now. The answer lies in finding the latent demand for indies. Instead of emotionally supporting anything that sounds like a rebel, sometimes without a cause, we need figures to arrive at an answer.

How many DVDs of independent films actually sell? How many legal and torrent downloads? How many actual tickets sell when these films get a limited theatrical release?

What needs to be our primary focus is how to make good/great indies. This is where we are lacking the most. Films that breakout through important international festivals, win awards and accolades which will automatically lead to buyers in other countries too. Crack that code and we will survive here too. Still in doubt? Scroll up and read the French link again.

Shiladitya Bora manages Director’s Rare, a PVR initiative to promote Independent Cinema.

Pic Courtesy – Independent Film Festival of Boston 2009





  1. Deepak says:

    @CilemaSnob @ShiladityaBora nicely’s my bit on a ‘probable’ solution to this.. as you talked about how mainstream needs to run in order to support
    indie.Let’s say we are talking about a CSR here (assuming PVR takes it that way)

    Why not start a ‘moviebuff’ pass .A pass that lets u see unlimited ‘rare’ movies in say (Rs 1500-2000) per month. For any mainstram ‘hit’ movie ,one might have to pay some extra money
    (e.g 100rs) per show.And may be free after 3-4 weeks of release.

    This way you have the money IN hand on first day of the month.Instead of taking that money from the bank for running the plex.You have the upfront payment from a lot of people.
    You save on interest.
    And based on the occupancy and the number of people enrolling into this ‘pass’
    the benifits can be given to the indie makers (Who might agree of a fix price model)

    It is just a suggestion You are in the thick of it so you can answer it better.

  2. aparajita krishna says:

    A very fine argument for a more pragmatic over-view of the Indies. I am the converted or rather a votary of the idea-cinema which has certainly re-invented itself in a new idiom. Why grudge the private players when the government itself could not sustain the NFDC/ FFC modules. A long term hope is in the alleviation of popular taste. Till then…..

  3. Vivek says:

    Great post, thanks. Hope an Indian indie cracks it sometime soon. Forget worldwide, even nation wide will be something!

  4. Zain says:

    Its great that you are doing your bit, it really is. And this is a great post, and PVR is doing an awesome job by even releasing these films in mainstream cinema halls.
    But please tell me do you think a movie like Pairon Talle will survive when its price and time bracket is the same as Barfi!?
    Your pricing and show timings for these films have always been the least succesful part of this endeavour.
    Anyway, best of luck.

  5. Supertramp says:

    When I went to watch Kshay had a chit chat with the guy who sat next to me.He asked me why you are here at the screening when not many have heard of the film.I gave him some vague answers and then he went on and on about how he is friends with the makers,how he want to support them etc.As there were many seats I shifted into a more comfortable seat few seats away from him and 10 mins into the movie he was yawning,shifting himself uncomfortably in the seat,checking his watch,mobile,tweeting while I was really enjoying the movie.

  6. John Galt says:

    Lovely write up.

    45 % tax. Maa ki aankh. Sabse pehle to ye kam karna hoga.

    Kshay was truly brilliant. I haven’t seen any director – even established ones, so on top of his/her game. Imtiaz Ali ne banayi hoti to khoob laal hoti. Log to Rockstar-Wockstar mein bhi meaning dhoond daalte hain :p

    Ditto Superman of Malegaon. My only worry was, now everyone with a camera will start making films 😐

    Kudos to Mr. Bohra/PVR for taking this up. On a lighter note, jab corporate responsibility ki hi baat hai, to ek-aat show free mein hi dikhaa diya karo 😀

  7. Shiladitya has nailed it. But there is hope. The exhibition business is going through a phase of change now. Some things that are happening:
    1. Calculations of profit stem now from Average per seat rather than per show
    2. Programmers are mixing the Optimum mix for shows by genre, language and local demographics rather than distributor wants, better than 2007-8 (YRF distributors!!)
    3. Slots for niche content are being created but they are usually going to strong local language content than average Hindi Indie content.
    4. Regional Language content is getting stronger by the day. Ex: Marathi, Assamese, Bengali, Bhojpuri, all South Languages.
    5. Regional content are getting promoted better, thereby earning its distributors better returns in the tough tax landscape too.

    But, as said above, the content needs to be good and only then an Indie will get screened. It hurts all of us to cancel even one screening. There are so many mouths to feed in the Retail and Entertainment industry that it is not funny.

    I remember a comment from a viewer who came out from an Indie just recently. “Kya koshish kar raha tha? Kitna jaldi hum gaali dein…” Telling! And this is a film that went to festivals!!

    The multiplexes are here to stay and so is the form of business. The content makers need to wake up and do better. Good content finds its way, always.

    I know. I work in the Mall industry. I see people come out of a Saturday morning show of “OMG” and immediately call friends. “Book your tickets re, this is very good, pata nahin, shaam ka show tickets milega ke bhi nahin”. And the film just had gone through a very average Friday….

  8. arunprakash says:

    In a couple years this would be recognised as a pioneering effort to promote and exhibit Indie films. So, this is a job well begun!

    For a lot of Indie film makers there is now hope that what they make might find its way to a theater outside of festival venues.

    I’ve always wondered what would happen if a well received Indie film were to be remade with a bigger budget, backed by a production house, and with no major changes in content. Would it be a commercial success?

  9. koyguy says:

    Nice write up and while I agree with most things that are said here I just don’t get it why indie filmmakers are not going the Dingora’s route or some such? What’s this ‘unprofitable’ fancy with the big screen? When Dingora came up, I though this is it – now indie filmmakers have an outlet but don’t see them there…

    What are the hurdles if they release it directly online and have some sort off profit sharing on the pay per view scenario?

    It bodes well, both for the filmmakers and the audience. And frankly solves the problem of cribbing also 🙂

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