Changing scenarios in film business

Era of bonhomie, brotherhood and cooperation is now as good as over; and business has moved online. The face-to-face, personal touch is missing

An individual – as in proprietorship film producer or distributor, and to a great extent, exhibitor – is folklore now. A few individual producers survive but, when it comes to film distributors or exhibitors, as in cinema owners, it is a fading breed. They can now be counted on one finger in the major circuits like Bombay Circuit; or Delhi-UP.

That was a time when every such film distribution circuit, divided on the lines of the British provinces map, had local distributors. Each bought rights to a particular film for a period of 10 years. The film distribution and exploitation was leisurely as it moved from the main city of a circuit to interiors turn by turn.

In those days, a distributor decided fate of his film by programming his release strategy. Sadly, now, the exhibitor – as in the multiplex chains – do it!

The idea is to stress on the point that the film industry's activities were centralised in those days. The business was done face to face. The producers, the distributors as well as the cinema halls spread themselves around one area.

Film trade in all circuit headquarters in India operated from one or two locations. Mumbai was the capital of the film industry – as in producing, distributing as well as exhibiting of films. Initially, distributors and exhibitors, depending on each other and needing to be in regular contact, basically operated from the same area. Often, distributors also happened to be in exhibition trade.

The distribution and exhibition trade in Mumbai was based on Lamington Road. The producers preferred to operate from close to film studios. It was the same story with the cinema halls. They were located in the same area, often on the same street. Nobody went home disappointed since advance booking was not much in fashion in those days, let alone online booking. The advantage of working next to each other was the regular interaction. 'Exhibitor' was a term that also included a cinema chain controller. Controllers handled bookings for hundreds of cinemas every week.

How this system helped producers can be explained by just one example. A South India-based Marwari entrepreneur, KC Bokadia, produced a film titled Pyar Jhukta Nahin in 1985. The film was not attracting buyers. Bokadia kept making rounds of distribution offices in the hub of Mumbai distribution, the Naaz Cinema Building. There, he got an offer to sell his film for 11 lakh.

As Bokadia was walking down the building, on an urge, he visited another producer-distributor of mainly Gujarati films, Prafulla Manukant. Although the couple had limited their activities to Gujarati films, the music of Pyar Jhukta Nahin, which had already become very popular, attracted them. And, impressed by that, Bokadia got an offer of around Rs 25,000-50,000 more than the other offer! Desperate as he was, Bokadia grabbed the offer.

The rest, as they say, is history. This was an example of a common marketplace. The other vital factor was the bonhomie among distributors as well as exhibitors. They gathered to share meals and exchange views. A group of 12 major distribution firms of Mumbai had prepared a ledger where the terms at which their films were booked by exhibitors from the interiors were recorded. This helped fellow distributors determine terms for their films when needed. A producer did not shy from showing his film while it was being produced, be it five reels or 10. That is how deals were clinched. In fact, showing a film in progress was the norm, so that the investor did not have to gamble blindly on a film.

The risk was divided in that, when a distributor acquired a film, he paid the producer in instalments according to the progress of the film, who in turn got cash from his exhibitors, who expected to screen the said film. Finally, at the time of release, the main cinemas in major cities where the film would get its premier release, would pool in, so that the distributor could take the delivery of the film.

Era of bonhomie, brotherhood and cooperation is now over. The business has moved online. Also, the one who takes decisions on the various aspects of business has no stake.

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