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September 6, 2000
Cracks appear in Karnataka film chamber
M D Riti in Bangalore
"We are all set to break off from the film chamber. We are just waiting for the good news of Anna's release," an angry theatre owner told rediff.com. "They are trying to treat us like some poor cousins and we are not willing to be bullied by them," he fumed.
The Dr Rajakumar (affectionately called Anna) abduction saga has acted as a catalyst in bringing to the forefront the differences between distributors and exhibitors/theatre owners, and the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce.
A large group of exhibitors met at Rex theatre on Brigade Road in Bangalore, on Monday and Tuesday, to discuss the modalities of forming a separate exhibitors' association. A formal announcement is expected on Wednesday although the prospective members are likely to wait for Dr Rajakumar's release to begin the actual groundwork for their association.
Trouble between these two groups had been brewing for a while now. Exhibitors complain that they have no voice in the chamber. "Nobody has bothered about our problems or our demands since many years," they say.
"We have many grievances - about entertainment taxes, electricity tariffs, canteen rules and even civic rules. The chamber does not want to take up any of these issues. It is mainly concerned only about the Kannada film industry. We screen films of all languages and our concerns are quite different," they complain.
The exhibitors claim that the chamber tricked them over the bandh (shutdown) issue. After declaring that the bandh was partially off and that theatres could start screening films, the chamber issued circulars to all newspapers asking them not to carry film advertisements until Dr Rajakumar is released.
This, claim the angry exhibitors, led to abysmal box office collections last weekend. Sunday alone, normally, accounts for half the week's take. Last Sunday saw theatres drawing very poor crowds. Most theatres recorded only 10 per cent attendance and some collected barely Rs 500 per show.
"Forty per cent attendance is necessary to just break even," says an angry theatre owner. "People come to know of screenings only after seeing advertisements in newspapers. How can the film chamber first say that films can be screened and then prevent us from letting people know where the films are being screened?"
But in other parts of Karnataka, like the northern parts, the situation is normal. For about 900 regular and quasi theatres, it was business as usual. They started screening films a few days after the abduction despite the bandh declared by the film chamber.
As Bangalore newspapers have acceded to the film chamber's request, exhibitors are finding it tough to get publicity for their films.
Fearing a break-up, the film chamber has decided to withdraw its request to newspapers with immediate effect. But the exhibitors seem determined to pull out of the chamber anyway.
According to leading Kannada film photographer and journalist K M Veeresh, there are 1190 theatres all over Karnataka, out of which 25 to 30 per cent are in Mysore and Bangalore. There are 135 theatres in Bangalore alone, including the sub-urban areas. Almost 75 per cent of them screen films in languages other than Kannada. As many as five new Hindi films were released in August, after the abduction, and none of them could be released in Bangalore and Mysore.
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