At the movies

With single digit footfalls, Telugu cinema theatres are dying a slow death

Before we started recording the interview for Filter Kaapi, senior film producer Suresh Babu took out his phone and showed me the message he had received about collections at his cinema theatres. And the figures were dismal. 

The previous day had seen occupancy of 8.32 per cent, the day before that 7 per cent. Another day was 11 per cent. The best day had been Sunday at 50 per cent. The cinema business has become only a weekend business, he lamented.

“I have not been worried about my businesses so far but now I am very worried. The situation is so bad that I am unable to pay even power bills, forget salaries for the staff working at the theatres. The economy is poor, Amazon and Netflix are making a big impact and then there is a lack of big films. This season has been a dampener,” said Suresh Babu. (see interview)

Suresh pointed out that in the last two decades, the number of theatres in the erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh had come down from 3000 screens to 1750. This despite the addition of several multiplexes in and around Hyderabad. 

“In small towns, 50 per cent of the theatres have shut down, the other 50 per cent are just about holding on because people like us are invested in it. The model is not comfortable in the rural areas,” said Suresh.

The producer blamed the Telugu filmmakers of not coming up with content that will lure the audience to the theatres.

“The collections are bad. Many theatres including multiplexes don’t have shows in Andhra. Even in a city like Bengaluru, the multiplexes are surviving because of movies in other languages,” he said. 

Suresh Babu reckons a sizeable chunk of people have stopped watching movies in theatres because it is soon available on streaming platforms within 45 days unless it is a spectacle cinema like Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy or Saaho. 

It is perhaps for these reasons that Suresh Babu, whose Venky Mama starring his brother Venkatesh and nephew Naga Chaitanya is scheduled for release, has been mulling the right time to hit the theatres. Since he is also helping in the distribution of Salman Khan’s Dabangg, Suresh does not want to come around Christmas. That leaves the 13 December Friday as the best time since it is also Venkatesh’s birthday and Suresh Productions has never released a Venkatesh film on his birthday in his career spanning over three decades. 

Last month, Union minister Ravishankar Prasad pointed to cinema collections of three movies in three languages – Hindi, English and Telugu – to point out that the economy is doing well. Here is Suresh Babu breaking it down to tell you the situation is anything but rosy. 

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