Gasping for breath, Telugu filmmakers push ‘pause button’ to think up of solutions

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi

All shootings of Telugu films – those lying on the floors, nearing competition and or new projects – have come to a grinding halt from the first of August in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana after its umbrella  fraternity organisation – The Active Telugu Film Producers Guild – struck work to “overhaul and rebuild the film ecosystem that is now, ironically, killing the industry.

Yes, the Telugu film industry (Tollywood) that took the film world by storm with its scale, grandeur, cinematic and technical excellence, content, and action with films like Bahubali, Pushpa and RRR that left behind Bollywood biggies far behind is gasping for breath and dying.

Barring a handful of filmmakers and directors, majority of the Tollywood industry is under severe grip of an existential crisis with post-covid ground reality beginning to bite and devour the small and medium film producers.

The Telugu Producers Guild, an umbrella organization of the film fraternity, action striking work from today has affected at least 40 films on the floors and different stages of completion – these include films of superstars NTR, Vijay Devarakonda, Prabhas and others.

The reason for stopping work is that the industry, during the pandemic and post-pandemic, has been facing a plethora of issues, ranging from budgeting to high ticket prices at theatres and multiplexes, and the OTT platform boom –all of which combined to cripple the film industry.

On the issue of budgeting, the producers express concern that several stars had hiked their remunerations astronomically and that was throwing the economy of film making haywire. The producer’s guild also wants the salary structure of the stars rationalized and regulated. According to estimates, 70 percent of the cost of film making, goes towards salaries of stars cast and crew of technicians.

Besides, the OTT platforms that became popular during Covid lockdowns, are now eating into the film makers revenues.

One of the solutions for this problem, the producers suggest is that the films are not made available to OTT platforms for a longer duration than one month at present. As this impacts the sizes of audiences at theatres as people prefer to watch over OTT instead of paying high prices for tickets.

The producers also want a rationalisation of film ticket prices and have been in talks with the government for reduction in taxation as well.

Barring a handful of films, most were running to empty halls, while production costs mounted.

Recently, the workers and technicians also held a protest seeking higher remuneration, further adding to the film making costs. Many films failed to even break even and even films of Megastar Chiranjeevi tanked at the box office.

Now unable to manage the economies of film making, the producers came together and decided to stop making films till they thrashed out solutions to the various issues they were facing. The decision to stop film shootings will adversely affect some 30,000 people who directly and indirectly depend on Tollywood.

On July 26, the Producers Guild declared its intentions to shut film shootings voluntarily till the time the producers deliberated on all the issues threadbare and came to unanimously agreed solutions.

The statement read, “Post-pandemic with the changing revenue situations and increasing costs, it has become important for producers to discuss all the issues we are facing as a community of filmmakers. It is our responsibility to better our ecosystem and ensure that we are releasing our films in a healthy environment. In this regard, all members of the Guild have voluntarily decided to withhold shootings from August 1, 2022, to sit in discussions until we find workable resolutions.”

(Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political issues and takes a keen interest in sports as well. He has worked with prominent news organisations.)

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