Dispute with PVR Cinemas Leaves Malayalam Films Off Their Big Screens

An escalated dispute between the Malayalam film industry and the multiplex giant PVR Cinemas has resulted in a dramatic exclusion of major seasonal Malayalam film releases from PVR’s screens, highlighting a contentious issue revolving around content-sharing arrangements.

This confrontation emerged after PVR declined to showcase several new releases, including the eagerly awaited film ‘Aavesham’ starring Fahadh Faasil, Vineeth Sreenivasan’s directorial venture ‘Varshangalkku Shesham,’ and Unni Mukundan’s ‘Jai Ganesh.’ Released on Thursday, none of these films made their way to PVR’s screens.

These aren’t the only films affected by the rift. Reports indicate that PVR also ceased screening other Malayalam movies like ‘Premalu,’ ‘Manjummal Boys,’ and ‘Aadujeevitham,’ which had been previously released. Efforts to garner a response from PVR Cinemas officials have so far been fruitless as they remain unavailable for comment.

The standoff has provoked a stern reaction from trade organizations, with the Kerala Film Producers’ Association and the Kerala Film Distributors’ Association releasing a joint statement declaring their intent not to collaborate with PVR Cinemas. They have demanded that the multiplex compensate the producers for the financial losses incurred due to the non-release of new films and the takedown of movies that were already screening.

The controversy roots back to a recent move by the Kerala Film Producers’ Association when they established Producers’ Digital Cinema (PDC), a content mastering unit. This action followed producers’ and distributors’ concerns about the exorbitant virtual print fee (VPF) charged by existing content providers, such as Qube, UFO, PXD, and TSR, for screening movies in theatres. PDC aims to offer screening services at more reasonable costs.

As of now, PDC-mastered content has been primarily supplied to theatres equipped with their own projectors and servers. There’s been an agreement with other theatres to transition to PDC after their current contracts with other content providers expire. Despite still paying steep VPFs to the providers for their projector rentals, producers and distributors harbored hopes of an amicable resolution.

However, tensions rose when PVR Cinemas opened nine new screens at Forum Mall in Kochi, outfitted with their own projectors and servers. Malayalam film producers presented a demand to PVR to release their films on these screens at reduced VPFs, using PDC-mastered content. PVR, standing firm, maintained that they would only screen films subjected to the higher VPF rates set by Qube.

This standoff came to a head when PVR Cinemas refused to accommodate the three films scheduled for the Ramzan-Vishu festive period, leading to the current dispute.

In retaliation, PVR issued a statement claiming that compelling an exhibitor to source content exclusively from a network run by a producers’ association is inherently anti-competitive and violates legal standards. The firm stated, “As a law-abiding member of the film industry, we are unable to abide by this.”

While PVR expressed their eagerness to screen all Malayalam films across their cinemas in Kerala and pan-India, they appealed to producers and filmmakers for constructive engagement to foster a more prosperous Malayalam film industry.

The situation has set a significant precedent in the Indian film exhibition sector, spotlighting issues of market control, costs of content distribution, and the bargaining power of producers versus exhibitors. As the Malayalam movie industry grapples with this hurdle, the outcome of this dispute will likely influence distribution and screening practices throughout regional cinemas in India.

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