With theatres across the city taking to re-releasing older films — and to full houses — we find out what it takes to bring these yesteryear hits back to the theatres
I caught the 2006 Selvaraghavan film, Pudhupettai, on the big screen recently. Touted to be a landmark Tamil film, it’s one that’s part of most ‘must-watch’ lists. Several things have changed since the film’s release. For one, Vijay Sethupathi, who plays a cameo in it, is now a star, and in the theatre I caught the film in, the cheers he got were as loud as for Dhanush himself. Much may have changed, but the love for good cinema persists, and the ‘playback craze’ seems to have caught on in the city.
Making the cut
At a time when even new films struggle to get a good release, what goes into picking an old film to be screened again? According to Ruban Mathivanan, managing director of GK cinemas, it’s about ‘content that still works today’. “These films might have not received the reception they deserved back then. We pick films that we are sure will work for the discerning viewer of today,” he says. Demand also plays an important role in determining these films, says Karthi T, senior manager (marketing), Jazz Cinemas, one of the first screens to join the playback trend. A 365-day calendar is created in advance, he shares, for releases in the theatre. Several aspects are focused on, including popularity, festivals and celebrity birthdays, and now, genres in vogue — political thrillers, for the moment. “When we have a concept, a public poll usually decides which film we screen. This helps ensure good occupancy. Based on track records, we list the films and let the people decide,” he says.
This ‘supply to the demand’ policy works out well in terms of ensuring good occupancy averages, say exhibitors. “We pick films that we are extremely sure will work. Let’s say, 30-40,000 people vote, and 54 percent choose a certain film, this means that at least 20,000 people have voted for the film. There’s no doubt then that at least 300 people will come to see the film. In fact, playbacks have higher occupancy rates than new films, these days,” points out Karthi. Owing to high demand, Gautham Menon’s Vaaranam Aayiram was screened as many as three times, recently.
Another example of an old film not doing too well at its time of release is Selvaraghavan’s Aayirathil Oruvan. However, it found enormous favour with viewers when it came back to screens, recently. “We wanted to do something special for Selvaraghavan sir’s birthday. Due to demand, the single show we had planned grew into eight separate shows. On seeing the response, the producer decided to watch one of the shows himself,” says Ruban. This has since prompted the producer to announce plans of re-release across Tamil Nadu.
Finding the holder of the film’s rights is a big task unto itself, say theatre owners. “Usually, we don’t know who has the rights. Sometimes, the rights go back to the producer after a few years. It is a challenge to figure this out and then, procure the content,” says Ruban. There’s also the challenge of ascertaining whether the film is available digitally in good quality. While some producers converted their films for archival purposes, many haven’t. “Sometimes, negatives get preserved. Before the negatives can be digitally converted though, they need to go through a restoration process. Once restored, the files reach us for conversion into the prescribed digital format for the theatres,” explains Jayendra Panchapakesan, co-founder, Qube Cinemas.
All this process comes at a cost. On average, it costs around `50,000-70,000 to convert a film into digital format, and if it should be converted from a negative, the price is a steeper `2-4 lakh. Only after this process does the film reach the Digital Service Provider for the final conversion for the theatres. In the last few years, Jayendra shares that as many as 32 films have been re-released. “There have been cases where stakeholders of old classics have approached us to convert it into digital format, so that they can find appropriate slots to release it. As the industry moves forward, it is important that every film be digitised and archived,” he says.
Flop to hit?
Despite all this great response to re-releases, playbacks don’t necessarily have the strength to change the financial status of a film. Theatre owners state that the money from these shows doesn’t contribute significantly to a film’s box office status. This is perhaps why producers and distributors sometimes aren’t particularly inclined towards screening their films for a show or two. Deals are struck with them on a case-to-case basis, with the ultimate aim being to provide an enjoyable experience for the viewer, says Ruban, who intends to make re-releases a regular feature in his theatre. Is it all simply a brand-building exercise? Not really, says Karthi. “The crew of a film is proud when their film comes back. For example, when Uri was screened, we had the hero participate too, and give us bytes about the film. For us, it is about giving a great experience to our guests,” he says.