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Viswaroopam not to premiere on television

 | January 18, 2013

Why did Kamal Hassan give up his fight for what seemed like a revolutionary idea? He could have stuck on.

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Indian actor-director-writer Kamal Hassan may be a deeply disappointed man. His ambitious plan to premiere Viswaroopam on television failed.

When Kamal Hassan was all set to release his film, the latest in his oeuvre scripted, helmed and acted in via Direct-To-Home (DTH) telecast on Jan 10, a day before its worldwide theatrical opening, he was stopped from doing so at the eleventh hour.

After much defiance and deliberation, Kamal Hassan had to cow down to the producers, distributors and exhibitors – and agree to their demand to have the DTH screening a week after Viswaroopam hit the big screen on Jan 25.  This is the new opening date.

Everything now seems hunky dory, and Kamal Hassan has been promised a maximum number of theatres for his work by the same men who had earlier said they would not let Viswaroopam play in cinemas if it was shown on television earlier.

Producers, distributors and exhibitors had vehemently opposed Kamal Hassan’s DTH move arguing that it would lead to still greater piracy.

Piracy is a major problem in India, particularly so in the southern parts of the country. Pondicherry, just a two-hour drive from Chennai, is notoriously labelled as India’s piracy capital, and illegal video disks form a million-dollar industry (so to say) – leading to humungous losses for the business of cinema.

It is not clear whether Kamal Hassan’s idea to release his movie first on the DTH platform would have checked or discouraged piracy. At least, he believed it would have, though many others did not share his optimism.

But as the noted Indian auteur-director, Girish Kasaravalli, told me the other day in Bangalore, Kamal Hassan had always been 10 years ahead of his times. Cinema on television was the future scenario, and nobody could escape this.

Films have to open on television or, at best, be screened a few days or weeks after their theatrical release if the menace of illegal copying has to be even marginally curbed.

While Bollywood has drastically cut down the time between a theatrical release and video/DTH opening, Tamil Nadu still takes months before it allows a movie to be out on DVD.  This is ridiculous, given the fact that most films make their money in their first or second weekend in the cities.

As for towns and villages, I wonder whether any revenue is generated at all, given the fact that just a few days after a movie begins its run, pirated disks priced between Rs 20 and Rs 40 each are in circulation. And the revenue is large.   Obviously, each cinema ticket in a non-metro centre is around Rs 40 or more.

Coming back to Viswaroopam, why did Kamal Hassan give up his fight for what seemed like a revolutionary idea? He could have stuck on. Probably, he himself was afraid that home telecast would lead to still greater piracy.

I do not know the technicalities of this, but as a layman, I have been wondering why someone could not have recorded Viswaroopam when it was playing on the small screen and quickly got thousands of pirated copies out in the market.

But as the renowned auteur-director, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, once quipped to me that he would indeed welcome piracy if it allowed many more people to watch his films!

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic. He is also an FMT columnist, and may be contacted at [email protected]


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