New legislation puts Assamese cinema on the revival path
Although the Assamese film industry has completed 80 years of cinema, it is lagging behind on all parameters vis-a-vis other regional cinema industries and the quality of movies being produced is a matter of concern – a factor in which the industry is failing miserably.
Screening regional films has always thrown exhibitors into a dilemma with their contention that the poor quality of cinema does not draw audiences and most of the time they have to exhibit the regional movie to a virtually empty hall. On the one hand, the hall owners assert that due to the lack of quality films they are not able to screen regional movies on prime time or allow more than one show. On the other hand, the film fraternity claim that if regional cinema is not given prime time and more than one show people are left with no scope to watch such movies.
The All Assam Cinema Hall Owners’ Association said that they are ready to allot prime time as demanded by the producers but they have to decide as to which slot would be the best for screening of regional films so that the hall is full enough and does meaningful ticket sales. “The allegation of charging high service charges has been subjected to accusation despite our best efforts to support regional cinema. We will be obliged if we could screen regional films but people have to accept it. The film runs for only two days and for the other 5 days we have to keep the hall closed,” said the Secretary of the Hall Owners’ Association, Rajeev Kr. Bora. Arguing that most of the Assamese films being produced in the state have failed to draw crowds to the halls, Bora said that exhibitors were ready to give all the proceeds from ticket sales to the Assamese film producers provided the latter agree to give back the minimum costs incurred in exhibiting the films.
Bora added, “The service charge is Rs. 5 per ticket per show as per the Act but the government had made provisions that the cinema halls which were upgraded with digital sound system, push-back seats and air-conditions could levy some additional charges. Now only 14 cinema halls charge Rs. 40 as service charge.”
Bora said that on 4th May, 2016, the government had fixed Rs. 14 as the service charge without any discussion with the hall owners. Therefore the association has urged the government that if any policy is being made currently, the hall owners should also be invited along with the film fraternity. “We don’t have any problem in screening regional films but the quality of such films should be such that the audience will accept the films enough to come and watch them. In other states regional cinemas is screened at par with Bollywood productions but here in Assam people do not watch regional cinema. Given the string of poor productions, Assamese people have come to bear a mindset that regional films are not worth watching,” Bora said.
Finance Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, introduced the Assam Amusement and Betting Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2016 as members of Assamese Film Fraternity had been protesting and airing serious grievances against the Assam Amusement and Betting Tax (Amendment) Act, 2007 which benefits only the hall owners and not the producers and directors.
It was during the election that the BJP had promised to introduce the bill and the promise has been fulfilled in the budget session. With the implementation of the bill, the producers and distributors will receive Rs. 52 for every ticket worth Rs. 100 against screening of Assamese films. Currently under the 2007 Act, producers and directors get only Rs. 7-8 on every ticket sold.
Director Bani Das, while speaking to G Plus, said, “It is because of lack of halls that the regional films do not run and the hall owners do not screen the films over prime time. They give only one show which is usually what we call the Noon Show at 11 am to which most working people cannot go. The producers have no scope to be benefitted from the film as the entertainment tax has been withdrawn and till 2009 the producers got a mere 80 paisa per ticket worth Rs. 100. With the amendment of the bill the government has balanced the system with the earlier Act.” Das further stated that there are many “flying” directors and producers who come and experiment with a new film and when they don’t get good response they disappear giving the entire gamut of Assamese movies a bad name in the process. “We have also recommended certain things to the government like the state government should provide financial grant of Rs. 50 lakh to the new entrepreneurs who want to construct a cinema hall and an initial 5-year tax holiday so that they can make some profits after recovering their share of investments. More halls need to be constructed; the day when Assam will have 300 cinema halls regional films will automatically revive,” added Das.
Actor Manjula Baruah said that it is not due to any poor quality that regional cinema is not watched by the public and the hall owners who allege that they do not earn profit by screening Assamese cinema is not satisfactory. “The hall owner charges a phenomenal Rs. 40 for their upgraded cinema hall (which is a one-time investment) and this is not acceptable. No wonder a producer does not get the return on his investment! There have been many good films released in the last couple of years but people have not watched them for lack of opportunities or suitable timings and the hall owners’ haste to withdraw the film after one week.”
Prolific movie producer, Sanjive Narain said, “The government has taken a good step by amending the bill which will benefit the producers. This is the first step the government has taken to revive the Assamese film industry and there is much more to do. It is not that Assamese films don’t have quality but the producers do not get back the money from a film in which they invest. Now that the producers will get back a handsome amount there is a chance that the Assamese film industry might recover its lost dignity. In rural areas where people have the urge to see regional films there are no halls and so people do not get the chance to watch films. If such places have halls, there is no way that regional cinema will fail.”
Assam Amusement and Betting Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2016 passed in budget session
Producers to get Rs. 52 per ticket worth Rs. 100 after the implementation of the bill
Government should provide grant of Rs. 50 lakh to new entrepreneurs for construction of cinema halls
300 cinema halls needed in Assam for revival of Assamese cinema