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Behind the curtains

Photo: K. Gopinathan

HOW DID Cinderella feel when her glittering gown turned into rags and the majestic horses became mice at the stroke of midnight? You get some clues when you walk into Rex theatre now, where only recently you sat by the edge of your seat and watched Spiderman II take on the baddies. The screen is now blank, and as you scan the rows of empty seats, your eyes pick up every single tear in the rexene covers.

It's one jerky jump cut from Rex on Brigade Road to Kamakya theatre in Kathriguppe — in terms of the films they run and the milieu they cater to. But a similar gloom has descended on this suburban theatre too. Rex and Kamakya are among the 70-odd theatres that have shut shop in response to the bandh call given by the Karnataka Cinema Theatre Owners' Association. The owners are angry with the Kannada film industry's demand to ban non-Kannada films for seven weeks, and the Government's apathy to the impasse.

Same scene

Walk into the deserted Kamakya theatre and you find the booking clerk, Ramnath, chatting with Anand, the manager. Some pending painting work is in progress. Kamakya caters to the large Telugu population in the locality and runs mostly Telugu films. "Not that we don't run Kannada films at all," says Anand. Films such as America America, H2O, and Kutumba did well here. "But there can't be a Ravichandran or a Upendra-starrer every week, right? If we have to run a Kannada film every week, there won't even be boni!" says Ramnath.

Venkatappa, the proprietor of Kamakya, is lost in thought outside the theatre. He employs 15-odd people and doesn't know how he is going to sustain the infrastructure if there are restrictions on what films he can show. He pleads for a live-and-let-live attitude. "People speaking all languages live in the city. You can't tell them all to watch the same language films," he says.

Anil Kapoor, owner of Rex and Symphony, has a manner of speaking that's altogether different from that of Venkatappa. But the idea underlying his eloquent argument is the same. He employs over 100 people in the two theatres. And to pay them, besides footing electricity bills and so on, is not going to be easy. "But, for me, it's more than a matter of revenue," he reasons. "To say don't show films of certain languages is to deny my own and my patrons' constitutional rights."

Rex, a theatre that Kapoor's family bought in 1962, has been running Kannada films for the morning show on Rajyotsava day as a gesture. "Not that anyone comes to watch them," he shrugs.

"As a businessman, I would run a Kannada film if I could do good business with it. But that won't work here." He's livid that the Government simply has washed its hands off the whole thing. "Who's running the show in the State?! Besides, how will banning other language films help the Kannada industry?"

One only needs to ask K.C.N. Mohan who runs Navrang, the theatre in Rajajinagar that exclusively runs Kannada films, for the answer. The theatre hasn't closed and Vishnuvardhan's Aptamitra is running there. But has there been any increase in the collection following the ban on other language films? Mohan has a hearty laugh. One should be more than foolish to believe that people will rush to watch Kannada films because there's a ban on other language films, he says. "The collection, in fact, has gone down because there is so much publicity about closure of theatres in media that many assume all theatres are closed!" .

S. Prasad, who runs Innovative Multiplex, had an altogether different problem. He actually tried procuring a Kannada film following the ban. But the producers demanded an advance that made the task impossible. "All excuses for not being able to give an exclusive print," he says. And with no new Kannada releases slated for tomorrow, he wonders what is going to happen to even theatres that run only Kannada films. And even if there were releases every week, it doesn't take much imagination to say that a couple of Kannada releases can't sustain the 100-odd theatres in Bangalore.

Prasad says that his losses, per week, would be to the tune of Rs. 25 lakh. Several people who earn a livelihood around the business of theatre — from canteen boys to those associated with film advertising — will be severely affected by this impasse.

Ask Lucas and Joseph at Rex, to know exactly how. You find Lucas, who has been working as the gatekeeper at Rex since 1968, helping Joseph, a carpenter, repair some broken chairs in the balcony. "With no shows, I don't get the OT that I otherwise get. It makes a difference of Rs. 50 a day." They'll get their salary, at least for the time being. "If it's one or two days it's okay, madam... " says Joseph, hesitantly. The duo, for whom cinema is more a matter of the next meal than any Cinderella magic, doesn't even dare think what could happen if the impasse and the bandh continue indefinitely.

* * *

Big loss

DHANANJAY K.V., the co-ordinator of the Karnataka Cinema Theatre Owners' Association, answers questions on the bandh:

What are the losses to the industry and the government because of the bandh?

The loss to the industry per week is between Rs. 2.5 crore and Rs. 3 crore. The Government loses about Rs. 75 lakh per week by way of taxes.

Who are the allied professionals who will be affected by the bandh?

Actually too many to even keep tabs on — from print shifters and print processing labs to canteen people and theatre staff.

What, in your view, is an amicable way of settling the dispute?

We could divert the entire tax proceeds of non-Kannada films to pay the subsidy of Kannada films.

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