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Page last updated at 17:42 GMT, Thursday, 4 June 2009 18:42 UK

Bollywood dispute hits India's movie fans

Bollywood has been withholding films from release in recent months because of a dispute over box office takings. The BBC's Prachi Pinglay in Mumbai (Bombay) reports on how the dispute is affecting movie fans.

Pedestrians walks in front of a multiplex cinema in Mumbai on April 4, 2009. Bollywood film producers went on strike on April 4
Bollywood films have been absent from multiplex cinemas since 4 April

At a multiplex cinema in Mumbai, a few people walk in to enquire about the next film release and then walk straight out shaking their heads in displeasure. Some go to the adjoining shopping mall; some seem too bored to do even that.

The man behind the ticket counter smiles.

The ongoing strike between film producers and multiplex owners has gone on for more than two months - and one month of this was during a summer vacation, usually prime time for movie releases.

"What can we do about decreasing audiences? There are no new movies. These days tickets are available even on weekends. Some enquire and leave. Some watch any film out of compulsion but everyone is waiting for the big releases which have just not happened," says the man behind the ticket counter.

Producers have held back film releases since 4 April because of differences over box office takings between film producers and multiplex owners. There are no signs of breakthrough in the stand-off except for occasional and unconfirmed reports.

To put it in some context, last year nearly 20 films were released during April and May and almost half of those were big budget, star-studded productions. This year, it's an entirely different story.

Filmgoers distraught

Roohi
It's horrible, it's horrible. Every Sunday I go for a movie with my parents. That's where we connect and bond.
Roohi Khatri

Shweta Kakodkar, an 18-year-old college student, has spent her vacation waiting for a fun-filled day out. Watching movies is a natural choice for her and her friends.

"It is a good plan for a day out. If you are with friends you think about movies but nowadays going out is a waste of time. There are no surprises at theatres, no new movies. Some friends do not like watching English movies so no use going for those," she said.

"We will rush if any movie releases. My mother is very happy as I require less pocket money."

While some look at movies as time well spent with friends, others consider it family time. Roohi Khatri, a public relations professional, takes her parents out every weekend for movies. She is sorely missing the new releases now.

"It's horrible, it's horrible. Every Sunday I go for a movie with my parents. That's where we connect and bond. It's like a ritual for us and for the last two months no new movies been have released. I have seen films like Me Shivajiraje Bhosale Boltoy (a Marathi film) and Asterix which otherwise I may not have."

All the big producers have come together in this dispute. Some have expressed disappointment about holding back releases but they all want a better share of multiplex revenues. None of the producers or multiplex owners is willing to speak to the media.

Earlier Mukesh Bhatt, president of the Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association, said they were expecting a decision soon and would not like to comment on any issues.

Shahrukh Khan and Aamir Khan
Aamir Khan and Shahrukh Khan tried to mediate in the dispute

In April two of the biggest actor-producers, Aamir Khan and Shahrukh Khan came before the media and addressed some of these issues.

They said that movies would be released in single screens but not in multiplexes until there is a settlement in the dispute.

However movies have so far not been released in single screens either.

Experts say that there will be a backlog to tackle once the strike is over. It will take a long time before the industry comes back to normal.

In the meanwhile, people are forced to find other options

Roohi has joined a DVD rental library and has watched old films.

"My parents and I went for a play because there have been no movies. I went for a weekend break to Goa with friends. But I am really waiting for Kaminay [an eagerly awaited film directed by Vishal Bharadwaj]," Roohi says anxiously.

Some others like Saurabh have been "reading books, going out on random trips with friends, attending more live events and once in a blue moon, helping mum around the house".

Akshay Manwani, a businessman and an avid Hindi cinema follower, says the end of the Indian Premier League (IPL) has not helped.

"With the end of the IPL there is no option available for entertainment on the weekends. Typically the weekend is either spent visiting friends or watching movies. Now with no movies coming through, there is no option available. All we do is visit friends and after some time even that gets repetitive to be brutally honest," Mr Manwani points out.

Huge losses

The lull has affected more than just movie-goers' spirits.

Akshay Manwani
Several people walk into a hall from different backgrounds. When watching they are all united by the story that unfolds in front of them.
Akshay Manwani

Industry analysts say the losses are huge although exact figures cannot be estimated. There have been few releases - mostly small budget films and English movies. Some of them have done well and have been screened for much longer than usual.

Movie goers have given those small films a try but the usual blockbuster zing is clearly missing at theatres.

Nothing can compare to watching a commercial Hindi film with beautiful locales, songs, dances, drama and action, cheering with your friends or family and several hundred spectators.

"It's the experience. The beauty of Rehman's music on Dolby digital 70mm cannot be replicated at home," Mr Manwani reflcts.

"When watching films the audience is united by the story that unfolds in front of them. That makes cinema special."

Bollywood fans are now getting increasingly restless - deprived of their regular dose of exciting melodrama.



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