x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Bollywood box-office row benefits US blockbusters

The dispute between Indian film producers and cinema chains that has kept new Bollywood releases off UAE screens.

DUBAI // American blockbusters profited at the weekend from the dispute between Indian film producers and cinema chains that has kept new Bollywood releases off UAE screens for more than a month. A meeting between producers and the association of multiplex owners in Mumbai last week failed to resolve their disagreement over their share of box office takings.

The producers are demanding 50 per cent, while the multiplex owners insist the share should depend on the performance of the film. Under existing arrangements, the multiplexes take 52 to 55 per cent of the share in the first week of a film's release, rising to as much as 60 per cent in the following weeks. Leading actors including Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan have stepped in to support the producers but without success.

With no new releases, the once-flourishing multiplexes in India as well as big international markets such as the UAE are feeling the effect. Experts say that the industry and those associated with it stand to lose "huge" sums. The last Bollywood film release in the UAE was 8x10 Tasveer on April 2. Hollywood is the winner in all this, with the row swelling the audiences for several new blockbuster releases, including Star Trek, the 11th film in the cult science fiction series, the Nicolas Cage vehicle Knowing and Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine, released at the end of April, has also picked up frustrated Bollywood fans. Indian film has a major presence in the UAE, given the country's large expatriate Asian presence, but the movies are popular with Arabs and other communities too, and most open to packed houses. Several have had grand premières in Dubai even before their releases in India, among the most recent being Jodha Akbar and Delhi-6. Last year Yash Raj Films, a leading filmmaker, entered into an agreement with Dubai Infinity Holding to build an entertainment district in the city themed around films made by the production house.

Mohammed Hanif Khatri, general manager of Al Mansoor Video, a film distributor in the UAE who works with several leading cinemas, said: "We hear that the meeting of the two parties has not been successful. The future course is uncertain and no one knows how this will be resolved. However, there have been no releases and nothing is expected over the next few weeks." He added that the sole expected release for the month, a comedy called 99, now looked unlikely to be shown. Among big-budget titles awaiting release are Kamkbakth Ishq, which marks the Hollywood star Sylvester Stallone's debut in Indian cinema, and the Yash Johar production New York.

Theatres showing only Hindi cinema have been the worst hit and their attempts to rerun earlier releases have failed. Shah Rukh Khan's box-office success Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi was shown in several cinemas in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but drew very small audiences despite the "Khan factor". "It was a good movie but it is impossible to see it the second time. I would not dare walk into that theatre again," joked Anandita Das at Lamcy Cinema in Dubai.

Another Khan film, Don, which was released last year, also surfaced in cinemas in Abu Dhabi. Old films of other leading actors, such as Aamir Khan's Ghajini and Farhan Akhtar's Rock On, were also screened, most in largely empty houses. Bollywood producers are now talking about releasing films in single-screen theatres across India and ignoring the multiplexes. pmenon@thenational.ae