Squabbles hit Haami, one of the most awaited Bengali releases this year
One of the most anticipated releases of the year, director-duo Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy’s Haami (Peck) will not be screened at seven popular single screen theatres in Kolkata, thanks to an ongoing battle between the exhibitors, producers and distributors.
Seven single screen halls such as Ajanta, Ashoka, Menoka , Malancha, Prachi, Priya, Bosusree won’t screen Haami due to lack of slots. Their owners have cited unexpected success of another recently released Bengali film Drishtikone as one of the reasons, besides the release of Avengers and Alia Bhatt’s Raazi. However, Haami’s makers sniff a bigger conspiracy.
A few industry insiders -- directors and producers alike -- are pointing to an ongoing rivalry between the owners of Priya Cinema and Navina Cinema for some time now, and they allege that Priya’s owner, Arijit Dutta, has used strong arm tactics to prevent the distributers from screening any Bengali movie at Navina.
“They have rivalry with Navina, and since we are screening at Navina, all of them have turned down our movie. Drishtikone, too, couldn’t be screened at Navina for the same reasons. But I put my foot down. They have no problems if Navina shows the same Hindi or English movies that they are screening, but trouble ensues the moment a Bengali film releases,” says Shiboprosad Mukherjee, director of Haami that is the biggest Bengali film release this year with screening at ninety halls in the state.
“All these seven hall owners are Bengali, but when we approached everyone a month back for show time, all of them extended their support except these seven,” avers Mukherjee, who points out that the same thing happened to the movie Guptadhaner Sandhane, released by Shir Venkatesh Films (SVF) at the same time as Drishtikone.
SVF’s director, Srikant Mohta, held Priya Cinema’s owner Arijit Dutta responsible for all the trouble. “Arijit Dutta of Priya Cinema is also driving others to speaking lies. He even reduced the shows of Drishtikone despite the film’s success. He is misguiding a few other theatre owners since he is not being able to face the competition from Navina Cinema, which is doing good business. We will request the state government to cancel licenses of those cinema halls, which are not screening Bengali cinema,” says Mohta.
“This is Shiboprosad’s film, why is even SVF commenting on that? I may have a personal issue with Navina, but why would other hall owners not screen Haami just because I told them so? If they are talking about cancelling licenses of hall owners, they have to cancel licenses of all halls that hardly screen Bengali cinema. I guess none has screened and promoted Bengali films as Priya has done over the years,” argues Arijit Dutta.
He further says that Priya offered Haami only a night slot since Drishtikone is doing well. “Moreover, we had Avengers running and Raazi just released. So, only the night slot was left for Haami, which they refused to take,” says Dutta.
But Mukherjee emphasises that they were never offered a night slot in the first place. “We would have been happy to get a night show at Priya. Summer vacations have begun and our audience will have no problem to catch a late night show,” reiterates Mukherjee.
Vidisha Basu, owner of Prachi Cinema, one of the oldest theatres in Kolkata, says that the only reason they decided not to screen Haami was because Drishtikone, which released on April 28, was bringing good business. “We have no time slot left and we had prior commitments with Raazi’s distributor. We are all exhibitors and why would we listen to someone (read Arijit Dutta) if they ‘misguide’ us? Is Drishtikone with two iconic stars of Bengal, Prosenjit Chatterjee and Rituparna Sengupta, and directed by Kaushik Ganguly, any less a Bengali movie,” questions Basu.
According to industry sources, the problem is deeper than the apparent rivalry between the owners of Navina and Priya. The Bengali film industry is now divided into two camps – SVF and its allies and that comprising theatre owner Arijit Dutta, actors Dev, Jeet, producers Ashok Dhanuka and Nishpal Singh Rane, who is the scion of Surinder films.
In 2017, according to Dutta, he refused to screen Hrithik Roshan starrer Kaabil, that SVF distributed, and instead screened Shah Rukh Khan’s Raees. “Only Priya screened Raees and for the next few months SVF didn’t give us a single movie. So, who’s dictating? Things started getting better since April 2017, but the improvement was short lived. SVF offers us unusually low quotes for shows. You cannot dictate us all the time,” asserts Dutta.
Basu feels that all this sound and fury is uncalled for. “Last year I removed Kaushik Ganguly’s Bisorjon to screen Shiboprosad’s Posto, but Kaushik Ganguly never questioned my decision. So, why I am being questioned now? We didn’t get SVF’s Amazon Obhijaan to screen last year, what about that? And Haami is not an SVF film, so, why is Srikant Mohta getting involved?” she points out.
Navin Chokhani, the owner of Navina cinema, who is in the eye of the storm says, “The distributors of Dirshtikone didn’t allot the movie to my hall following the threat of these seven theatre owners. I lost good business. This time, too, they tried the same tactics with Shiboprosad, but I am glad that he didn't buckle under pressure. They are trying to bulldoze producers, who don’t have the clout and might of the bigger production houses.”
But the biggest losers will be the cinegoers, who will miss out their favourite films at their neighbourhood theatres.