Ronnie Screwvala files complaint against PVR, Carnival, INOX over Virtual Print Fee

RSVP head honcho Ronnie Screwvala has filed a petition in the Competition Commission of India against leading exhibitors PVR Cinemas, Carnival Cinemas, Inox, Cinepolis and the Ficci Multiplex Association of India over the service payment issue that RSVP deems as “unfair and exorbitant”, as reported by the tabloid Mumbai Mirror.

The issue pertains to the levy of Virtual Print Fee paid by the distributors and producers to exhibitors ever since the exhibitors shifted from analogue to digital prints.

In its petition, RSVP has opined that this service charge of Rs20,000 per screen is exorbitant and unfair as foreign studios and regional films allegedly are not required to pay it. The rising cost of exhibition shoots up to Rs2-3 crore if a producer is targeting a minimum 1,000 to 1,500 screens.

Filmmaker, producer Hansal Mehta has come out in support of Screwvala underling why this is a nagging issue for producers. 

“Totally support @RSVPMovies and @RonnieScrewvala on this. The multiplex chains have for long exploited and burdened producers with their unfair practices. Virtual Print Fee (VPF) is selective, draconian, discriminatory and exploitative,” he tweeted.

Requesting anonymity, an exhibitor and member of the multiplex association of India said, “Ronnie Screwvala is acting against the VPF which has been levied since the time we’ve switched to digital prints.”

Explaining his point further, the exhibitor said, “The producers and distributors are enjoying the benefits of digital technology. They are saving on their print costs on the investment made by the exhibitor. The cost has taken place at only the exhibitor’s end. The cost to the distributors and the exhibitor is almost negligible. They don’t have to go into the negatives. This is an international norm where the investment by the theatre owners is subsidised, adjusted in a proportionate manner. Earlier, if the old analogue prints had to be sent to a theatre, the print cost would be Rs1 lakh to each theatre owner.”

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The exhibitor underlined that digital projectors enable producers to send their films on hard disks, costing about Rs5,000, which the exhibitors reimburse the producers and distributors. “Once we download the films onto the server, this amount is returned. We are charging Rs20,000 for the transformation to the digital prints,” he said.

Asked about the alleged bias as foreign studios not being charged for the same, the source said, “The international studios have paid in the past. There was a contract. Hindi film producers didn’t pay before. Look, it’s a legal matter and we will look into it. What I want to say though is that Mr Ronnie Screwvala is not the head of the entire film industry.”

Screwvala had a dispute with the exhibitors due to which his latest film Sonchiriya (2019) could only get a limited release (500 screens). Due to the high exhibition cost, Screwvala had chosen to release his film Love Per Square Foot on a digital platform.

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