Tamil cinema industry on verge of crisis

Chennai: The multi-million Rupee Tamil cinema industry seems to be on the verge of a crisis with wage revision turning out to be a flashpoint between unions of producers and workers.

Peeved over the "unilateral decision" of the workers` body, Film Employees Federation of South India (FEFSI), on revising the wage structure, the Tamil Film Producers` Council (TFPC) has ruled out working with them.

While a strike paralysing the industry boasting some of the biggest names of Indian cinema, including actors Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan is not in the offing, FEFSI has however decided to take to the streets by organising a fast, sources said.

Sources indicated that not much production activity had taken place last week, with TFPC convening an emergency meeting of its general council to discuss the issue on Monday, even as it held that it could not negotiate with FEFSI due to elections to the body and change of guard.

While wage revision had been happening once in three years for the past few years, it did not happen last year with the expiry of the latest scale in early 2011.

However, FEFSI went ahead and announced a scale, which is now the bone of contention between the two bodies. "Agreement on payscale is usually signed after discussions with both parties and this time FEFSI`s unilateral decision was against normal practice," TFPC sources said.

However, a FEFSI office-bearer said the demand to increase pay by 30-50 per cent was the general scale proposed.

Noted director Cheran, known for critically acclaimed films like `Autograph`, batted for producers, saying it was "unfair" for the workers to demand a 100 per cent hike when investing on films had become a "gamble".

"A director or a cinematographer receives wages only according to the budget of the film. But for the workers, the scale is constant, irrespective of investment made into the film, whether shot on Rs 100 crore or made on a shoe-string budget," he added.

The move would only further worsen the cinema industry, where successful films are increasingly becoming fewer and film-making itself is a big challenge, Cheran added.

Even a talented, techno-savvy film-maker has to shell out more if he abides by FEFSI rules, though he can manage to complete his films within a few lakhs of Rupees, he claimed.

Meanwhile, the eternal demand of top stars reducing their salaries has also come up once again from some sections. Many of the major actors are paid in crores of Rupees besides some being given rights of the film in some areas. A strike by the FEFSI a few years ago had paralysed the Tamil cinema industry.