Shahrukh Khan vs Ajay Devgn, Aamir Khan vs Akshay Kumar – it’s all fair play in a free market

Cineswami comments on the recent war in Bollywood over multiplex screen space

The last time Cineswami checked, we lived in a democracy. Granted it’s a democracy where free speech is often threatened but it’s still a free trading market. The preamble to the Competition Act says clearly that it’s “An Act to provide, keeping in view of the economic development of the country, for the establishment of a Commission to prevent practices having adverse effect on competition, to promote and sustain competition in markets, to protect the interests of consumers and to ensure freedom of trade carried on by other participants in markets, in India, and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”. A recent Supreme Court judgement stated: “The main objective of competition law is to promote economic efficiency using competition as one of the means of assisting the creation of market responsive to consumer preferences.” The key phrase here is ‘consumer preferences’.

Now, the Competition Commission of India is an impartial and neutral body that does not necessarily prefer Shahrukh Khan above Ajay Devgn. In a recent judgement in Bangalore, the CCI ruled against protectionist activities by the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce where they tried to restrict the release of Bollywood and other non-Kannada films in the state fearing loss of business. The CCI ruled that if the people of Karnataka wish to watch a Bollywood or Tamil, Telugu or Malayalam film instead of a Kannada film, it’s of their own free choice in a democratic country.

Similarly, if exhibitors wish to devote more screens to Jab Tak Hai Jaan, a big Diwali release to begin with that is rendered all the more poignant by the film being Yash Chopra’s swan song. As Shahrukh says, “I feel that the exhibitors represent the consumers. As a businessperson, I cannot assume that anything has been put on anyone by force. They chose the film.” Besides, it’s Devgn’s own fault for daring to take on SRK.

As a recent statement by Yash Raj Films says: “YRF had announced the release of its film on 27th June 2011 with its announcement of the release of its film for Diwali 2012 and commenced booking of single screen theatres in June, July & Aug 2012. On the contrary, ADF (Ajay Devgn Ffilms) announced the release of its film only on 29th May 2012 and approached the single screen owners only in October 2012 by which time YRF had taken a lead.”

So Devgn knew fully well what he was getting into. It is one thing to release a small independent film as counter-programming to a blockbuster, it’s quite another to develop delusions of grandeur and go head to head against the popular Yashji-SRK combo. And, as noted elsewhere in these pages, it’s not like Son Of Sardaar is not getting a release at all. It has a sufficient amount of screens.

YRF also said: In a free competition Ajay Devgn admits that the cine goers will decide the film that they wish to see. With both the films having opened the booking on the same day, the cine goers already seem to have expressed their verdict. Even as we go press with this release, we are being approached by a large number of theatres with offers to screen our film.”

Let’s also give the Talaash distributors the benefit of doubt and not assume that they are bulldozing cinemas to run the film for a minimum of two weeks at the expense of Khiladi 786. Perhaps they think that the Aamir Khan starrer will fare better at the box office than the Akshay Kumar film given his recent hit and miss track record where for every Rowdy Rathore there is a corresponding Joker.

Meanwhile, while Bollywood ponders these weighty matters, its Shahenshah has far more important issues on his mind. Amitabh Bachchan tweets: “Eureka !! NASA has developed a contraption that eradicates mosquitos within an area of an acre, effectively .. tried it .. works !!”