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string of attacks tied to south Indian-language films

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  • string of attacks tied to south Indian-language films

    The south Indian cinema wars have erupted again in Canada.

    Vandals tore seven screens at Cineplex theatres in the Toronto area that had been showing a popular movie in the Malayalam language, says the movie’s distributor, prompting the chain to shut down the screenings despite the large audiences they were drawing.

    It’s just the latest in a bizarre string of attacks over the last six or more years that distributors say have cost them tens of thousands of dollars in lost business — and may be depriving Ontario moviegoers of some Indian cinematic fare.

    In previous incidents dating back to 2015, which often prompted police involvement, saboteurs even released pepper-spray-like noxious substances in crowded theatres that were showing movies from south India.

    Distributors are pointing the finger at a group of independent cinemas they believe is perpetrating the mayhem in a bid to corner the market on screening of the films. That company denies any part in the incidents.

    The latest target was Kurup, a crime thriller in Malayalam, the language predominately spoken in Kerala state.

    “It’s a big loss for us,” said Bijo Sebastian, whose company Achayan’Z Film House is distributing Kurup. “We all feel disappointed and sad.… People were watching it and wanted to see it. After COVID, theatres are coming back slowly.”

    Cineplex confirmed Monday that its theatres in the Toronto-area suburbs of Richmond Hill and Oakville had suffered vandalism last week but declined further comment. Halton and York Region police forces are investigating the incidents, said communications director Melissa Pressacco.

    Sebastian said the chain told him last Tuesday it was ending the movie’s run after the vandalism incidents, believing they were connected to similar incidents in the past.

    The movie was bringing in as many as 425 people per screening and cancellation of already-purchased tickets alone means a loss of more than $6,000, he said.

    One of the most dramatic earlier episodes came in April 2016, when someone released the noxious spray into three Cineplex theatres around the Toronto area showing the Tamil-language film Theri.

    “There were a lot of children that were out screaming and crying,” moviegoer Tania Gasparatto told CBC at the time . “It was really heartbreaking. And it makes you almost paranoid.”

    Three years later culprits slashed screens and released “bear spray” into Landmark theatres in Whitby, Ont., east of Toronto and Kitchener, Ont., during screening of the Telugu-language Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy, according to .

    Durham Regional Police released a photo of a man they believed committed the acts in 2019, but industry representatives say they’re unaware of anyone every being arrested in the incidents.

    And some have never been reported widely before.

    Sandeep Vasudev of VSR distributors said a Tamil movie his company had placed in theatres was shut down by Cineplex after one of its screens was slashed in 2015.

    And just last year, screens were deliberately torn at the Regent Theatre in Toronto and Ciné Starz in Mississauga — both of which have since closed permanently — as they were screening south Indian movies, said that film’s distributor. He asked not to be named, fearing retribution.

    Distributors blame the incidents on a collection of independent theatres they believe are sabotaging others to try to monopolize the market for screening south Indian films.

    But the company – whom the National Post is declining to name – said it has itself been vandalized on multiple occasions and reported the incidents to the police. The theatre group also said it was very sorry to hear of the “unfortunate incidents” last week.

    “The inference that we are involved in these attacks in any way whatsoever is offensive, categorically false and unsubstantiated by any fact whatsoever,” it said in a statement.

    Indian movies in general have had a growing market in Canada, with increasing immigration and arrivals of international students from India, said Vasudev.

    Cineplex has had “great success” with showing international-language movies; three of the top 10 highest-grossing Punjabi films in Cineplex history were released in 2021, said Pressacco.

    But Vasudev said the large chains seem to have been avoiding Tamil and other south Indian movies — as opposed to Hindi and Punjabi releases — out of fear of the vandalism attacks.

    That’s frustrating for the many fans of the films in Canada, since they would prefer to see them in modern, well-appointed theatres than in older independent houses, he said.

  • #2
    I don't know if it is AMC's way of avoiding problems like this (none of which I've heard of in this town), but the few times I've checked the few times they have run Indian features they 1) charged more than their usual feature; 2) charged more for the same film in Tamil.

    Is this common elsewhere?


    • #3
      Geez, in Canada, no less...which I always thought was just a bit more civilized than the US.

      Of late, I have come to the conclusion that just like the dinosaurs, we are doomed as a species, but unlike them, we seem hell-bent in being the direct cause of our demise. There's not been a time in the history of our species when there wasn't a war going on somewhere on the planet; not a time when we weren't killing each other. Then I saw an excellent movie, DOPESICK (Hulu) with Michael Keaton, in which an entire family of humans beings, i.e., same DNA as all the rest of us, who knowingly, purposefully pushed the highly addictive drug Oxiconton, all the while knowing it was killing thousands. Next, here comes a piece on the news showing the vast areas of the Amazon rain forest literally being turned into a dead, wasteland desert...the forest that generates 35% of the oxygen that we need to, you know...LIVE. Guess my progeny will have to get used to walking around carrying O2 tanks on their backs. -- All in one yah, we are doomed.

      Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


      • #4
        These movies are regularly charged a lot more than normal mainstream movies. These showings usually gather huge numbers of people, many travel large distances to see them, together with travelling expenses, meals, etc., they pay a lot of money.

        We do show Tamil movies regularly, and it's a fascinating crowd, and fascinating movies. Over here, the cinema is usually rented for a fixed sum, and the event organizer sells the tickets. May be different elsewhere, and I assume that in some areas with local crowds, it will usually pay out for a larger cinema to organise these screenings themselves. These events may indeed be part of a sabotaging strategy by parties who want to get their share of that business.


        • #5
          Here is another (longer) article about the same thing.

          Cineplex theatres vandalized in apparent attempts to sabotage screenings of foreign-language films

          Kurup, an Indian crime drama released earlier this month, tells the story of one of the country’s most notorious fugitives, a man accused of murder who may have staged his own death to collect insurance money. But when the movie opened in Ontario theatres, a different kind of mystery unfolded.

          Movie screens were slashed at two Cineplex locations in Richmond Hill and Oakville that were showing the Malayalam-language film. Whoever did it slipped away. Four screens were damaged.

          It’s the latest act of vandalism plaguing movie theatres in Southern Ontario that show films in South Indian languages. Since at least 2015, vandals have cut up screens, sometimes in front of the audience, and, in some cases, sprayed noxious substances into the air in an apparent attempt to sabotage screenings. At least seven films in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam have been targeted in Toronto, Brampton, Mississauga, Whitby and Kitchener.

          Some who work in the distribution industry contend the vandalism is part of an effort to control local screening rights and ticket sales, and keep the films out of major chains. “The threat is real,” said Saleem Padinharkkara, a film distributor in Waterloo.

          Cineplex declined to answer questions from The Globe and Mail, other than to confirm the vandalism in Richmond Hill and Oakville. “Those incidents are currently under investigation and we will have no further comment while the matter is with law enforcement,” said Melissa Pressacco, communications director at Cineplex.

          In the early 2000s, three independent theatres in the Toronto area were known for screening Indian films in Tamil and other languages. Later, Cineplex started showing Tamil movies in the Greater Toronto Area as the region’s population diversified. (About 177,205 people in Ontario speak Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam at home, according to the 2016 census, the largest such concentration in Canada.) For distributors, the interest from Cineplex created a bigger market, increased competition and gave moviegoers a better experience.

          But in 2015, at least two screens were slashed at Cineplex theatres showing a Tamil movie called Thangamagan, and the film was pulled. “At the end of the day, we lost money,” says Sandeep Vasudevula, whose company distributed the movie, adding that he spent tens of thousands of dollars on it. “I’m not interested in doing movies any more because of these issues,” he said.

          The attacks were even bolder the next year. Not only were screens slashed at Cineplex locations in Brampton, Mississauga and Scarborough showing a Tamil action film called Theri, but a noxious substance similar to pepper spray was released inside theatres. Police said at the time several moviegoers were treated by paramedics, but no one was seriously injured. Cineplex cancelled remaining screenings in the Greater Toronto Area.

          Since then, distributors say Cineplex has not screened Tamil movies in the GTA. “I even tried for some other movies,” Mr. Vasudevula said, “but they didn’t accept it.”

          Cineplex isn’t the only chain affected. In October, 2019, Landmark Cinemas in Kitchener showed a historical action movie in Telugu called Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy. On a Friday afternoon, a man wearing black pants and a black hoodie slashed the screen and sprayed audience members with what police believe was bear spray. The same individual then drove to a Landmark theatre in Whitby and did the same thing.

          The pandemic temporarily stopped the incidents, but with theatres reopening, the vandalism and threats resumed. Mr. Padinharkkara, the Waterloo distributor, said he arranged a deal with Cineplex earlier this year to screen a Tamil film in Atlantic Canada. His business partner received a threatening phone call telling him he was making a “big mistake,” and Cineplex later dropped the film due to safety concerns, Mr. Padinharkkara said. He secured a different film and struck a deal with Landmark, but it too decided not to show it in the GTA. “We are kind of stuck,” he said. “We could pretty much go out of business.”

          Landmark did not reply to a request for comment. Police in York, Halton and Peel regions did not respond or declined to comment.

          The three Toronto-area theatres that have long screened Tamil films – Albion, Woodside and York cinemas – have found themselves under suspicion of orchestrating the attacks, and some distributors are reluctant to deal with them, despite no evidence linking them to the vandalism. One of the theatres, York Cinemas in Richmond Hill, reported to police in 2016 that its own washroom was vandalized, and it pulled showings of Theri as a result.

          The Globe contacted all three theatres separately and received an e-mailed reply from a representative of Woodside Cinemas who did not give their name. “All of the locations have been victims of vandalism many times over the years,” the representative wrote, declining to offer specifics. “Any inference that Albion, York or Woodside are involved in any such attacks is categorically false.”

          The incidents at Cineplex theatres in November suggest a widening target base; Kurup is the first movie in Malayalam to be affected. Cineplex cancelled future screenings in Richmond Hill and Oakville after the screens were damaged, according to Bijo Sebastian, the movie’s distributor.

          He also had a deal with Landmark to show the film. “As soon as we heard about this, we reported to Landmark that some issues are happening, so if they’re not feeling comfortable, they can take off the movie,” he said, adding that Landmark pulled Kurup across Ontario.

          Mr. Sebastian is disturbed that the attacks on theatres continue years after the first incident. “It’s hard to believe that in a country like Canada, we need to scare other people to run a business,” he said.


          • #6
            These mobster-like practices are a shame for the entire industry. If you want to compete, do so by offering a better product to your customers, not by screwing over your competition. Given the frequency of those incidents, why not coordinate with the police? Get a few undercover agents into an otherwise sold-out screening and get to the root of the problem...