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

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A Cineplex theater in Toronto on December 16, 2019.Aaron Vincent Alkem / The Canadian Press

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

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Movie screens were cut at two Cineplex locations in Richmond Hill and Oakville, which were showing Malayalam language films. Whoever did it slipped. Four screens were damaged.

This is the latest incident of sabotage in cinemas in southern Ontario that show films in South Indian languages. Since at least 2015, miscreants have cut screens, sometimes in front of audiences, and, in some cases, sprayed harmful substances into the air in an apparent attempt to sabotage the screening. At least seven films in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam have been targeted in Toronto, Brampton, Mississauga, Whitby and Kitchener.

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Some working in the distribution industry argue that the vandalism is part of an effort to control local screening rights and ticket sales, and to keep films out of major chains. “The danger is real,” said Salim Padinaharakkara, a film distributor in Waterloo.

Cineplex declined to answer questions other than whether to confirm the vandalism in Richmond Hill and Oakville. “Those incidents are currently under investigation and we will have no comment until the matter is with law enforcement,” said Cineplex’s director of communications, Melissa Presaco.

In the early 2000s, three independent theaters in the Toronto area were known to screen Indian films in Tamil and other languages. Later, Cineplex started showing Tamil films in the Greater Toronto area as the population of the area was diverse. (About 177,205 people in Ontario speak Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam at home, the largest such concentration in Canada according to the 2016 census.) For distributors, Cineplex’s interest created a huge market, increasing competition. And gave a better experience to the movie watchers.

But in 2015, at least two screens were cut in Cineplex theatres, showing a Tamil film named thangamagan, and the film was drawn. Sandeep Vasudevula, whose company distributed the film, says, “At the end of the day, we lost money, and they said they spent thousands of dollars on it. These issues made me no longer able to do films. Not interested.”

The next year the attacks were even more daring. The Cineplex locations in Brampton, Mississauga and Scarborough not only screened a Tamil action film named theri, but a harmful substance similar to pepper spray was released inside cinemas. the police said at that time Several moviegoers were treated by paramedics, but no one was seriously injured. Cineplex canceled the remaining screenings in the Greater Toronto Area.

Since then, distributors maintain that Cineplex has not screened Tamil films in GTA. “I tried for some other films as well,” said Mr. Vasudevula, “but he did not accept it.”

Cineplex isn’t the only chain affected. In October 2019, Landmark Cinemas screened a historical action film in Telugu in Kitchener, titled Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy, On a Friday afternoon, a man wearing black pants and a black hoodie cut the screen and spread audience members Police believe it was bear spray. Then the same person drove to a landmark theater in Whitby and did the same thing.

The pandemic temporarily halted events, but with the reopening of cinemas, the vandalism and threats resumed. Waterloo distributor Mr. Padinaharakkara said they arranged a deal with Cineplex to screen a Tamil film in Atlantic Canada earlier this year. Mr Padinaharakkara said his business partner received a threatening call, saying he was making a “big mistake” and Cineplex later dropped the film due to security reasons. He secured a different film and struck a deal with Landmark, but he also decided not to show it in GTA. “We’re kind of stuck,” he said. “We can largely go out of business.”

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

Three Toronto-area theaters that have long screened Tamil films – the Albion, Woodside and York cinemas – have found themselves on suspicion of plotting the attacks, and some distributors are reluctant to deal with them, despite There is no evidence linking them to vandalism. One of the theatres, York Cinemas in Richmond Hill, reported to police in 2016 that its own toilet had been ransacked, and this pulled performances. theri As a result.

The Granthshala contacted all three theaters separately, and a representative for Woodside Cinemas did not wish to be named. “All locations have been victims of vandalism several times over the years,” the representative wrote, refusing to offer specifics. “Any presumption that Albion, York or Woodside are involved in any such attack is clearly wrong.”

Cineplex theaters’ events in November suggest a wide target base; Drying It is the first Malayalam film to be influenced. According to the film’s distributor, Bijo Sebastian, Cineplex canceled future screenings in Richmond Hill and Oakville after a screen malfunction.

He also had a deal with Landmark to show the film. “As soon as we heard about it, we notified Landmark that there were some problems happening, so if they don’t feel comfortable, they can remove the film,” he said, adding that Landmark pulled it. Drying across Ontario.

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

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