Pahlaj Nihalani and Kumar Mangat are producers scorned. Their films Khushboo and Haal-e-Dil made it to the multiplexes one Friday in June 2008, but didn't stay there even for three days. When Nihalani's kin was turned back from a multiplex screen because his film was withdrawn without notice, the enraged producer created a ruckus in the foyer and threatened to file an FIR against the multiplex. Ultimately the theatre owners gave in. They played a show for his 18-member contingent; but still cancelled all the following shows. Nihalani and Mangat aren't alone. This week, even a Hollywood giant got a taste of the mighty multiplex clout when it had to postpone the release of big-budget superhero flick Hancock by a week. And though the India reps of the producers take the diplomatic route and say they wanted to "reap the advantage of the grand US opening at the box-office first", the reason clearly lies elsewhere. Friday's Bollywood releases—Aamir Khan's Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na and Harry Baweja's Love Story 2050—have been bankrolled by mega multiplex players PVR and Adlabs, who naturally reserved the best shows in their cinema chains across the country for their own films. QED: If you don't have the backing of a multiplex, then whether you're an independent Indian producer or a Hollywood giant, you're dead meat. "The multiplex mafia well and truly controls Bollywood," says a spitfire trade journalist. "Earlier multiplexes were only exhibitors, but now they've entered production and distribution as well (seventy per cent of 'plexes' in India are owned by PVR/Adlabs/Cinemax). So, if you're not linked to a multiplex in some way, your film could have precious little chance of even being screened." Ironically enough, the 'multiplex revolution', which was spoken about years before it happened, was meant to improve the cinema-going experience. The multiplex was supposed to provide a slot to niche films because the larger-capacity single-screen theatres preferred potboilers to fill the seats. But that failed to happen on the scale on it was envisaged. "In three years, Bollywood has made over a hundred films which belong to the multiplex genre," says a trade source. "But the truth is that 50 per cent of these didn't last at a plex because the idea of promoting 'different' fare just went for a toss. Ultimately, multiplexes also succumbed to the lure of reserving 80 per cent of their shows for Bollywood masala." The source adds that several small films have fallen by the wayside because when the popcorn/ samosa sales in a multiplex canteen dwindle, the exhibitor withdraws the film without batting an eyelid. In short, if you aren't a big daddy who can guarantee a multiplex X amount of money per annum, your cinema is worth less than the price of popcorn. The multiplexes do this because they have a revenue-sharing agreement with producers unlike the single-screen theatres who lease out their space for a fixed amount. Also, because of multi-programming (several films running on several screens), plexes have the wherewithal to pull out a film that has no audience and play another one in its stead. Says a senior multiplex executive, "While programming on a Wednesday prior to a film's release, the exhibitors promise a producer a certain number of shows. Often, the exhibitor has not seen the film when he is making this promise. When a film doesn't generate the curiosity/audience it has to, then exhibitors are forced to replace a film with something that is doing well." This isn't strictly illegal; there is reportedly fine print in an agreement between distributors and exhibitors whichsays that if a film doesn't generate an audience of at least 18 to 20 people, the exhibitor can withdraw it without any explanations. What irks many is the principle of the matter: the multiplexes have several concessions from the government, including a five-year tax break, not to make obscene profits but for cinema to thrive. But along the way, the plexes have become so powerful that forget small cinema, even big producers who get into a profit-sharing tangle with them are summarily ejected: recall Yashraj's Fanaa and Vidhu Vinod Chopra's Lage Raho Munnabhai. Meanwhile Nihalani, whose Khushboo was smothered, fumes, "If Yash Chopra's Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic plays to 10 per cent capacity, then they keep it going. If my film registers the same number, it is thrown out." He also adds that had it not been for the local state government diktat, regional cinema across the country would also never find a multiplex slot. "It is for fear of closure that they grudgingly slot a few shows a week to a regional film," he says. Maybe the government should issue a few more diktats. Nihalani, for one, would be pleased.