With a minimum of four to five releases every weekend, it has become difficult for a film to sustain itself in theaters. Take Lakshmy Ramakrishnan’s House Owner, for example. Though critics praised House Owner, very few screens were available for the film and more than 70 per cent of screens was occupied by Sindhubaadh. On June 28, along with these two films, Dharma Prabhu, Natchathira Jannalil, Kaadhal Munnetra Kazhagam and Jiivi also hit the screens. Commenting on the same, producer-award winning author G Dhananjayan had written on Twitter, “This isn’t good for all these six films. Whatever opening we got for Kolaigaran was because the film came solo over 370 screens. This kind of competition must be avoided. Postpone if it’s crowded and try to come with one or two films, producer friends.”
In fact, Vijay Sethupathi-starrer Sindhubaadh was supposed to hit the screen the previous week but got postponed. So much time and money go into making movies, but hardly a few get released without hiccups and ‘last minute changes’. Jiiva’s Kee, Vishal’s Ayogya, Atharavaa’s 100 and Kalavani 2 were among the films that saw a delayed release.
There is simply too much to see with very little time. Till July first week, there have been nearly 110 Tamil releases. How many were ‘hits’? How many flopped? On what basis do we say a film actually fared better? Open Twitter, we see ‘online influencers’ promoting the below-average ones, besides insisting how “the film is doing well”. I am not blaming them, but that is what it is. For them, every Tamil release is a blockbuster. Nevertheless, the audience predominantly watches films that have their favourite heroes and it’s a proven fact.
In the first half of 2019, only three ‘big films’ were smashing hits—Ajith’s Viswasam, Rajinikanth’s Petta and Raghava Lawrence’s Kanchana 3. According to reports, Viswasam grossed approximately Rs 150 crore from Tamil Nadu, followed by Petta that made around Rs 120 crore. But Petta’s collection was far ahead of Viswasam, worldwide. And, Kanchana 3 minted more than Rs 50 crore from just Tamil Nadu. Despite being panned by critics, the Tamil-Telugu bilingual, released during the Easter weekend, hit the jackpot, touching the Rs 100 crore mark.
A city-based theater owner concurs, “Petta has grossed bigger in urban cities compared to rural pockets, but in Tamil Nadu, Viswasam topped. A few theaters preferred screening Viswasam in its fourth week, in spite of new releases.” Here, we could see a clear divide between the urban and rural audience. For a film to be declared a hit, it needs to work across A, B and C demarcations, he says. “Otherwise, RJ Balaji’s LKG, Arun Vijay’s Thadam and Santhanam’s Dhilluku Dhuddu 2 made huge profits. The Magizh Thirumeni directorial is said to have grossed more than Rs 20 crore in Tamil Nadu. Overall, 2019 promises to be an exciting year for Tamil cinema,” the theatre owner adds.
“Stars can guarantee a massive opening but only content decides if his film is going to stay for a long time. Take Viswasam, for instance. Ajith-Siva combination repeated the magic once again,” observes a leading director, who is concerned about the dwindling movie-watching Tamil crowd. “With Netflix and other OTT platforms around, it’s hard to bring the audience to theaters. Further, it’s interesting to see Tamil audience being more receptive towards other-language content, mainly from Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi,” he notes. Owner of another city-based theatre concurs, “Dubbed releases including Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home witnessed a lot of interest from the localities. But there should be a cap on the number of Tamil releases as even good films aren’t getting their due.”
Meanwhile, a filmmaker says he doesn’t understand why the average audience is curious about the box-office collection. “Tamil cinema has grown tremendously over the last decade. As a director, I myself don’t care about the numbers. I do a film and move on. Honestly, we ourselves do not know box-office figures immediately and of late, these unreliable numbers are put out on Twitter,” he smiles.
Though 2019 got off to a good start with Petta and Viswasam, many ‘big films’ bit the dust, while a handful of them—To Let, Super Deluxe, Peranbu, Mehandi Circus, Sarvam Thaala Mayam, Monster, Game Over, Thumbaa and Kolaigaran—claimed their spot in the sun. These films not only featured bravura performances but also presented an unknown experimental side of a few actors who raised the bar. In between, we had IPL 2019 and ICC Cricket World Cup that distracted the audience a tad bit.
A Tamil producer, on the condition of anonymity, adds, “The lifespan of even a profitable film has reduced to two weeks. This is unhealthy. A few years ago, there were 80-90 films releasing a year but now things have changed. Tamil cinema needs to understand and work on the release dates. When was the last time a star’s film had a solo release on a festival day? When two big films clash the same day, the revenue will be split. Even the situation couldn’t be avoided for Petta and Viswasam.” He hopes, at least, the line-up of the second half of this year would be better, stressing the importance of locking the release dates well in advance. As of now, both Ajith’s Nerkonda Paarvai and Suriya’s Kaappaan have been scheduled for release in August and Vijay’s Bigil is confirmed for Deepavali. Considering the big films that have been lined up, perhaps, the second half of the year will be more interesting.