Thamizh Talkies: A Deepavali unlike any other
The writer is a film producer and an art curator
Where do I begin, when telling you this year’s Deepavali story of what movie released where in the Tamil film world? Apart from the two films that got released in theaters, the rest, of various kinds, have all come out online! The online title teaser (Lokesh Kanakaraj’s Vikram starring Kamal Haasan), film teasers (Lokesh’s Master starring Vijay & Vijay Sethupathy, Suseenthran’s Eeswaran starring Simbu), posters (Karthi’s Sulthan, Sivakarthikeyan’s Doctor and many others), a ‘single’ video (a brilliantly choreographed Bujji from Karthik Subburaj’s Jagamey Thanthiram starring Dhanush) and then, of course, we got the new Deepavali films (Surya’s Soorarai Pottru, RJ Balaji’s Mookuthi Amman, Sundar C’s production, Naanga Romba Busy). This much new content online does not let us forget that we are still living in the ‘new normal’ and regardless of whether a film sees just a digital release or a big-screen release, there is bound to be a 30-40% loss on revenue for the producer/distributor, given the reduced theatre occupancy and the lack of a people thronging FDFS screenings.
A festival time is a great time for the movies—we used to watch movies on multiple screens back to back, remember? The battle of the box office got handed down from the MGR-Sivaji Ganesan era to Rajinikanth-Kamal Haasan and then to Vikram-Surya, to now Vijay-Ajith and sprinkles on to Karthi-Sivakarthikeyan-Vijay Sethupathy. A Deepavali release in Tamil cinema has always meant a ‘high’ for audiences and filmmakers alike. The high for a filmmaker lies in a large group of people reacting and resonating with what they have designed as key ‘applause points’ or ‘emotional triggers’ or ‘funny lines’. To assess that via online reviews and tweets alone could just be a case of letting the film team walk in blindfolded into a dark room. This is why going forward, it is important to plan films depending on where it gets released.
Both Soorarai Pottru and Mookuthi Amman are films meant to be seen with an audience on the big screen but I sat in my drawing room and clapped at more than one place for both films. If Soorarai Pottru was an inspiring odyssey of an individual’s pursuit of passion, which has the captivating Surya, Mookuthi Amman has dollops of humor and original writing with the breathtaking Nayanthara and the impeccable acting timing of RJ Balaji. The bonus in both these films is the Wonder Woman, Urvashi, who is adding value in perhaps the same way in which SV Ranga Rao used to in the black and white era. For those who know of him only as Ghatotkachan from Mayabazaar, please do visit his Wikipedia and look up his range of roles and films! An additional trivia is, he is Superstar Rajinikanth’s favorite actor (as admitted by him to me in one of my first interviews ever).
In an interview with a journalist friend for an online site, Surya referred to a recent online Masterclass session between Steven Spielberg and George Lucas where the two greats of cinema discuss the future of film-watching. They mention those three letters: OTT. When we won’t risk our well-being and that of our family and friends for the sake of entertainment, it’s best that the film industry also looks into avenues that can match the impact of a theatre release online. To that extent, the innovative promotions of Soorarai Pottru and Mookuthi Amman (despite Nayanthara remaining incognito for media) ensured a great reception for the two films.
This Deepavali of November 2020 for Tamil cinema will indeed be remembered for the spate of online releases. It also spells out the way forward for film producers: OTT. Will Vijay’s Master be the first big film to supersede this existing ‘new normal’ and see a worldwide theatre release in 2021? Let’s wait and watch.