Viswasam takes on Petta, this Pongal

The first Rajinikanth film for Pongal in nearly 25 years meets Ajith's film in the box office for the first time
Viswasam takes on Petta, this Pongal

When Baasha got released on January 12, 1995, little did fans know that it would be nearly another 25 years before they see another Pongal release from the Superstar. Ajith, who had acted in barely half a dozen films at the time of Baasha’s release, has had a Pongal release eight times so far, including Dheena, Red, Aalwar, and Veeram. Now a star himself, the actor takes on Rajinikanth for box office honours this Pongal, when his Viswasam releases alongside Petta tomorrow.

Tirupur Subramanian, the newly elected President of Tamil Nadu Theatre and Multiplex Owners Association (TNTMOA), begins by remembering the phenomenon that Baasha was: “The film, which came out on Thursday, got lukewarm response the first two days. And then, the Pongal weekend saw family audiences really take to it, and suddenly, it turned into a monster hit." He refuses though that there’s heightened expectation on account of Petta getting a Pongal release. “A Rajini film by itself is a holiday. I do expect though that for both Petta and Viswasam, the first four days till the 13th will see a lot of their hardcore fans coming to the theatres. Only from the 14th will the families begin coming in."

National Award-winning author, producer and trade expert Dhananjayan agrees. "This Pongal is quite special because I don't think we have, in recent times, seen two big films getting ten days of free run time. This is unprecedented. Given that the big films that release over a festive weekend typically garner 1.5 times the returns, I see both Petta and Viswasam getting nothing less than twice the return."

Subramaniam believes theatres will benefit a lot. "It has been a good two months for the business. After the success of 2.0, even though we saw a whole bunch of films coming out for Christmas, theatres still enjoyed a lot of footfalls, thanks to the good content.” Is there pressure on Ajith to deliver, following the response to Vivegam? "Not really,” he says. “I have been in this business for more than three decades and I don't think you can tell for sure if subsequent films by the same actor will follow the same success or failure pattern. There is no guarantee. This brings me to the second key aspect. I think what really will help Petta and Viswasam is the cast. In old MGR films with long runtime, one of the biggest reasons why audiences did not get fatigued was the huge supporting cast. Every actor, male or female, small or big, have their own niche fans. Similarly in Petta, aside from Rajinikanth, there are plenty of familiar faces. Also, Nayanthara's presence in Viswasam cannot be discounted."

Of the 1,000 screens in Tamil Nadu, close to 900 have been allotted to Viswasam and Petta. "The other 100 screens will be carrying the three Telugu releases and a few English films," says Subramaniam. Srinivasan, Secretary of TNTMOA, points out that the pressure of carrying a new Tamil film is huge. Handling North Arcot and South Arcot zones, he says that Ajith's Viswasam is edging out Petta by 60-40 outside of the three Cs (Chennai,Chengalpet and Coimbatore)."Of the 140 screens here, 70-80 are allotted to Viswasam, and the remaining to Petta. By Tuesday, I think the percentage will become 55-45 in Viswasam’s favour." Elango, Treasurer and Salem handler, affirms that the ratio is pretty much the same in the 146 screens in his territory.

Film historian Mohan Raman believes that both filmmakers are smart enough to know the audience they need to cater to. "It is clearly the 18-40 age group. Gone are the days when you had to woo the middle-aged women of the house, who are now captive to the serials and TV channels. Films are no more a single source of entertainment. If a film gets good reviews from peers and the media, then maybe they will step out as a family to watch it.” Subramaniam, however, doesn’t see the footfalls reducing. "Kaanum Pongal is still guaranteed to ensure that theatres run housefull across the State,” he says.

While people are debating the demerits of having two big-budget films releasing together, Dhananjayan feels the number is too small for Pongal. "I still remember watching seven films during Pongal. This is probably the lowest number of films that are releasing for a Pongal date in a long time." But he remains hopeful for 2019. “You have at least one more Rajini, Kamal, Ajith and Vijay film, this year, not to mention two Suriya films. 2019 looks set to be the year of big films."

The industry is also eagerly awaiting the GO that would enable them to add one extra show. As things stand right now, theatres are allowed to show four shows on week days and five on weekends. Subramaniam feels that with the extra show, atleast 10 per cent more footfalls can be expected which could turn into a 3-4 per cent increase in revenue. 

Outside of Tamil Nadu, Petta is expected to be released in 150-200 screens in AP & Telangana. In Kerala too, it seems to have got close to 130 screens. Karnataka’s allocated 350 screens for Petta, making it as big a release as any top Kannada film. In Mumbai too, given the success of 2.0 and the presence of Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Petta, it is expected to get a good run at least till the Bal Thackeray biopic releases the following week.

Outside of India, in Qatar, pre-booking has started for Petta for 40 shows while Viswasam has bagged 28 shows. However, Viswasam seems to have won in UAE with over 50 shows as compared to 40 for Petta. Seventh Sense Cinema, which had released Rajinikanth’s 2.0 recently in Russia, has recently revealed that it will be releasing both Petta and Viswasam in Russia and Ukraine, with the former releasing in Ukraine too. This is in addition to traditional overseas strongholds like Malaysia and USA. All in all, it’s shaping up to be an exciting Pongal.

When big films vied for top spot (last five years)

2018 - December 20/21 - Maari 2, Seethakathi, Adangamaru
2018 - October 17/18 - Vada Chennai, Sandakozhi 2
2018 - January 12 - Sketch, Thaana Serndha Kootam
2016 - October 28 - Kodi, Kaashmora
2016 - October 6 - Rekka, Remo
2015 - November 10 - Vedalam, Thoongavanam
2014 - January 10 - Jilla, Veeram

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