A festival of films
Deepavali releases are in vogue once again, and this time, we have as many as four new films, including Rajinikanth’s Annaaththe
As the only Indian actor to have starred in all four formats of filmmaking—black and white, colour, 3D, and animation—it might seem like there's nothing Rajinikanth hasn't done. And yet, it’s true that after the turn of this century, the Superstar has not had a Deepavali release. The last time he had a film coming out on D-Day was in 1995 when Muthu got released. His upcoming release, the Siva-directorial Annaatthe, is getting released on Thursday to break a 26-year wait for the fans. This Deepavali will also see the release of Vishal-Arya starrer Enemy. And with OTT having risen in prominence, we have already had Suriya’s Jai Bhim releasing last day on Amazon Prime Video. Also, Sasikumar-Sathyaraj’s MGR Magan is set to join the party on Disney+ Hotstar from Thursday. That’s four mainstream releases ushering in the four F's of Deepavali celebration: fun, family, food, and films.
"Expectations are high!” says Ruban Mathivanan, the head of Chennai-based GK Cinemas, who is particularly excited for the release of the Rajini-starrer. "The promotional materials for Annaatthe remind us of the good old days of vintage Rajinikanth in films like Muthu and Padayappa. Just like the fans, we, theatre owners, have also been waiting for such a film. It’s these films that bring the masses back to the theatres," he adds. The makers of Enemy too believe that Deepavali is a great window in which to release their film. “The decision to release Enemy for Deepavali was made after many considerations, including opting for a theatre release. We have made a film that we believe is best enjoyed in theatres," says the film's director Anand Shankar. “Considering that 100 percent occupancy is now possible in theatres and the audience has once again warmed up to the idea of visiting theatres, I am glad Enemy is getting such a release. Statistics show that Deepavali brings in an additional 30 percent footfall to theatres on the first day," adds the Iru Mugan filmmaker.
MGR Magan taking the OTT route was apparently not planned in advance. "Things just fell in place. When a film like Superstar Rajini sir's Annaatthe is coming out in theatres, it's impossible for our film to find space,” says the film’s director, Ponram, for whom this is the first OTT release in his career. “That we are still able to get it out is made possible only due to OTT platforms. This is why OTT platforms should be welcomed. Given that the theatres are still not open in certain cities and countries, they help people across the world to catch our film on the first day from the comfort of their homes.” The metrics for success measurement vary based on the type of release a film gets. “It’s hard to know how good a film is when it comes out on OTT. Perhaps these platforms will figure a way to address this problem.”
Films are synonymous with festivals, and this is particularly true of Deepavali. “Is there anything better than wearing new clothes, bursting crackers, having homemade delicacies, and then leaving with your family to catch a new release?” asks Rajnarayanan Sukumar, an avid Rajini fan from Thiruthuraipoondi, Thiruvarur, who remembers printing Enthiran tees for his friends as they went out to catch its release a decade ago. A decade later, back in his hometown from London, and now, a father of two, the fan in him is still intact. "We have booked tickets for a huge group for the first day’s first show. We had initially planned on setting up flex boards and banners across town but since then, I have realised they can serve as distractions, and so, we will be doing this in front of the theatres,” says Rajnarayanan, who will be catching the film in Vijila Theatre. "Before the first show, a group of Rajini fans will march a kilometre towards the theatre with banners and two sacks full of shredded paper. Once we reach the spot, we will light up 10,000 wala crackers and the moment Thalaivar comes up on screen, we will go berserk (laughs). Our club head, Rajamanickam, lost his wife a month ago, and yet, continues to be an active part of the promotions. We will also be arranging food for the needy, as part of the celebrations.”
Theatre owner Ruban is particularly delighted that the government has relaxed seat restrictions ahead of the Deepavali releases. “After the pandemic, this is the first time that theatres will see full occupancy. With two films releasing in theatres, people will definitely want to come to theatres. The family crowd may opt for Annaatthe while the younger audience may choose to go with Enemy. It's a win-win situation for all parties concerned and this is a much-needed development for the industry. We already have all the precautionary measures to handle the crowd in place, including temperature checks and sanitising units," he adds.
Despite initially planning for a Pongal 2020 release, Ponram is happy that his film is coming out on Deepavali. "There are scenes and songs in the film with a Pongal backdrop because, in our village, Pongal is a huge celebration. It's always celebrated with a photo of John Pennycuick because thanks to his efforts, the Mullaperiyar Dam was constructed, and if that hadn't happened, regions like Theni, Madurai, and Ramanathapuram would not today be known for their greenery. But I'm glad that even if our film missed Pongal, it will be coming out for Deepavali. Festival releases are never easy to get. My film, Rajini Murugan, came out for Pongal while Varuthapadatha Valibar Sangam was released on Vinayagar Chathurthi, so I'm extremely happy that MGR Magan is coming out for Deepavali," says the filmmaker.
Director Anand Shankar isn’t one to be intimidated about releasing alongside Annaatthe. In fact, he thinks that the competition will work in favour of his film, Enemy. "With two such films getting a festive release, it will definitely bring in those who haven't stepped into a theatre after the pandemic. If people feel comfortable about entering a theatre, they will want to check both films out. All these factors made us choose Deepavali for Enemy’s release,” he says. “Also, historically speaking, Deepavali has always had two films coming out. If there had been three or four films, that might have been a problem. Now, there's enough space and viability for both films to do well," adds the director. "The team is also happy and excited as no matter what kind of film you are coming with, a Deepavali release is a big deal. It is the holy grail of release periods, so a film coming out on such a date means you have created a good buzz. All of us feel positively about this, and I’m sure this will translate to the audience."
(With inputs from Navein Darshan)