This year, it was all about embracing good content—irrespective of the budget of a film.
2019 saw even stars push their limits beyond what was traditionally considered “entertainment” in Tamil cinema. For instance, nobody expected a Nerkonda Paarvai, the remake of Amitabh Bachchan’s Pink, from ‘mass’ actor Ajith. Again, Petta, for that matter, was not a typical “Rajinikanth film”. Thanks to the audience who were constantly open to experimenting with their cinematic choices. This year, it was all about embracing good content—irrespective of the budget of a film.
“Kollywood is witnessing a sea change. 2019 had smaller better-faring films compared to 2018,” says a producer, who doesn't want to be identified. He points out how relatively lower budget films made actual profits than the conventional big grossers. Citing the shift in audience taste over these years, he admits, “compelling ideas attracted new-age viewers.” Another city-based producer concurs. “We prioritised content over everything else largely than ever. Films made on novel storylines and, most importantly, engagingly narrated always worked.”
However, this year's biggest hits include Kanchana 3, Jayam Ravi's Comali (which completed 100 days at the box office), RJ Balaji-starrer LKG, Thadam, Dhilluku Dhuddu 2 and Sivakarthikeyan's Namma Veettu Pillai, besides Petta, Viswasam, Bigil, Kaithi, Nerkonda Paarvai and Asuran.
“The current trend is to create relatable situations and characters. That way, the cliched larger-than-life hero subjects become redundant,” says a female director, who interjects with, “I understand why ‘Thalapathy’ Vijay did a Bigil.” She says quality content always finds its mainstream audience. “Asuran didn't have much pre-release buzz, but it touched Rs 100 crore mark. People were keen to revisit the film surprisingly on streaming platforms,” she adds.
When it comes to making films, there is no dearth of content—but to bring it to the big screen like how audience expect is the real deal. Emphasising the many challenges that independent filmmakers face, quickly, she goes on to explain that there had been instances of big-budget films failing and smaller content-driven cinema thriving at the box office. “There's no transparency regarding the collection reports as well,” she asserts and wonders, “How ‘trackers’ and analysts arrive at ‘exact’ figures within 24 hours of the release when directors themselves aren't aware.”
2019 saw an overwhelming reception to genres that did not find wide acceptance a few years ago—including Super Deluxe, women-oriented subjects—Aadai, Game Over, and films without songs—Kaithi and Oththa Seruppu. Such ‘different’ films are getting appreciated, but does that translate to a viable financial and business model? A female producer-director says Tamil cinema has experienced phases in which a woman has been leading a film from the front with Nayantharas and Jyotikas. “Ten years ago, there were not many films like Aramm, Magalir Mattum and Raatchasi. Still, I feel Kollywood hasn't explored women's stories enough. We are lagging, of course,” she rues. Further, she notes, “Mostly, successful women-centric films have been slow burners, collection-wise.” The director opines that the time is just about right for the film industry to reform itself and put things into perspective.
2019 equally gave us little gems—Mehandi Circus, To Let, House Owner, KD Engira Karuppudurai and Sillu Karupatti. The stories may be ‘local’ in nature but, undoubtedly, their reach is beyond boundaries. Take To Let, for example. It resonated well with the global audience, much like Kaaka Muttai.
Cinematographer-director Chezhiyan muses, “Taking your film with local subjects to cinema lovers and getting a response from the festival crowd can be a rewarding experience. The audience was blown away by To Let despite not knowing Tamil. Regional cinema or world cinema connects with people and that's the beauty of the cinematic language.” What worked in these small budget films is that they were centred around unique stories. Instead of capitalising on star power, the makers invested in good content.
Lokesh Kanagaraj of Kaithi fame says, “Since audiences want to see something different, everybody wants to take a chance, and thankfully, producers are willing to back unconventional scripts and put in money.” The distribution and exhibition network has become more open in showcasing such material, emphasises Lokesh.
On the other hand, the advent of OTT platforms opened up avenues for filmmakers to showcase their content without succumbing to the pressure of a theatrical release. “As a director, my work should reach maximum number of people and I believe in going the digital way as it lets me tell a story with no compromise. Any engaging, realistic story will be appealing here,” says a renowned senior filmmaker, who recently ventured into this space. A combination of good storytelling, a receptive audience and strong backing from established names will make more directors take to the digital medium. “You are neither bound by a formula nor the need to look for a star. The medium lets you tell the story that you are passionate about,” he smiles.
Nevertheless, several films turned out to be duds at the box office—Saaho (dubbed), Vantha Rajavathaan Varuven, Dev, Dharmaprabhu, Airaa, Kaappaan, NGK, Ayogya, Dhanusu Raasi Neyargale, Sindhubaadh, Aruvam, Sangathamizhan, Kadaram Kondan, Devarattam, Capmaari, Kolaiyuthur Kaalam, Action and Mr Local. Besides, this year, we witnessed an array of underwhelming sports-based films—Kennedy Club, Champion, and needless sequels—Kalavani 2, Neeya 2, Kazhugu 2, Uriyadi 2, Charlie Chaplin 2 and Vennila Kabaddi Kuzhu 2. A few of these didn't make it to screens on time. Shows in the morning were cancelled in theaters due to KDM issues.
A Chennai-based theatre owner says, “Social media plays a vital role in deciding the fate of movies. Despite aggressive promotions and marketing techniques, collections still depend on word of mouth. Success, even today, is a combination of math and art. At the end of the day, it boils down to the number game. Every film needs a different release mechanism and distribution strategy to make it work."