'Petta' vs 'Viswasam': Why Tamil movie collection reports inflated

There was a huge and unsavoury fight between the producers of the Tamil films ‘Petta’ and ‘Viswasam’ ahead of their release on Pongal this year in Tamil Nadu.

With a film’s success being decided on the number of screens it gets released, both ‘Petta’ and ‘Viswasam’ tried to garner the maximum number of screens. It was a messy and cheap battle as both the camps tried some dirty tricks. Tamil Nadu has roughly around 1100 screens, and the two movies released in around 450 each.

And after the films hit the theatres, the fans of the two stars, Rajinikanth and Ajith, had a go at each other. Again, it was an unseemly fracas.

Now, after a week of the films’ run in the theatres, the two respective production houses are trading barbs over the collections that the two movies have made. The skirmish has spilled over to social media platforms (mainly Twitter) and angry, frothing posts have been flying between the two sets of agitated fans.

The clash between the two has exposed the soft underbelly of the industry — its opacity over financial matters — and also some journalists, who call themselves ‘industry trackers’.

As of now, the claim ‘officially’ made is that ‘Petta’, starring Rajnikanth, has collected around Rs.100 crore in Tamil Nadu, while the makers of ‘Viswasam’, featuring Ajith, has raked in around Rs.125 crore. If both the movies released on the same date on roughly same number of screens, the disparity in figures is surprising, but also revealing.

Both the claims are unverified by any independent agency. “The real problem is any claim on collections is unverifiable. It is what the production houses claim. Producers and actors are generally the wrong people to get these figures from. They have vested interests. They will always inflate the numbers,” says K V Raman, a film financier.

Before the producers of ‘Petta’ and ‘Viswasam’ tweeted their claims on the collections, the details on the same were being put out by a few journalists. Actually, these are not journalists in the true sense of the word. Nobody knows which publications they work for. They occasionally freelance. But that’s about it. They are mostly social media warriors, who have built for themselves (by hook or crook) a sizeable chunk of followers.

“Using that as their base, they have created an image that they are ‘influencers’ and producers use them to ‘leak’ info on their films. The numbers they put out are always loaded one way or the other. But they are taken in as the truth by gullible followers,” says a mainstream journalist in Chennai.

Mainstream journalists covering the entertainment beat in Tamil Nadu are cut up with the ways of these social media journalists. “It is pure, old-fashioned bribery,” says another senior journalist.

The worrying part is that the disgusting sparring between ‘Petta’ and ‘Viswasam’ producers is not an exception. “You will have more such fights going forward between other producers,” says R Jeganathan, an industry watcher. “Why it will repeat is because there is no transparency over money in the industry. It is its traditional Achilles’ heel,” he adds.

Unfortunately openness in financial dealings in the movie industry is not going to happen anytime soon.