Deepavali, Pongal and Tamil New Year have traditionally been terrific occasions to release big-budget films in. Festival releases are a matter of great pride, and we have in fact heard of stories about actors accepting a reduction in their salaries, so long as the film gets released on a festival day. Among the enduring films released on Tamil New Year's are Singaravelan, Veera, Gemini, Alaipayuthey and Chandramukhi. This year, for the first time in at least three or four decades, there was no Tamil release on April 14, on account of the ongoing strike.
"I couldn't believe it was a festival day. We had less than a 100 people visiting the theatre. Most of them came in for Rampage, Peter Rabbit, and the Malayalam film, Kammara Sambhavam," says a worker at GK Cinemas, Porur. "Last year, we ran houseful shows for Pa Paandi and Kadamban," he remembers wistfully.
The atmosphere in the theatre was fitting of a thiruvizha two years ago when Theri was released, he adds. "It was crazy. We couldn't control the crowd. This year, as there was no Tamil release, we screened Theri again. Some regulars were there whistling and dancing," he says, and hopes that the strike comes to an end soon. "The affluent don't care, but people like me, on daily wages, are the ones affected. When the strike was enforced, I was asked not to come to work for almost two weeks. I didn't know what to do, but thankfully, they understood my situation."
For people like software engineer Raghunath (who had come to watch Rampage at Inox, Virugambakkam), Tamil New Year is all about watching films in theatres. "Last year, I watched Shivalinga, and the theatre was packed. Now, due to the strike, I am told there's no release. People like me don't even understand the problem. It all sounds too complicated," he says with a laugh. "All I want is for films to get released."
Marippan, the manager of Albert Multiplex, fears the audience is slowly getting used to not visiting theatres. "All these days, I was under an impression that films are close to the hearts of Chennaiites. But it's scary how easily their attention is getting diverted. IPL matches, Netflix, Amazon Prime... At Baby Albert, on April 14, we played Nadodi Mannan, it was received well," he says. "I notice that there are hardly any film advertisements in newspapers. I think all this affects the crowd," he says.
Mariappan also points out that old theatres in the city were screening films like Karakattakaran. "There is an audience for such Tamil classics even in this day," he smiles.
As it is, the importance of festival releases seems to have diminished, he says. "For this Tamil New Year's, the TV channels played films like Thaanaa Serndha Koottam and Velaikkaran. Why should people come to theatres?" he asks.
Director-producer Arun Vaidyanathan likens the strike to a reset button. "As a viewer, I feel bad, but as a producer, I empathise with my industry. Everyone makes films, but nobody gets profits. I attended the recent meeting of the producers' council with Vishal and SR Prabhu. If there's no amicable solution by April 17, the strike will continue, but the film shoots will likely be allowed," he says. "The situation is still grim though, and something needs to be done fast."
Kaarthekeyen Santhanam, one of the producers of Prabhudheva-starrer Mercury, is distraught that his film couldn't get released in Tamil Nadu. "Mercury has hit 1,000 screens overall including in Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and North India. If the film were a bilingual, we would have considered rescheduling the release, but as it's conceived as a multilingual, we had no other choice. I sincerely hope the film does well at the box-office whenever it's released here, because Karthik Subbaraj is a Tamilian, and the producers are all from here. A similar thing happened for Vishwaroopam 1. It was released in other states except Tamil Nadu. But later, when it was released here, it was successful. We can only hope."