CHENNAI: It was the offline IMDb for over three decades, assisting local film-makers by giving them ideas from around the world, sparking lively discussions about films, and, in those old days, even providing a much-needed break for stressed out doctors. But as the medium changed from discs to the internet, ‘Tic Tac movie Rentals’, the haven for cinema buffs here, is finally downing its shutters on Sunday.
It was in 1983 that the family of movie buffs, who had all of 72 video tapes, thought they could simply rent them out. Within a few years, Tic Tac at RA Puram went on to have over 35,000 tapes, and along with it came streams of regulars both celebrities and the common man, all connected by their love for films.
“Several movie stars are a part of this shop’s growth. Kamal Haasan’s membership number is 846. He used to come with Saritha. Shankar used to come rent movies from me,” said Prakash Kumar, who counts actors including Ajith, Khushbu, Siddharth, Mahesh Babu and Dulquer Salman among his customers.
And then there were the directors. Prakash could tell what genre a director’s next movie would be. “All I had to do was to look into their rental history. If they were going have a bank robbery scene, I would send all movies with bank robbery scenes through their assistants.”
But the cult was built by the film lovers who thronged the shop. Like Rajamani Rajkumar, now a businessman, who still remembers his introduction with Tic Tac. “May 1985. I remember precisely. We were a bunch of rogues who were going on a trip to Kodaikanal and wanted a few films. But there, I found more than what I wanted.
When I saw Prakash’s enthusiasm for cinema and this library, I took a personal interest. We made it bigger by collecting titles from all over the world, from friends and acquaintances. We even had libraries from other parts of the country like Mumbai who came down to check where the hell these people were sourcing their movies from.”
“It used to be a haven. I used to be so crazy about movies that I even worked there for some time so that I could have free access to films,” said another faithful, Krishnan Arumugan.
Added Chetan Shah, a Chennai-based filmmaker who is a regular to the shop, “I used to meet others film lovers who would tell me what I should not miss. We used to have discussions and formed a network.”
Prakash still remembers his doctor clients who would religiously rent movies every day but not fully. “Oliyum Oliyum on Doordarshan was the only entertainment people had then. So these doctors would rent movies and watch the first half an hour to take their mind off work and go to sleep.”
“When internet had not penetrated deep enough, we were the local IMDB,” Prakash quipped.
What changed the game was the transformation from analogue to digital. The shop that lived through times of video tapes, Laser Disks (LDs) and even VCDs and DVDs, was stopped with the advent of the age of the internet. “Each time a new format came out, we would reinvest on the same movie. We simply had to have James Bond in tapes, LDs and CDs and Blu Rays.” But now, Prakash does not see a new format that could fill the shelves again.
“The entry of Burma Bazaar (pirated copies) and big players like Amazon, Netflix and Hotstar streaming online has pretty much-made movie renting a business with a weak revenue model.” From online booking to free delivery and pick up, Prakash tried everything to build a sustainable business model, only to be confronted by a newer threat to the business.
After the news about the shop shutting down spread, several regulars have been flocking the place to visit it one last time and to take a selfie, leaning on the DVD racks. Prakash is overwhelmed by the number of people visiting him ‘one last time’, only to ask him if there was another way he could run the business. “Some even suggested crowd-sourcing funds using social media. But how long will that go on for?”
“I put my best efforts to sustain the legacy of this shop. Right now, the only thing that lives is the legacy, not really the shop.”