A whopping five new small-to-medium-budget films are expected to release this weekend. This includes Vijay Sethupathi's Seethakaathi (December 20), Jayam Ravi's Adangamaru, Dhanush's Maari 2, sports drama Kanaa and Vishnu Vishal's Silukkuvarpatti Singam. Add KGF: Chapter 1 (a big budget Kannada film dubbed to Tamil) and Shah Rukh Khan's Zero to this list and it remains to be seen if any of these films stand a chance at the Tamil Nadu box office this weekend.
And before the audience can process these films, it's again time for the next festival (Pongal) and a new set of films such as Rajinikanth's Petta and Ajith's Viswasam. Apart from these, there are also the releases on platforms such as Netflix, Amazon, Hotstar, Zee5 and Jio. Even these OTT platforms are expected to stream exclusive content for the four South Indian languages, making it even tougher for the audience to decide which movies to watch.
For many, watching a film in a theatre is an expensive experience and the choice of film is taken after much deliberation. A couple chooses to spend close to Rs.1200 on a movie so the content needs to be worthy of such a large expense. But how we do, as the end consumer, know what a film has to offer?
What's worse is when the industry throws so many films at us where choosing a good film becomes similar to winning the lottery. Are films today being given a fair chance to run successfully? Is our current release model allowing the small or medium budget film with good content the screen space and time it requires to allow word of mouth to spread and recover its cost?
When we club all genres of films with varying budgets to one release date, what we witness is an uneven race with unequal players. The decision by the Tamil Film Producer Council to not regulate the releases on festival dates has resulted in this clutter for screens. Let's take the December 21 releases for example…is it even possible for its producers to promote and release their film effectively amidst all the noise? Instead of the required four shows a day for a healthy release, this week's films are expected to be given just two or even one screening a day.
Of the lot, Seethakaathi's success, which releases a day earlier, is based on how people take to Vijay Sethupathi's offbeat role and how the film turns out to be overall. The film carries great word of mouth but is that enough to make this promising film see its full potential?
Shah Rukh Khan is a brand that still spells magic in a major city like Chennai. Earlier, a Hindi's film box office might was limited to its release in the city's Melody Theatre which used to screen Hindi content alone. Today, even suburban theatres rely on SRK's films as it tries to cater to a large expanding audience. It didn't help the film that it announced its release a year ago when it has to compete with so many other films for the viewer's attention.
Vishnu Vishal's Silukkuvaarpatti Singam, which can be categorised as a B and C centre comedy (going by the film's trailer and posters), could even work in the city if it has the ability to elicit laughter and if it makes a strong impression on its first day. A bankable hero like Jayam Ravi too finds a release with Adangamaru where he plays a tough cop. As far as cop stories go, if the narrative is strong enough, the film has a good chance to work at the box-office but this will again require a bigger release.
It's the same for ace performer and producer Dhanush, whose mass masala Maari 2 seems a mix of heroism and comedy and that automatically pushes it with to compete with Vishnu Vishal's film for the B, C and then A centres.
Then there's the much-awaited Kanaa. It is probably the one film I want to bet my money on among these many releases, simply because it's about a woman cricketer from a remote village making it big in life (Aishwarya Rajesh competes with many heroes and that itself is a David vs Goliath situation) and also because one of its songs 'Yaar Indha Devadhai' is a favourite of my mother's!
Of these, four films have also been produced by the actors themselves (Dhanush, Sivakarthikeyan, Vishnu Vishal and Shah Rukh Khan). Even the Kannada superstar Yash's Kolar Gold Field (KGF) is a pan-Indian release set to either wow or shock you.
Considering how we as an audience watch films at a count of just one per weekend, who will win this race? The best case scenario is if people find all the seven films to be good. If so, those who haven't watched a film in the first weekend will still go to see it later on. But this is a case of high optimism.
And if the audience chooses to watch at least one film in the theatre, then the other films will be caught on the small screen, either on TV or on the OTT platforms. But this means a loss for the producer. Even if a film had the potential to collect Rs.100, it will now just gross Rs.30 when it releases with so many other films.
And what if all seven films are just plain bad? Isn't it disastrous for the industry as a whole? A possible outlook maybe that producers and heroes feel that a release itself is like securing a medal. Are producers mainly catering to please the heroes and their industry friends (or foes because they have a release and their enemy doesn't) or to us, the audience? The grapevine has it that except Kanaa, which is with Zee, all other films have been bought by Star Vijay, which only means a film releasing in mid December will see itself premiering on world television for Pongal.
And it's much the same even it comes to the two big releases for Pongal as well. Both Pettai and Viswasam is actually sacrificing half their revenue to the other by opening on the same day.
If I had only an Ajith film to watch or a Rajinikanth film, then only that actor gets all the collection. Now we have both of them and we have to divide our time and money between the two. What was the case in the 80s and 90s when big star films used to release together? Well, in the 80s and 90s, we did not have these many alternate choices of entertainment to choose from. It was either the movie hall or television. If I missed watching a Kamal Haasan movie on the day of its release, I will watch it the very next show or on the next day. Population was much lesser and tickets were more available.
Social media now decides the fate of a movie even before its interval, was not there then to influence decisions. Today, if you were to watch Pettai first, by the time you get out of the theatre you'll know the general opinion on Viswasam and that is bound to influence you in your decision to watch it or not.
A big film must only have a small or medium scale film as its releasing partner. That is the only way everybody wins. Those who don't get to see the big film will buy tickets for the small film and the small film also wins that way. But when you release multiple medium and small scale films together like we will see on December 21, can any film truly win?