After a low-key Deepavali in 2020 with the major films releasing online, we’re back to the biggest release window of the year. With Rajinikanth’s Annaatthe getting the lion’s share of screens, along with Vishal-Arya’s Enemy, theatre owners are looking to go back to the glory days of massive opening weekends and a revival of the trade. Sivakarthikeyan’s Doctor reportedly collecting Rs.100 crore, the first since the second lockdown, has also added to the festive cheer. To say nothing of the fact that both films would be the first to benefit from the relaxation of the 50 percent seating capacity cap in the State and we’re likely to see a huge leap ahead for the box office. Before we get there, here’s a list of some of the biggest matchups. Which would you rate the best Deepavali clash?
2000: Priyamanavale, Thenali, Vaanavil, Palayathu Amman, Kannuku Kanaga
The first Deepavali of the new millennium did not feature a mass movie, although it had movies of two big stars. Vijay’s Priyamanavale, directed by K Selva Bharathy, released with Kamal Haasan’s Thenali, directed by K.S. Ravikumar. The former was a romance featuring Simran and lovely songs by S.A. Rajkumar. Thenali is a comedy co-starring Jayaram and Jyothika. Both films did well and neither fans had reasons to complain.
2001: Aalavandhan, Manandhai Thirudivittai, Nandha, Shahjahan, Thavasi, Aandan Adimai, Parthale Paravasam, Kasi, Ponnana Neram
The Kamal-Vijay clash continued into the second year as well with Aalavandhan taking on Shahjahan. With Kamal Haasan’s double role and a second version releasing in Hindi titled Abhay, Aalavandhan was the most hyped film of the season. Although celebrated in retrospect, it proved a box office failure with the other releases performing better. Shahjahan added another much-loved romance to Vijay’s filmography while Vijaykanth’s Thavasi and Prabhu Deva’s Manadhai Thirudivittai clicked with the family audience. The biggest surprise was Bala’s Nandha. The film worked in a big way and gave us a star in Suriya.
2002: Bagavathi, Villain, Ramana, Andipatti Arasampatti, Kadhal Azhivathillai, Padai Veetu Amman, Solla Marantha Kathai, Game
The first of the major Vijay-Ajith clashes of the decade began in 2002. Vijay’s Bagavathi took on Ajith’s Villian. Unlike his earlier films, Vijay was now attempting an action film with a more massy avatar. It was about a common man turning into a gangster but it could not do what his romantic films did. Ajith’s Villain, with him featuring in a negative shade, was lapped up by the audience and ended up becoming the big hit of the season. Ramana— A.R. Murugadoss’s second film—starring Vijayakanth became a big hit too, spawning many remakes in Tamil and Hindi.
2003: Anjaneya, Pithamagan, Thirumalai, Ottran
In terms of star voltage, not many years will come close to 2003. Although bigger stars today, it’s not too often that you see films of Vikram, Suriya, Vijay and Ajith taking on each other. Ajith and Vijay returned (his third consecutive festival release) with action films. It was Vijay’s Thirumalai that ended up winning big this year. In terms of being a more serious film, there was also Pithamagan, a classic celebrated for its novel plot and heartbreaking performances. A perfect season with a mix of mass and class with something for all filmgoers.
2004: Attakasam, Manmadhan, Dreams, Chatrapathy
This mix was missing the following year with Ajith’s Attakasam releasing alongside Simbu’s Manmadhan. Ajith was back in a double role after Villain; Attakasam was also his second film with Saran after the blockbuster Amarkalam. Despite mixed reviews and the star coming off the lacklustre Jana and Anjaneya, the film was a success. The other major release (smaller films were Niranja Manasu and Sarathkumar’s Chatrapathy) was Manmadhan, which Simbu also wrote and directed. It clicked with youngsters in a major way and the album by Yuvan Shankar Raja became an even bigger hit. It started a trend of the younger stars taking bigger release dates and the market corrected itself to accommodate all. Or should one say, “corrected machi”?
2005: Adhu Oru Kana Kaalam, Sivakasi, Majaa, Ambuttu Imbuttu Embuttu
After a gap of one year, Vijay returned to his biggest release date with Perarasu’s Sivakasi, a full-fledged mass entertainer with music by Srikanth Deva. After Ghilli, Vijay’s stardom had reached a whole other level and subsequent Deepavali releases would reflect his mass appeal. 2005 was no different with his film running well into 2006. The same could not be said about the other films. Balu Mahendra’s film Adhu Oru Kana Kaalam, starring Dhanush, received little love from either critics or the audience. Same goes with Vikram’s first post-superstardom Deepavali release Majaa, a remake of the Malayalam comedy Thommanum Makkalum.
2006: Varalaru, E, Vattaram, Vallavan, Thalaimagan
In what was a reasonably low-key release season with the biggest release and the biggest grosser being Ajith’s Varalaru, AKA Godfather. Directed by K.S. Ravikumar, the film’s music was by A.R. Rahman and it featured the star in multiple roles, including that of an effeminate classical dancer. The other releases were Jeeva-Nayanthara’s E, based on medical crimes. It garnered critical acclaim and it performed better than Arya’s Vattaram.
2007: Azhagiya Tamil Magan, Polladhavan, Vel, Machakaaran
The big Deepavali fight was between Vijay’s Azhagiya Tamil Magan (ATM) and Suriya’s Vel this year. For Vijay, it was his first film with a double role and it amassed a lot of hype thanks to AR Rahman’s superhit songs. On the other side was Hari’s Vel, an entertainer featuring Suriya with a good mix of action and emotions. Despite the massive opening of ATM, it was Vel that created more deposits for the makers. The smaller film Polladhavan became a hit too, single-handedly increasing the popularity of the Bajaj Pulsar as a byproduct.
2008: Seval, Eegan
Big winner Hari returned the following year as well with another masala entertainer. This time, his star was Bharath with the other major release being the Main Hoon Na remake Eegan, starring Ajith. Neither films fared well and remains to be a miss in terms of revenue generated. Hari could not follow up the success of Vel and Ajith couldn’t repeat the blockbuster success of Billa.
2009: Aadhavan, Peranmai
After Vel, Suriya got a Deepavali release again with K.S. Ravikumar’s Aadhavan. By this point, Ayan had done well in the theatres and the star had become an A-lister. His collaborations with Harris Jayaraj too had become a big deal and their magic was recreated even in the Aadhavan album. But the film received mixed responses from critics and audiences alike. It had a great opening and was released in a number of screens but the film itself could not sustain that. The critical success of the season was surely S.P. Jhananathan’s Peranmai with Jeyam Ravi in the lead. It dealt with an interesting premise and the film continues to be discussed today.
2010: Uthamaputhiran, Mynaa
Unlike the last two Deepavalis, the releases of the new decade brought fresh hope to the industry. Although both films missed the presence of any major star, the films clicked with the audience. Uthamaputhiran proved that a solid comedy track could do wonders and made Vivek-Dhanush hot property. On the other end was the far more emotional Mynaa with relatively new actors and a splendid album by Imman. Mynaa snowballed into a big success on its own despite a muted release. This also opened up the possibility for producers to take a chance with smaller films.
2011: Velayudham, 7am Arivu
Not many clashes have come close to the fanfare and hype surrounding the release of these two films. Velayudham had hit songs, an interesting marketing campaign and Vijay in need of course correction. As for Suriya, it was his return to the Ghajini team with both A.R. Murugadoss and Harris Jayaraj joining hands again. Initial reports suggested 7am Arivu taking the bigger opening with a lot of intrigue being generated by its trailer. Despite both opening well, it was Vijay’s film that ended up sustaining the hype, even though neither films could really take advantage of the mood before their respective releases.
2012: Thupakki, Ammavin Kaipesi, Poda Podi
It took a really long time for Simbu to return with a Deepavali release despite the success of Manmadhan. And when he did, it was with Vignesh Shivan’s Poda Podi, a film that had already been delayed by months. It had good songs and a lighthearted setting but it was no match for the mammoth release of Thuppaki. A.R. Murugadoss was back with a vengeance and he made a film that made ‘Sleeper Cells’ an everyday term in the State. Everyone was happy and the makers have not yet been able to recreate the industry-wide success of this film. The other release was Shanthanu’s forgettable Ammavin Kaipesi.
2013: Aarambam, Pandiya Naadu, All In All Azhagu Raja
If only one film clicked in 2012, the following year was fairly safer with two films working well at the box office. Aarambam brought Ajith back with his Billa director Vishnuvardhan, although it wasn’t the sequel. It had hit songs and a few extremely popular mass sequences to make it a safe hit for makers. Actor Vishal made his Deepavali debut with Pandiya Naadu, directed by Suseenthiran. A well-written thriller, the film performed better than expectations and positive word of mouth helped improve on its opening figures.
2014: Kaththi, Poojai
There was a lot of hype surrounding the film that brought A.R. Murugadoss back with Vijay. What added to this was the fact that Anirudh was going to score music for Vijay for the first time and that the makers were attempting another double-role for the star after ATM. All these factors seemed to help big time and this became a huge hit with the film getting remade in other industries. Poojai, on the other hand, wasn’t as successful even though it had Vishal coming off the success of Pandiya Naadu and Naan Sigappu Manithan and Hari after Singam 2.
2015: Vedhalam, Thoongavanam
The success of Vedhalam is perhaps the reason why every Ajith film, directed by Siruthai Siva since has had a title beginning with the letter ‘V’. It was his second film with Siva after Veeram and the second to repeat the success as well. With viral songs and great masala moments, it was a hit that gave the makers all the time and money to make Vivegam next. After Aalavandhan, Kamal too returned with a Deepavali release. A remake of the French film Nuit Blanche, the film followed the events around one night set in and around one night club. It was a relatively smaller film for the star and he hasn’t yet had a Deepavali release since.
2016: Kodi, Kashmora
There were no Ajith or Vijay releases this year and it turned out to be a disappointment for the trade as well. Dhanush’s Kodi, with him in a double role was the clear winner with great songs and a killer twist. The bigger budget Kashmora starring Karthi, had all the pre-release buzz going for it. But the final film proved very different from what was assured during promotions and it ended up being a massive disappointment.
2017: Mersal, Meyaadha Maan
Atlee and Vijay too became a big brand with Mersal after their superhit success Theri. Everything got bigger this time with three heroines, three Vijays, A.R. Rahman’s music and the backdrop of a medical thriller. Some parts clicked and some didn’t but the star’s fans seemed to be happy. Meyaadha Maan, a low-key comedy gradually grew on the audience to become a much-loved hit, the other release of the season.
Although not as successful as their earlier collaborations Thuppaki and Kaththi, there was no one to take on the might of A.R. Murugadoss and Vijay for their third film. This time, the music was by A.R. Rahman and the plot revolved around corruption in the electoral process. It had major action blocks, good villains and a unique concept. The solo release further helped the film be termed a hit.
2019: Bigil, Kaithi
Arguably the best Deepavali for the industry in recent times was when Vijay’s Bigil, his third with Atlee, released along with Karthi’s Kaithi. Both films were declared big hits and the success of both films helped the industry sustain momentum during a dull phase. Kaithi’s director would go on to make Master with Vijay and Atlee is said to be making his next with Shahrukh Khan. It’s also one of those rare instances where audiences ended up watching both films in the theatre, instead of choosing to wait for a television premiere.
The last two years have seen Deepavali releases happening on OTT platforms with Suriya’s Soorarai Pottru being the biggest release in 2020 on Amazon Prime Video. Other releases that season were RJ Balaji’s film Mookuthi Amman,starring Nayanathara and Santhanam’s Biskoth and the A-rated comedy Irandam Kuthu. In 2021, there is much anticipation with big Deepavali releases in theatres with Annaatthe and Enemy and continued to have OTT releases—Jai Bhim and MGR Magan. Will it be a Thalaivar Deepavali after a quarter century and will every film find its own space in the new model where OTT releases run alongside theatrical films?