Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan has been a long time in the making. The period project, which is based on Tamil literary legend Kalki’s novel series of the same name, has been on many directors' wish lists for over 60 years now. And when the adaptation finally hit the theatres this Friday, it stormed the Tamil and overseas box office records. The film went on to make ₹200 crores worldwide in its opening weekend, and enjoyed the biggest ever opening day gross for Tamil cinema worldwide, collecting ₹80 crores on Friday. And according to tweets by trade experts, the film has now entered the ₹100 crore club in Tamil Nadu as of Tuesday.
Entertainment tracker and columnist Sreedhar Pillai looks at the domestic and overseas numbers for the film as extraordinary. Out of the 200 crores, a half of it is said to be collected from the overseas market, with the film enjoying huge opening day numbers in countries such as the US, UK and Australia. “That is the most fantastic sign of a mega blockbuster. It has crossed around 4 million US dollars, and one million Australian dollars in Australia,” says Pillai, who attributes this success purely towards the strength of the film’s subject and the Tamil diaspora.
Kalki’s novel series, which was originally published in the early Fifties, rose to popularity and amassed fans for its unique and refreshing take on the Chola kingdom, a Tamil dynasty that was at its peak during the mediaeval period. The book, which traces the events that lead up to Arulmozhi Varman becoming the emperor Raja Raja Chola I, is said to sell over 1,00,000 copies every year. It is this special place that the book has among the Tamilians world over, that has helped clinch its place in the box office too, according to experts.
“No other hero in Tamil would ever get this kind of opening. Because with this movie, the subject is bigger than the star. For a particular star's film, the actor's fandom will contribute to the opening day collection. Here, we have Vikram, Karthi and Jayam Ravi, who are stars. But the opening day collection is because of Mani Ratnam sir's lure and the subject,” Pillai notes.
Producer and film historian G Dhananjayan adds that the film’s success has also brought about a major shift in how we look at target audiences in the context of the box office.
“We are not talking about a youth oriented film such as a Bigil (2019), a Vikram (2022) or even a Beast (2022). We (makers) usually target the younger crowd, who make up 70 per cent of the audience. But the rest of the 30 per cent hardly go to the theatre to watch a movie. This film brought back the 70-year-olds to the cinemas. That is a big shift. If you give them a film that evokes nostalgia and takes them back to their roots, they are willing to come to the theatre. So, it opens up a new market. That is why the film is achieving such record numbers in three days,” he says. The film’s success also heralds an interest for big ensembles, the producer points out.
“Look at the success of Vikram. It didn’t work just because of Kamal Haasan. The sensation was watching a film which included actors such as Vijay Sethupathi, Fahadh Faasil and Kalidas Jayaram. This is something that excites the audiences. These are also reasons why Bahubali and RRR worked. You cannot mount such big films with just one artist.”
While the film has done phenomenal numbers in the Tamil Nadu and overseas markets, its launch has been lukewarm at best in the North Indian belt. The film got dubbed releases in Hindi, Telugu and Malayalam apart from its original release in Tamil. And according to a report in Koimoi, PS 1 Hindi has collected around 7.35 crores in its first three days of release.
The film is doing its best numbers in Tamil Nadu because the story is inherently rooted to Tamil culture and sensibilities, Pillai says. “And it is doing its next best numbers in Kerala. Its Hindi and Telugu versions are faring average. This is because there is a tendency there to compare it with films such as RRR.” Films such as SS Rajamouli’s Bahubali (2015), RRR (2022) and Prashanth Neel’s KGF (2018) are films that have been able to break barriers and shake box office records across the country. But the comparison is also unfair, points out Dhananjayan.
“Bahubali and KGF deal with universal concepts with fictional stories, which can be related to by people everywhere. But you cannot expect everyone to relate to a rooted Tamil film like Ponniyin Selvan. The movie primarily talks about the conflicts between the Cholas and Pandyas. For them, this conflict might seem very native to the Tamil region. So, even though it is a pan India release or film, it is a native film. So, you cannot expect it to do well in Hindi or Telugu,” he says.
Film exhibitor Akshaye Rathi looks at the film’s Hindi revenue as encouraging. “It is a decent number considering the fact that Ponniyin Selvan is one of the most iconic works of literature coming out of Tamil Nadu. But having said that, the awareness around it in the Northern parts of the country is almost close to negligible. Considering that, most people who have gone in for the movie in the Northern part, have gone in without knowing the existence of the literary work. They have gone in for the scale, splendour, cast and storytelling. I really hope that in the days to come, the word around this movie and its storytelling really spreads,” he says.
There are also very few Tamil films that have been able to cross over in a massive way to the Hindi-speaking belt, Rathi observes. “The last one I remember is Rajinikanth's 2.0 (2018). It had Rajinikanth and Akshay Kumar and explored a subject that is potentially appealing to every demographic across the country. But I do think that a Mani Ratnam film of this scale could have potentially done even better. I really hope the promotions of the existence and importance of this movie really hit the ground.”