In all likelihood, 2020 will be the first year without the release of a Vijay film in 20 years (since 1992's Nalaiaya Theerpu). Fans are obviously upset. For them, a Vijay release is a once-in-a-year celebration that's often bigger than festivals. After last year's Deepavali release Bigil, fans expected their celebration to continue within months as Lokesh Kanagaraj's Master was slated for a March release. But with Covid19 swallowing everything in its path, it looks like they will have to wait until next year for the celebrations to begin. Speaking to his hardcore fans and a few industry experts, we gauge the mood as the actor turns 46.
"It's perhaps too early to think about the losses of a film like Master. The loss is mainly for theatre owners who haven't earned anything in months. In the case of Master, one cannot say that it has lost any money yet. Naturally, the producers are paying an amount as interest for the money borrowed and this is likely to add up to a big sum, but that is the major obstacle for the film because the product remains the same no matter what. So one cannot assume that the producer has already lost money.
It's the trade that has been taking a major hit, financially. The loss from theatres alone is close to Rs 100 to 150 crore for each month of the lockdown in Tamil Nadu. Theatres have even shut down and the real impact is yet to become visible. A film like Master will only release when occupancy can go back to normal. It won't risk a release when only 30 per cent attendance is being advised, but I don't see the film taking longer than six months to release. But, before that, there are 80 smaller films that are stuck, and these can release one by one before opening the theatres up for a Vijay or a Rajini film.
And the thing with a film like Master is that an OTT Premiere might not be feasible. The economics are simple. A safe estimation for Master is that it collects Rs 70 crore from Tamil Nadu, Rs 20 crore from Karnataka and Kerala, Rs 20 crore from Telugu and other dubbed National versions and Rs 30 crore from abroad. Now, unless an OTT platform is willing to buy Master, paying close to Rs 120 to Rs 150 crore, it doesn't make any financial sense. So, we have to wait for things to go back to normal, for Master to release big."
Trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai
"Master is an expensive film, which means that its distribution and theatrical release is still very, very important. Its overseas rights alone was close to Rs 30 crore, even though that market is virtually non-existent now. In short, the release of Master will be an indication of how the film business would have changed for good. Vijay, along with Rajini, are still the most powerful stars at the box office, especially outside TN. But their business models will have to be rethought to factor in changes in the business, post-Covid. For starters, we will see an overall reduction in salaries all through the industry. Stars will have to have to take a pay cut, along with technicians. We might even see actors and technicians go back to working for production houses for a monthly salary, emulating the "company artiste" model followed in the early days of theatre and cinema. Also, it will be impossible for films to even dream of the collection they used to get until early this year. Even wider releases seem unlikely, given that hundreds of single screen theatres are not going to make it beyond the pandemic. What all this means, is that budgets, production, scripts, salaries… everything is going to change in the future. From my assumption, a film that cost Rs 10 crore to make will now only become viable if it is made within Rs 4 crore. And until we flatten the curve, the fear is removed and a vaccine is found, it might not make sense to release a film like Master. Given Vijay's popularity, it's as good as opening up the Koyambedu market again.
Even an OTT release won't work because the platforms haven't yet penetrated the B and C markets. That model is only suited for smaller, niche movies. A realistic goal is to expect Master somewhere in the summer of 2021."
"This year, there is no programme for Thalapathy's birthday. We've cancelled all our plans and we are trying to not bring together a crowd during such a time. Our original plan was to hand over the keys of a house we had rebuilt for one of our members. We had even sought the participation of the Collector to hand over the keys, but we've now postponed it to the first of July to avoid crowds and media even though the work is nearly complete.
As his fans, our biggest plans for the year are based on Vijay anna's film release and the celebrations for his birthday. Last year, on his birthday, his Malayali fans had organised 45 re-releases across the State. We would have topped that for sure this year, but there's nothing we can do about it. We are disheartened and all our WhatsApp groups are filled with photos and messages remembering the fun we had last year. What more can we do than change our status and DPs to celebrate his birthday!
The saddest part is that we had huge plans for the release of Master in the beginning of the year. For Sarkar, we had arranged the largest cutout for Vijay Anna until then. For Bigil, we couldn't get the necessary permission, so we wanted to top everything with Master. We had organised and planned everything and were on course to build a massive fortress for Vijay Anna at the maidan nearby. It was going to be 70 feet tall and over 150 feet wide, making it the biggest. No matter when Master releases, we will make sure we go ahead and build it. That's how we show our love for him. Even when a few of us fans were facing issues, Vijay anna has been helping us out. For instance, Rs 5000 was deposited to the accounts of fans who were badly affected by the pandemic. We will not forget that."
"A hall filled with whistles, applause and screams of cheer and high emotion are some of the things you can expect when you go to the cinema to see a Vijay starrer. This happens every year, and usually during a holiday, so you can see families and friends gather in strength to see what their Thalapathy has to offer in his new film. For many, this is also the time to forget and leave all their troubles behind at home, enter a cinema hall and get immersed in the grandeur of their favourite hero. This year, unfortunately, Master's release has been pushed to a later date. When the movie halls do open, one cannot expect the large crowds and screams for a while, due to social distancing norms. There are some films that are meant to be watched on the big screen, for only then do we get the desired 'mass masala' effect. Nowadays, Vijay's films are not just 'masala' entertainers, but also visual treats involving colourful and powerful song sequences. The impact will be less if such films are seen on laptops or mobile phone screens. I personally had plans to watch Master in my hometown of Coimbatore with my friends, with all of us screaming and shouting when Vijay enters the scene, but that plan, and any plan involving a cinema hall, is a distant dream now."
I was very excited that this time, Thalapathy's film was going to release sooner — a six-month wait instead of the usual one year, but I guess God had other plans. It is as bad a feeling as IPL not happening this year and missing out on Thala Dhoni and CSK playing in Chennai. However, it doesn't matter, for once this Covid-19 situation gets better, theatres will open, Master will release, we all will go see it, and it will be a treat. It's just a matter of time.
Master's delay is the worst-ever feeling. We do a lot of things in our life, but at the back of our head, we wait every day for the day when Vijay Anna's film will release. And when we get to find out that it won't release as scheduled and we don't even know when it might release, it is like a void. But, of course, I'd rather wait and watch Master in theatres than see it directly on an OTT platform. I am a big Manchester United fan, and watching a Vijay Anna film in theatres is as exciting as playing with the footballers.