Edited excerpts from a Diwali special roundtable interview between Baradwaj Rangan, RJ Balaji and Lokesh Kanakaraj.
At one point in time, for Deepavali, there would be 7-8 releases with a Sathyaraj film, a Kamal film, a Rajini film, a Vijayakanth film and more. Now, the theatre count seems to be a little more in number because of multiplexes but even then, last year for Diwali, it was just Kaithi Vs Bigil. It is almost like only two big films can coexist. At our roundtable, Parthiban had said that audiences will watch big star films at all times but it is filmmakers like him making small films, who need the Diwali, Pongal dates so that audiences will come to theatres to watch them. Do you have a comment on that?
Lokesh: When there are big stars, it is a task to share screens. Mersal and Ratna's Meyaadha Maan released at the same time and the same happened for me when Kaithi and Bigil. Obviously these are star films and there will be an equal split between theatres because no one would want to have a small release with small theatres alone. When Maanagaram got a festive release date, we didn't take it because we did not want to go unnoticed among the major releases and pushed our movie's release. I think this is one of the major reasons involved.
RJ Balaji: When there were seven or eight releases, those films would even have a theatrical run for almost 100-200 days and all of them had space. Now, we don't know if audiences will rush to theaters for more than three days because we are looking at a lifespan of two weeks and if it is a big film like Baahubali, the lifespan could be three weeks. With L. K. G, I wanted it to have a Pongal release and I announced its release date along with Ajith's Viswasam and superstar's Pettah. Initially I was excited about my film releasing with two big films but later we felt that our film might get crushed in between these two films. In Tamil Nadu, we only have 1000 screens. When we release a big film along with a Vijay or Ajith film, the best 700 screens will go to them. The remaining theatres are usually the ones where families can not go and watch a release film. In such a situation, I would rather wait for another date. Even if my film is an extraordinary, experimental one like Parthiban sir's Otha Seruppu, I am not sure that people would want to come and watch my small, experimental film for Diwali. I think people want to celebrate stars on Diwali rather than coming to watch a small film that I may have made.
Maybe even if a small film releases, people would want to go and see a celebration film…
RJ Balaji: Yes, we are used to it. You did not mention Mahanadhi, a cult classic, in the list earlier but you mentioned Guna. Likewise, if there is a small experimental film which is an extraordinary attempt, will I take my family to a film which is sure to make us shed tears or another murder mystery? I would rather go to a film which has four songs, two fights and where I can clap for the hero introduction scene. According to me, even if such films are made and heroes are willing to perform, it will take a long time for our audience to adapt. I remember G. V. Prakash's Darling which released along with two other big films for Pongal had done well. I think it is more about a fair-play market.
Are you a Kamal fan or a Rajini fan?
RJ Balaji: I am a Rajini fan and a hardcore one that too. People ask me to choose between Ajith and Vijay but when I grew up, it was only Rajnikanth. Any film of his is a celebration for me. At the time when Linga released, I had already begun acting in films, and I wanted to watch the FDFS of the film. There is a theatre called Saidai Raj theatre and their first show was at 12 in the night and I remember howling and screaming during the show.
Karthik Subbaraj showed me a lovely thing about Linga. I hadn't liked the film at all and he said that there is actually a personal note from a star to his fans. When I heard that, I went 'wow' because I had not seen that angle coming. He is a diehard fan and the way he described it was amazing.
Lokesh: I have been a diehard Kamal sir fan from childhood and at the same time I was always there to celebrate the first day shows of Rajini sir.
How is your Kamal film coming?
I am writing it, sir.
This should be a careful production following all the rules and won't be like a regular shoot…
Lokesh: It seems like I have to keep all of it in mind while writing the film. Obviously there are restrictions but we should follow them in a way where our creativity and the film is also not affected. We are following all the rules and hoping that things might change soon.
I recently heard that a big filmmaker took his entire unit to a big studio in New Zealand and quarantined the set with nobody coming in and nobody going out. This may not be possible with few production houses in India but Lokesh when you say that you need to consider things when writing the film, what do you mean?
It is exactly what you said now. To go to a set, quarantine everybody and finish a major portion that way. These plans have also become a part of writing now. How much ever protective we may be, we can not restrict the unit from going home. So now, we need to consider all this too.