Sunday, June 17, 2007

Tamil film Shivaji shows "Who's the boss"

For a long time, Bollywood is the answer when one talks about the Indian film industry. In terms of news, awards, overseas markets, soft exports, number of movies, all of these, Bollywood (Hindi movie land) is the undoubted king. And then comes a sudden time when all this is in doubt. The sudden and fast rise of the latest Rajnikant Tamil movie, 'Sivaji: The Boss' has shown that there are other language movie industries in India that carry their own weight. All the things that I talked about in the beginning of this post are still true, but this movie carries its own facts with it, some of which challenge the dominance of the Hindi film industry.
Consider the following facts about the movie:
- It is the most expensive Indian movie, costing around 95 crores to make. Now this is only $24 million, so is very small by US standards, but is fairly expensive by Indian standards
- Ticket sales are astronomical in India, with movies halls being booked for days on end
- Fan fervour is such that companies have booked halls for their employees on specific days
- The movie is making waves
outside Tamil Nadu, with releases in Mumbai, Karnataka, Delhi, Malaysia and other places such that fans are flocking
There are a number of Indian top notch heroes who would love to be in Rajnikanth's shoes. He is supposed to be charging much more than any Hindi film hero, more than Shahrukh or Amitabh Bachchan. In most cases (with the exception of 1-2 movies in the recent past), his name associated with a movie is enough to bring in crowds who book halls for days on end. He is almost a demi-god to his fans:

They broke pumpkins to ward off evil eyes, lit camphor to perform 'aarti' and bathed gigantic cut-outs of Rajnikant with hundreds of litres of milk. As crackers burst incessantly, the Tamil superstar's fans exhibited their joy by distributing sweets.
For the most expensive film ever made (Rs 95 crore) in the history of Indian cinema, Sivaji's first two days' bookings in just Chennai crossed Rs 3 crore. "It's a smash hit. With such response, it'll have a long run. Our investment will bring back good returns," said C T Valliapan, owner of Kamala Theatre. In Chennai, the film had a 16-screen opening. "We're housefull for the next 14 days," he said.

What is the difference between a Hindi film fan and a Tamil film fan ? This is a very subjective issue, and I invite comments from readers, but my own impression based on experiences in Chennai and outside Chennai are the following:
- Hindi film fans are also very dedicated, but somehow fail to have the same fervor as a Tamil movie fan.
- It's almost like a Tamil film fan can have their opinions (at least politically) run by their stars. As the reign of MGR, Jayalalitha and the power of opinions expressed by Rajnikanth shows, people are far more inclined to follow the commands of their film stars
- There are few Hindi film fans who will go to incredible efforts to reach their stars or watch their movies, the same as a Tamil movie fan would do (for example, when there were reports in the paper about how fans from Chennai flew to Delhi because they were not getting tickets in Chennai, it seemed very believable to me)
- The story goes that Rajnikanth's birthday is an incredible event in Chennai, and I have experienced this myself. On one particular birthday, I remember that people in the office talked about that all day, and in the evening were worried that celebrations in the street would hamper their trip home. I don't think that any film star of the Hindi film industry would excite such kinds of emotions.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:14 AM