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November 10, 2001
Ready, set, go...
"In those days, we used to have early lunch and then march towards a theatre. Watching a film on Diwali day was as important as bursting crackers early in the morning, buying new clothes and preparing sweets. There used to be films by Sivaji and MGR on the Diwali day. Like in every other house, our household too was always divided into Sivaji loyalists and MGR fans. So, we would decide on which show to see by tossing a coin," 70-year-old Ananthalakshmy reminisces.
After the Sivaji-MGR era, the tussle shifted to Kamal Haasan and Rajnikanth. But, this was before the dawn of satellite television.
With cable television taking over, the traditional theatre outings became a rarity. Another reason for the decline in the number of cine-goers is the exorbitant ticket price.
"Now, to watch a film, one has to spend at least Rs 300 -- Rs 500. That's a considerable amount for a middle-class family. When we have such a feast of entertainment on television during the festival season, who wants to go and stand in a queue to watch a film in a theatre?" Saraswathi, a middle class housewife opines.
There were times when 14 or 15 films were released on Diwali or on Pongal. But gradually they began dwindling swiftly from 12 to seven. This year, only five films will hit theatres on the auspicious day of Diwali.
Film News' Anandan, a veteran film journalist says, "Nowadays, a lot of producers hesitate to release a prestigious films during the festive season. They fear that it will not pull the crowds in with the multitude of television channels. Who wants to go to a theatre? Do you see women in the theatres these days? Nobody wants to even see a preview. The reason... they don't want to miss their favourite daily soap on television!"
Of the five Tamil releases, the highly publicised and most awaited film, is Kamal Haasan's Aalavandhan directed by Suresh Krissna and produced by Kalaipuli Thanu. According to Anandan, "expectations are sky high, it is the costliest film ever made in Tamil." An unprecedented 620 prints of the film will be released throughout India. "When expectations are high, the stakes are also high. You will know whether the film will be a success or not on the first day itself, from the reactions of the public. If the story is no good, the film will flop. No amount of technical finesse can ensure success, only a good story can."
The music of Aalavandhan by Shankar, Loy and Ehsaan did not live up to expectations and has not created any of the required pre-release enthusiasm. The fate of the film will not affect Kamal Haasan's position, with Rajnikanth considering retirement. But, producer Thanu, whose previous Hindi film Nayak was a flop, will be badly hit.
Haasan's last outing Thenali was a big hit but most of the credit was attributed to Jayaram. But, comedies have always found a favourable market in Tamil Nadu, take for example Avvai Shanmughi (Chachi 420 in Hindi).
This time, however, Aalavandhan will put both Kamal Haasan, the actor and Kamal Haasan, the writer to the test.
There is a move to raise the price of the film's tickets in Tamil Nadu from Rs 40 to Rs 70, but film pundits say this is not the wisest move. True, the increase may help recover the producer's costs but the public verdict will be the only deciding factor of the film's success.
A film that could give Aalavandhan, a run for it's money in the rural areas, is the Vijayakant starrer Thavasi. Like Kamal Haasan, Vijayakant also plays a double role in the film alongside Jayasudha and Soundarya. The director of the film is the Telugu director, Udayashankar.
Unlike Kamal Haasan and Vijayakant, Vijay, known as Ilaya dalapathi is the hero of the younger generation. And with his fan following in the rural areas, his film Shahjehan will be a stiff competitor for Vijayakant.
Similarly Madhavan, the darling of the urbanites, could pose a threat to Kamal Haasan. Madhavan stars in K Balachander's 100th film Paarthale Paravasam. Of late, K Balachander has been pumping all his energy and creativity into television serials. He seems to have gone the Hrishikesh Mukherji way. The public today prefers slick productions; they are not interested in social issue based tearjerkers. K Balachander makes a comeback to the silver screen with this, his 100th film. But will the Balachander magic cast its spell yet again? We'll just have to wait and watch.
But the underdog, and the man who could pull off the surprise of the year is Bala. His record as one of the most successful directors of recent times and Sethu puts him in big league. Sethu was a landmark for Tamil cinema and a turning point in actor Vikram’s career. Bala, who prefers a natural look for his film, had Vikram shave his head and lose weight to look like an inmate in a mental asylum.
For his new film Nanda, Bala experiments with the natural look again with his leading pair -- Surya and Laila. According to Anandan, Nanda is a film to watch out for.
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