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Why weekend box-office stars can't make it in 21st century TN politics

January 07, 2019 18:11 IST

Rajinikanth and Kamalahaasan’s new generation movies of the twenty-first century may make bigger money than their earlier films but leave behind a lesser impact.

That would make the difference between their success and failure as politicians, says N Sathiya Moorthy.

IMAGE: Tamil superstar Rajinikanth. Photograph: Courtesy, Rajinikanth's Facebook page

Despite high hopes of Tamil cinema’s superstar Rajinikanth that he would launch his promised political party before the year 2018 was out, it was not to be. He merely whetted his fans’ appetite by acknowledging the planned launch of three television channels, as if they were next in his promised line of preparations for direct entry into electoral politics.

The question is if the end-2018 announcement on the planned launch of TV channels should have taken Team Rajini a whole year, with not much physical preparations having been done thus far. Along with the declaration of intent on the TV channel front, social media has also been naming names for a possible ‘news’ head, but the stake-holders themselves have not said anything on this score.

 

To be fair, even while declaring his intention to enter direct politics on December 31, 2017, Rajinikanth very clearly said that his promised party would be launched only ahead of the state assembly polls of 2021. However, reacting to fan pressure and media queries, he later clarified that they would be prepared to face any election, anytime, with just six months of preparations.

Now, with the Lok Sabha polls due by mid-May, the conclusion is that the Rajinikanth party, whatever the name and standard, is not going to be in the fray. While the fans will stomach it all the same, they would be facing a quandary as to whom should they work for, from among the existing parties and alliances -- if only to sharpen their campaign skills.

The more immediate question is whom should they vote for, or should they vote at all, until the boss is ready with his party.

All this has led to another spurt of social media memes that Team Rajini is talking about TV channels now, only to boost fan interest ahead of his Pongal offering, Petta. Simultaneously, there have also been reports that Rajini is on to signing new films, as if in a feverish pitch, unknown for him over the past two-plus decades.

If Rajini was deliberate in giving long gaps between his films, it owed to the box office dynamics of the time. Those were the days (and not very long ago), when the success of a film was measured in terms of its longevity on first release, and the number of re-releases and the box-office collections in each of those re-runs.

Today, the dynamics has changed, as if overnight. In the Tamil film industry, possibly unknown to him, Rajini ushered it in himself with his Enthiran/Robot. That was when social media sold the film across the country and overseas. The first weekend collection replaced the 100-day run as the benchmark for measuring the success of a film.

This has also meant that fewer footfalls in cinema halls for the same film and same actor over an extended period. Larger the box office success over the short weekends, the ticket price too had to go up. This meant that the film-makers, distributors and exhibitors made money. The film star’s saleability and price also went up. 

The alternative for a politically-ambitious star would then mean that he had to act in more films over short time-frames, so as to ensure that more people (read: voters) got to see his films more frequently than the super-stardom of a previous era had commanded.

There is again a hitch -- or, two. One, ‘weekend’ star films would still not come cheap for the film-goer. Rajinikanth’s latest offering, 2.0, a sequel to his Enthiran gate-crasher was a huge success, in technical details and box office terms. Yet, the box office dynamics also ensured that despite possibly being the best 3-D movie produced in the country, and also screened big-time overseas, 2.0 did not have a ‘big opening’ as comparable previous successes like the Baahubali sequels in Telugu, for instance.

Leave aside claims that Tamil film-star Vijay’s Sarkar did better business under some calculations, the fact was that Rajini’s 2.0 was mostly out of cinema halls across Tamil Nadu before the first month, or possibly the fortnight, was out. This meant that repeat audience of the kind yesteryear star-politicians like M G Ramachandran, or a failed contemporary in Vijayakanth had commanded, was not available to Rajinikanth and his generation, for no fault of theirs.

There are two types of voters who go in for star-politicians. One, who are the actors’ ardent fans, and two, those that become fans of a lesser kind through a repeat-viewing of his/her films. The former is bound by a fan’s inherent tastes and preferences. The latter owes to ‘repeat-viewing’, which means a longer run for films and cheaper ticket prices.

The last two are just not going to happen again in the foreseeable future. If there is a relatively long-run film in any language in the country, especially in high-cost Tamil cinema with its unstoppable pirated releases, they are those that are not competing for ‘big beginnings’ and weekend collections.

Pirates have not left out even biggies’ movies in Tamil, though not so in Hindi and other language segments in the country.  Going by the name ‘Tamil Rockers’, a group of unidentifiable pirates have been hacking not only big-budget movies but also small and critically acclaimed movies, and breaking the back of the industry without care and conscience.

They purportedly claim that the piracy is a continuing warning to the industry, starting with the high-priced stars, to cut down on the cost, as it had made it near-impossible for the common film-goer to pay astronomically high ticket prices at cinema halls. However, despite condemning piracy, as is legitimate, film stars and the rest of the industry have not done anything to cut the production costs, starting with the ‘star price’.

Time used to be when films of yesteryear superstars in MGR and ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan used to run for 100 days, and compete in the number of ‘silver jubilee’ (25 weeks, 175 days) hits that either of them could give in a year, or say two or three. Before their time, Haridas, of actor M K Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, Tamil cinema’s first superstar (with only 13 films), ran for 110 weeks, way back in 1944-46.

But from them all, only MGR and ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan entered politics in a big way, but with differentiated success rates, compared to their competing and mutually complementing film hits. Apart from the do-gooder image of theirs went well with the film-goer of the times (more so in the case of MGR), the long run for their films also made a substantial impact on the public image, and left a lasting image.

That way, in the case of Rajinikanth, and Kamalahaasan, his contemporary, competitor and political adversary, if the former too enters the political arena, their twentieth century movies had longer runs and left a lasting impact on the audience, as films, actors and personalities. In comparison, their new generation movies of the twenty-first century make bigger money but leave behind lesser impact on the personalities of the actors.

That ws not the case where their twentieth century filmi imprints are concerned.

That would make the difference between their success and failure as politicians, if they need to capitalise on their filmi impact from a previous career.

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is director of Observer Research Foundation, Chennai chapter.

N Sathiya Moorthy
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