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(ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII NO. 21, February 16-28, 2013
Tamil films – alive and kicking
By T.N. Ashok

It is only one of two Tamil movies to cross the Rs.100 crore mark. And it did in quicker time. I am talking about A.R. Murugadoss' Thuppakki.

For sure, Sun Pictures Enthiran made by Shankar stays the all-time top grosser for both Tamil and Hindi films at over Rs.375 crore against a budget of Rs.160 crore. Thuppakki was made on a slimmer budget because it was shot wholly in Chennai and Mumbai. Speaking of the success of Thuppakki, Murugadoss, who incidentally is the first director to have any film cross the Rs.100 crore mark with Ghajini in Hindi, said: "I am happy and I now look forward to Rs. 200 crore collections."

Thuppakki has a racy story that takes the hero, military intelligence officer, Vijay, on a roller coaster ride in Mumbai while uncovering a terrorist plot and bringing the mastermind down. All this while on a holiday in Mumbai to get married. The film's success has prompted Murugadoss to look for a sponsor to re-make the film in Hindi with Akshay Kumar as the hero.

Today, be it Hindi or Tamil, films get to know in four days flat whether they would make a killing, or break even or go down the tube. Shrewd marketing techniques coupled with additional outlays on advertising and promotion are the keys to ensure the producer not only recoups his investment but also makes a good profit.

While Hindi movies have a pan-India appeal, Tamil films are regional and appeal only to a limited audience. So if a Tamil film makes Rs.100 crore in the first four days of the week worldwide, it's an extraordinary achievement.

* * *

Let's look at some of the top grossers of Tamil cinema in the last two years. Barring Thuppakki and Enthiran, no Tamil film has breached the Rs.100 crore mark in collections. However, quite a few have come close to it and made bumper profits.

The biggest success was Singam made by director Hari for Reliance Big Pictures and Studio Green. Against a modest investment of Rs. 15 crore, it raked in a whopping Rs.65 crore. Only two other films – AVM Studios' Ayan made by director K.V. Anand, about diamond smuggling from Africa to India, and Sivaji Films' Chandramukhi starring Rajnikanth as a psychiatrist cracking a mystery about a woman who is possessed (Bhool Bulaiya in Hindi) – made huge returns for the producers. While Ayan netted Rs.60 crore against an investment of Rs.15 crore, Chandramukhi made Rs.65 crore against an investment of Rs.25 crore, the only real major cost being actor Rajnikanth's fees.

Some top grossers in Tamil invested heavily to get returns: Kamal Haasan's Dasavatharam earned Rs.94 crore against an investment of Rs.60 crore as it was shot in the USA. Red Giant's (owned by DMK supremo Karunanidhi's son Alagiri and grandsons) Ezhaam Arivu (7th Sense) made by Murugadoss earned only Rs.90 crore against a large investment of Rs. 80 crore, major costs being accounted for by location shooting in China and Thailand besides actor Surya's fees. Venkat Prabhu's Mangatha, a masala movie that pandered to Ajit's fans, made by Cloud 9 Movies, made Rs.68 crore against an investment of Rs.30 crore. Shankar's Anniyan, about a schizophrenic out to rid society of corruption, earned for Oscar Films Rs. 56 crore against an investment of Rs. 38 crore. And Velayudham by M.R. Raja, also for Oscar Films, made Rs.60 crore against an investment of Rs.45 crore.

These films show that like Bollywood, Kollywood has entered a new phase where shrewd marketing techniques and gimmicks ensure a film's success at the box office.

* * *

For long, the film industry was not eligible for bank loans as it was not an organised industry. Overseas markets were not developed. The multiplex and mall culture were absent. Only the single theatre concept existed. Producers had to borrow at high rates of interest from usurious money-lenders and sometimes from dubious sources to finance their films. A film had to do 100 days at the box office to ensure investor returns.

Until recently, the Hindi and the Tamil film industry also produced films only for local audiences and had to pack features that attract audiences to the single theatres which usually had seating capacity of 700 to 1000 with three tier ticketing including a balcony.

A seemingly cumbersome way to make money, the producer would sell the film outright to distributors who took the risk and bought space from exhibitors (owners of cinemas) to run a film and recover the costs.

All this has changed drastically and dramatically. With the advent of private TV channels in the early 1990s, both Bollywood and, in particular, Kollywood, run on single theatre concept, almost died. That was, until the smart operators woke up to use the same media to their advantage. Today, a Hindi or a Tamil film with an average budget of, say, Rs. 50 crore will spend at least Rs.15 crore on promotion.

How is this done? In several ways: FM Radio channels run promos of films and contests to popularise a film. TV channels run previews and promos for at least a one month run-up to build public popularity. More recently the Rs.100 crore club stars Salman Khan and Aamir Khan appeared as part of the cast or did talk shows with popular TV serial actors to promote their films. Dabbang and Talaash were promoted this way. Aamir Khan joined the CID cast in Sony TV to solve a crime.

Film makers also use social media such as Facebook or YouTube to promote their films as the younger generation is hooked to the Internet. Some present road shows for their films. The result, a film is well-hyped before its release. Since the multiplex concept has increased seat availability with multiple shows, most films break even or make stupendous profits in the first week of release, instead of waiting for the 100-day run to rake in the moolah from, say, 1000 theatres in India and an overseas audience in Europe and North America, West and South Asia which ensures that the cost of production is not only covered but a hefty margin of profit is also made. Today, a two-week run is enough for a film to successfully earn huge money for its makers.

Another aspect of marketing is that the audio launch of the film much before its release and trailers of the film beamed on the 100 odd channels day in and day out, rousing audience curiosity and attendance in the first week for a houseful show.

The multiplex culture has also led to a healthy trend of new genre of films which were never experimented with earlier by the box office mandarins. The Tamil film industry can boast of new-comers like Murugadoss, Vetri Maran, Mishkin, K.V. Anand, Selva Raghavan, Bala and Venkat Prabhu who have tackled bold themes in their films. Murugadoss has made a name for himself as the king of box office. Mishkin has tackled bold themes in Yuddham Sei (Let's Battle), and Mugamoodi (Masked hero capers). Gautam Menon has perfected love story themes well with Vinnaithandi Varuvaya, Neethane En Pon Vasantham and Minnale and Bala has entered the psychotic world with Pithamagan and Naan Kadavul. Venkat Prabhu has entertained audiences with thrillers such as Saroja and Mangatha, one about a kidnapping and another about a heist by ex-cops and hoodlums of a truck loaded with dollars that come in for aiding cricket betting.

The point is that new genres of films have succeeded because of new marketing techniques or their true to life themes or on account of events. There is a thin line between art and commercial films these days as art films are turned into commercial success by makers through the new avenues of promotion.

Economic reforms, multiplex cultures, growth of 18-40 age group audience, organised financing, satellite TV and burgeoning NRI audiences have bolstered an industry which many thought was dying a few years ago. (Courtesy: Industrial Economist)

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In this Issue

A crawl to list heritage sites
Now, a glass-fronted building in the heart of heritage!
Tamil films – alive and kicking
First Indian doctor with foreign degree
From kanji thotti hospital to one of excellence
Oh, for those gardens!
'Pop' goes the soap bubbles

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your Diary
Babu's Toon


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