Films with shoe-string budgets are raking in big bucks at the box office

It’s popularly believed that the person in charge of a film’s projection, the operator is the best judge of how a film will fare. He’s privy to when the audience sits on the edge, sinks back or stretches is sheer boredom. If patrons don’t walk out today during songs it’s purely because cigarettes are banned, at least in multiplexes. Previously, if there was a dip in box-office collections during the first week, the operator would use his discretion and snip off scenes which he felt were affecting the smooth flow. Of course they’d first try and convince the director but some makers are so possessive about their product that they’re blind to reason. That’s when the in-house editor steps in with ruthless scissors. . “I’d always advise producers to have a special show for a group of projector operators before the release of a film,” says the manager of a popular theatre. Nobody listened to him and some were surprised and angered to see scenes and probably a song missing in the second week. Now theatre owners who’ve switched over to beaming of films via satellite regret the fact that they can no longer snip at will. Technology does not permit it. Take the example of ‘BulBul’ which has a daunting running time of a little less than three hours. “The film is enjoying a decent run but if it had been reels we’d have snipped off at least twenty minutes, just to make the proceedings snappier,” says the manager. While directors are relieved that their labour of love will remain untouched the paying public will have to endure more than they had bargained for. Operators meanwhile could conduct crash courses in editing for wannabes!

Big is not always beautiful. There have been a slew of Tamil films with shoe-string budgets that are raking in the big bucks at the box-office. It probably started with ‘Chennai 28’ a film about a gang of friends with ‘Galli’ cricket as the backdrop. Sashikanth who produced the delightful hit, ‘Kadhalil Sodhapuvadhu Eppadi’ feels there’s a paradigm shift. “Small films have always been there. They went unnoticed and were the bane of the film industry. The difference now is that the small films being made are content driven.” Now small and big budgets are relative terms depending on the financial capabilities of the producer. Two crores is big money for a small producer. “Another difference now is that films like ‘Pizza’ are made by passionate directors who’ve made short films,” says Sashi. Balaji Mohan who directed Sashi’s film was the first winner of a short film competition conducted by a satellite channel. In fact, the short film that won the award was expanded into a full length feature. “Youtube has also helped showcase short films,” avers Sashi, who feels it’s an interesting phase in Tamil cinema. These youngsters are mostly engineering college dropouts who’ve not worked as assistants which lends freshness to their films. They watch world cinema and are more influenced by a Tarantino than a Mani Ratnam. The films are irreverent with the youth of today identifying easily with the casual language and easy camaraderie. Everyone is an equal in a gang of friends which is not so when the film stars a marquee name. The characters are emotionally vulnerable and the twists timely and interesting. The films are not technically tacky but more perfunctory. These small films have also spawned stars like Vijay Sethupathy who starred in ‘Pizza’, ‘Naduvule Konjam Pakkatha Kanum’ and the recent ‘Soodhu Kaavum’. He’s known to help strugglers with interesting scripts, is booked for the next couple of years and yes there’s been a quantum leap in his salary. There are also people like Sashi and Udayanidhi Stalin who snap up an interesting film for distribution giving it the deserved promotion. ‘Neram’ directed by Alphonse is the latest hit in this genre. Time seems to be good for Tamil cinema.

sshivu@yahoo.com