Unlike in the Eighties, now there are no multiple releases awaiting Deepavali. Ajith takes Aarambham to the winning post

Deepavali used to be a time for wild celebrations, especially for film fans in Tamil Nadu in the eighties. There would be at least ten releases starting from Rajni and Kamal starrers to Prabhu, Karthik and ‘Kokila’ Mohan down to Murali. Films were planned with the festival of lights as the deadline for release. There was no talk of too many releases and very few screens. Stars considerd competitors as box-office rivals rather than born enemies. There would always be a dark horse that would outrun a film starring a marquee name. The busiest man would be Ilaiyaraja. He would have churned out chartbusting songs for most of the releases but producers would wait patiently for him to allot dates for the background score. The prolific maestro would not take more than a couple of days for each film but his score would enhance the most mundane of sequences. The films were mostly about romance or revenge and both were lapped up with equal fervour.

Times have changed. Films are planned so there will not be a clash of stars. They are released in the maximum number of screens. The idea is to rake it in riding on the star’s ability to draw his fans during the festival weekend. Ajith undoubtedly commands the kind of initial craze that’s the envy of most others. Referred to by the sobriquet ‘Thala’ he’s adored by fans of both genders. This Deepavali his release ‘Arrambam’ was eagerly awaited. Like in the hugely popular ‘Mankatha’ he sports his George Clooney look. ‘Arrambam’ starts well. SUVs silently sneak into the basement parking lots of commercial complexes in Mumbai. The boot is opened and bombs are activated. A figure turns in slow motion and the crowd goes berserk. Strangely fans no longer whistle. Applause is now an ear-splitting shriek. Hero calls the cops and warns them because he wants to destroy the buildings not innocent lives. Tacky VFX shows concrete crumbling. Hero turns in slow motion, dons shades and swaggers nonchalantly. The shrieking touches a crescendo. Is he a bad guy? Of course not. He’s a former cop from an anti-terrorist unit. He’s out to destroy the khaki-khadi nexus that approved faulty bullet-proof jackets resulting in the death of his pal. You have the hero kidnapping a hacker and his girlfriend too just to keep him on his toes. So you embark on a visual journey of thrills and a few frills. Ajith is the cool dude which means you don’t see him professing love or serenading the heroine. It’s the kind of film that would have failed with any other star.

The other release I watched is the insufferable and seemingly interminable ‘All In All Azhagu Raja’. After a dazzling debut in the riveting ‘Paruthi Veeran’ Karthi’s ascent was keenly watched. It was an uncharacteristic role to choose for a star son so you thought here was an adventurous actor with some semblance of script sense. It was rumoured that it was very difficult for him to approve of a story. He would have many sittings before signing on the dotted line. You doubt all that after watching his latest release. Touted as a rib-tickler you end up squirming at the utterly asinine ongoing. The characterization -- be it the lead pair, their respective parents or the comedian is unbelievably hollow. Santhanam is on a roll so you have him in nearly every frame the hero appears in. When he’s not wisecracking he cross dresses to attract an aging lecher and even appears as his own father in a seemingly never ending flashback. Kajal Agarwal looks gorgeous but plays a girl with a singing voice that gives you goose bumps but thinks she’s S. Janaki’s successor. This is just like director Rajesh thinking he’s made a rip roaring comedy. The most attractive thing about watching the film was the exit sign below the screen. The film is the box-office disaster that it deserves to be. There was more noise that anything remotely resplendent this Deepavali. You always hope the next will be better.