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The mother of all biggies

With a whopping Rs. 26.38-cr budget, "Anniyan" is the biggest South Indian film ever. SREEDHAR PILLAI crunches the numbers

SCENE-STEALERS Vikram and Sada in "Anniyan"

The last of the summer blockbusters, "Anniyan," touted as the most expensive South Indian film ever, costing Rs 26.38 crores, releases worldwide this Friday (so does the dubbed Telugu version "Aparichitudu") with 400 prints. Directed by Shankar, the film features Vikram, Sada, Prakash Raj and Vivek. It has foot-tapping music by Harris Jayaraj, top line technicians such as cameraman Manikandan and Ravi Varman, editor V.T Vijayan, art director Sabu Cyril and action choreographer Peter Haynes. Oscar Films is one of the leading production houses in Tamil and is headed by Ravichandran Viswanathan who has produced "Anniyan".

`Oscar' Ravi, as he is popularly known in the industry, is a daring risk taker and has produced about 15 films most of them being hits. Ravi started as a small time distributor in the NSC area based in Vellore in the early 1980s and used to buy all action Hollywood films and distribute them there. He was the pioneer in popularising Jackie Chan movies in Tamil Nadu and later started buying these films directly from producers in Hong Kong.

In the mid-1990s, he took over the distribution of Vijay's "Kathalukku Mariyathai" for entire Tamil Nadu. It turned out to be the biggest blockbuster that year. Ravichandran never looked back after that and got into Tamil film production and distribution in a big way. As a producer, `Oscar' Ravichandran knows the cinema business in Tamil Nadu at the grass root level and exhibitors all over the State have immense faith in his ability to deliver. The trade says he knows the pulse of the audience and can spot a hit.

Biggest challenge

Now, Ravi is facing the biggest challenge of his life, to make the Rs. 26.38-crore "Anniyan" a profitable venture. The trade says that he is crazy to make a film on such a huge budget (see box), as Tamil films are a poor second to Hindi films in India. A big budget Shah Rukh Khan film like "Veer Zaara", made at Rs. 25 crores, is said to have done Rs.70 crores business with almost 50 per cent of its box-office takings from overseas. A superstar Tamil film (other than Rajnikanth's "Chandramukhi") has the potential to garner only Rs. 20 to Rs. 25 crores from domestic and overseas theatrical, satellite, audio and other rights and that too if the film is a super hit. Unlike other producers, `Oscar' Ravichandran does not like media attention and is the only producer in India who never attends even his own `muhurats' or filmi functions. He is extremely low profile and refuses to be photographed.

Sitting in his modest office in Ashok Nagar, Ravichandran says: "My passion is movie making and marketing. I want to see that `Oscar Films' continues to be a leading production house in the country and with films like "Anniyan" we are going to be a brand". "Anniyan" is the first film in South India to get institutional finance of Rs. 9.5 crores from the IDBI, the first Tamil film to be insured for Rs. 29.5 crores and above all, the accounting during the film making was done the corporate way.

Says Ravichandran: "All payments to artistes, technicians and production were made through cheques and there was no black money involved as you can see from my accounts which augurs well for the future and corporatisation of the industry." When questioned about the viability of such a big budget film in Tamil, his reply is: "My faith and confidence in Shankar, Vikram and the script of `Anniyan' made me produce it". Once the film started, funds started flowing in from IDBI and he could mop up Rs. 12 crores from theatres in Tamil Nadu as Minimum Guarantee (MG) and advance.

But what has created a shock wave in the conservative Tamil film trade is that Ravichandran has not sold a single area of the film and is directly releasing it. In Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and even abroad, he has got MGs from third parties. Says Ravi: "It shows the confidence that I have in my project. Like S.S.Vasan did for "Chandralekha" or James Cameron did for "Titanic", I have put everything into `Anniyan'."

The shrewd businessman that he is, Ravi knows that by selling out, he will not get his price and recover his cost of production. Business trends in Tamil Nadu indicate an upswing in box-office collections over the past year, ever since the State Government slashed entertainment tax and carried out a crackdown on video piracy. Today, "Chandramukhi", the blockbuster is reported to have collected over Rs. 20 crores in 50 days from Tamil Nadu theatrical rights alone, while an average film like "Sachein" collected over Rs.1 crore from Chennai city in 35 days. So the trade feels if "Anniyan" opens big, investors (theatres) can be assured of a quick recovery and `Oscar' Ravi will be on the road to success within 10 days of the release! Adds Ravi: "I have to thank the State Government for its cinema policy which has made film making viable." The trade pundits are predicting that "Anniyan" will take a bumper opening at the box-office as tickets are priced at Rs. 80 and Rs. 90 in the city. (On Tuesday, when advance booking started, tickets were sold out for a week in most theatres.)

Ravi signs off: "If you are hardworking and have a passion for your job nothing is impossible."

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