Novel content, presentation and treatment are the mantras for box-office successes today.

The year 2006 has been a landmark one for Tamil Cinema. Exactly 100 films have been released by December 29, out of which at least 23 have been profitable. Most of the hits are low-budget movies with up-and-coming actors and technicians. This has come about because of the Tamil Nadu Government's path-breaking decision to exempt films with Tamil titles from the entertainment tax. It has had a big impact because theatres (mainly in cities), which had earlier refused to screen Tamil films, have suddenly backtracked as they are more profitable. Added to that Tamil cinema has become popular in the neighbouring States of Karnataka and Kerala and have a huge dubbing potential in Andhra.And after Mumbai, Kodambakkam is the second most popular export earner among Indian films. Today there is a great demand for Tamil films worldwide, mainly due to Sri Lankan Tamils.

Damp squib

Though the industry is superstar-driven, formulaic films with superstars turn out to be damp squibs but those with innovative content and presentation click at the box-office. The message is loud and clear — stars alone cannot make a film a hit, but a novel script and presentation matter. In a way, the new trend of content-driven films with attractive packaging and essential commercial ingredients show that Tamil films have come of age. The audiences have also matured as they have become more script-conscious and are not willing to accept a film just for the sake of a hero. They were willing to accept Vadivelu as a hero in `Imsai Arasan 23rd Pulikesi' because its director Simbudevan was able to package the film with all essential ingredients. The story and a song `Vala Meenukum Vilangu Meenukum Kalyanam' made Mysskin's `Chitiram Paesuthadi,' with practically no stars, a super-hit ! Veteran actor-director K.Bhagyaraj introduced his daughter Saranya in a role that suited her and the audience accepted `Parijaatham' and made it a hit. Similarly, director Susi Ganesan's `Thiruttu Payalae,' was noticed for its bold script and he points out: "It is the unexpected twists and turns plus the content and treatment that matter. `Thiruttu Payalae' worked at the box-office due to its daring theme. The sparks between Jeevan and Malavika, both [with] negative shades, made the film different from the usual run-of-the-mill variety.Even star-oriented films which have a novel content and presentation worked wonders at the box-office. The year's biggest blockbuster, Kamal Hassan's `Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu,' has the actor in a very different role, something he has not done before and Gautham Menon's treatment and packaging along with Harris Jayaraj's music clicked. Again, K.S.Ravikumar's `Varalaaru,' is an unusual Ajit film in which he does triple roles with style. What catches the audience's imagination is Ajit's body language, especially the effeminate character he plays, and the director does a good job in providing the correct commercial mix to it. Both `Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu,' and `Varalaaru' turned out to be Kamal Hassan's and Ajit's biggest hits respectively. As leading producer and distributor Oscar Films, V. Ravichandran says: " ... Audiences are on the look out for fresh and innovative ideas and not necessarily stars. I agree that star [-oriented] films take an extraordinary opening but they will not sustain, if the content is not good". A reason for the box-office boom is the opening weekend high admission rates. This has helped many films to collect their cost of production even in the first week. Chennai city, which is the smallest, area-wise, in the trade, generated huge revenues due to high admission rates. Now with the Government slashing the ticket prices by more than 50 per cent, it remains to be seen whether big films will take big openings!

* * *Box-office bonanzasTop 10 grossers: `Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu,' `Imsai Arasan 23rd Pulikesi,' `Varalaaru,' `Chithiram Paesuthadi,' ` Unakkum Enakkum,' `Thimiru,' `Thalai Nagaram,' `Thiruttu Payalae,' `Em Magan,' `Dishum.' Profitable ones: `Thambi', `Kokki', `Kovai Brothers', `Pattiyal', `Paerarasu,' `Parijaatham' and `E.' `Thiruvilaiyaadal Aarambham' has shown signs of becoming a super hit. Song of the year: "Vala Meenukum Vilangu Meenukum Kalyanam... " sung by Gana Ulaganathan for the film `Chithiram Paesuthadi.' ( Based on the box-office collections and the cost of the film as per trade reports from producers, distributors and exhibitors in Tamil Nadu).