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It’s Suriya vs. Vikram this Pongal

All eyes are on the big festive weekend

Pongal has been the biggest festival season for Tamil films for a long time. A few decades ago, the real test for any big hero was to have a Pongal release and compete with half a dozen other hero films. Back in those days, films had a limited release across the State in select screens. This meant that a superhit Pongal film would take seven to eight months to cover the entire State.

Today, in stark contrast, only two biggies and one smaller film can be accommodated in the 1,000-plus screens across the State. The business of cinema has changed in the digital era, with a big release in 450 to 550 screens throughout the State. And the life of an average grosser is just one week, and a hit may run for two weeks and later be restricted to just a few shows. The idea seems to be to make maximum money in the shortest time possible from theatricals and move on to digital platforms.

For Pongal 2018, the initial list of releases was eight, but this has now come down to three. The three that have finally made it to the Pongal box-office are Suriya’s Thaanaa Serndha Koottam, Vikram’s Sketch and Prabhu Deva’s Gulaebaghavali. All three are slated for release this Friday, and the majority of screens will be divided between TSK and Sketch, as there is a lot riding on them. In Chennai and in key single screens across Tamil Nadu, both these biggies are sharing screens, and depending on the clout of the distributor, some screens have devoted all shows to a single film.

A leading single-screen owner in Madurai district said: “A few years back, due to limited release, almost all festival releases used to get the same number of screens, but now, due to wide release, most screens are playing multiple films and business is getting divided. Today, the situation is such that even on normal weekends, films are unable to get a solo release. The Pongal winner will take over all screens after the opening weekend, making it a big gamble.”

There is also stiff competition from Pawan Kalyan’s Telugu film Agnyaathavaasi, releasing today in a record 150 screens in Tamil Nadu, something huge for a Telugu film that normally releases in 60-75 screens. Theatres in non-Telugu areas are also playing the film as a filler for two days, before the Pongal releases hit screens on Friday.

A worrying factor for the producers and distributors behind the Pongal releases is that they have only a two-week clear window before they are replaced by newer films on January 26. For the first time in many years, six Tamil films are eyeing the Republic Day weekend release; they are Jayam Ravi’s Tik Tik Tik, Anushka’s Bhaagamathie, Aravind Swamy’s Bhaskar Oru Rascal, Udhayanidhi’s Nimir, Vijay Sethupathi-Gautham Karthik’s Oru Nalla Naal Paathu Solren and Shanmuga Pandian’s Madura Veeran. Add to that Akshay Kumar’s Padman and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s controversial Padmavat (likely to have a Tamil dubbed version) and theatres have a wide choice to choose from.

Theatres across Tamil Nadu say footfalls have fallen drastically in the last six months, after new ticket rates and GST were introduced. Another major blow has been people switching over to their mobiles and tabs to watch the latest films legally via various platforms. And to add to the woes of the film industry, the ongoing bus strike has caused a drop in collections in rural areas. The Pongal films should hopefully bring back the audiences to the theatres; at the moment, Suriya’s TSK has an edge, as it is releasing in more screens and is leading the advance booking race in Chennai.

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Printable version | May 25, 2020 2:47:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/its-suriya-versus-vikram-this-pongal/article22403919.ece

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