Cinema

Return of the native

Dhiulukku Dhuddu  

The cornerstone of Tamil commercial cinema has always been the B and C markets. Tamil cinema content, from the 60s to the late 90s, was tailor-made for this market—there were then more theatres in these centres than in urban areas. The A centre was limited to Chennai and Coimbatore city areas, which hardly mattered at a time when distributors called the shots. Films were made to cater to the sensibilities of B (semi-urban) and C (rural) audiences. The life span of a hit movie extended up to 10 months, when its reels reached the touring talkies circuit. . Piracy too was largely unheard of until VCRs and VCPs invaded the villages in the late 1980s. Distribution was then controlled by regional satraps, who also financed films.

It all changed in the early 2000s when film screening became digital and internet grew. With films getting shot in digital cameras and the resultant disappearance of projectors and prints, a lot of rural theatres shut down. The rise of multiplexes, especially in the last five years, have seen a new breed of urban directors taking over Tamil cinema. The content of Tamil cinema has changed with filmmakers trying to attract the 3 Cs—Chennai, Chengalpet, Coimbatore—and the growing overseas audiences.

However, this year, Vijay’s blockbuster Theri, Sivakarthikeyan’s Rajini Murugan, Vishnu Vishal’s Velainu Vandhutta Vellaikaaran, Santhanam’s Dhilluku Dhuddu and Vijay Sethupathi’s Dharma Durai, have shown that B and C markets in Tamil Nadu are alive and kicking. The Jiiva-Nayantara-starrer Thirunaal also did good business outside of urban areas. The film saw higher footfalls in the traditional B and C markets of Salem, North and South Arcot, rural Tiruchy and Madurai areas.

Says producer P. Madan of Escape Artists, “The B and C markets are making a comeback. My film Varuthapadatha Valibar Sangam’s distributor share was as good in the B and C markets as it was in the 3 Cs. The new-age Tamil film director cannot ignore these traditional markets that are all set to bounce back.”

The trade, however, is clear that what works in the A centre might not work at all in the B and C centres. Joker, despite its theme revolving around the need for toilets in rural areas, worked much better in urban stations.

Actor, director and producer Sasikumar, who makes films set against rural milieus, is betting big on his new release Kidaari, set in Sattur. Kidaari’s distribution rights for rural areas sold like hot cakes and it also got minimum guarantee from certain screens. Sasikumar says, “Rural films are my comfort zone and Kidaari is no exception. I look for scripts and new directors who have content that will appeal to all audiences, but with a special emphasis on small-town and rural audiences. B and C audiences identify with the feelings of my characters more than city audiences. That has been my strength.”

Theatres across B and C stations are now renovating—adding more screens, and bringing in push-back seats, new sound systems, 2K screening and air-conditioning. These theatres, after renovation, become eligible to increase their admission rates and can call themselves multiplexes.

Tirupur Subramaniam, a leading distributor and exhibitor, says, “The audiences are coming back to the theatresin rural areas, with screens getting renovated. There is a lot of potential in having many screens in rural areas, where cinema still remains the most popular form of entertainment.”

Another reason we’re seeing higher footfalls is because of the slowdown in the purchase of new films by Tamil television channels, which ensure films take a long time to be telecast on TV.

Tamil filmmakers, meanwhile, are trying to appeal to supporting actors, who command a large fan following in rural areas. Posters of Vishal’s Kaththi Sandai, for instance, shows Vadivelu being given more prominence, in comparison with Soori. Says a theatre owner from rural Salem area, “I was surprised to notice good occupancy during the weekend for Goundamani’s recent film, Enakku Veru Engum Kilaigal Kidayathu. There is a huge difference between the taste of audiences in rural and urban areas.”

It is clear that a lot of directors and stars have their eyes on B and C audiences. Vishnu Vishal and Suseenthiran’s next, Maaveeran Kittu, is set against a rural backdrop. Suriya is likely to sign up with Muthaiah, who specialises in making rural subjects. There are also plenty of rumours that Vijay’s next film, directed by Bharathan, is a rural subject.

Bollywood cinema may not have any real B and C centres, and hence, don’t need to make films keeping them in mind. But Telugu and Tamil cinema still have them, and what’s more, they are experiencing a resurgence.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 4:32:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/Return-of-the-native/article14621844.ece

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