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Where stars are born

Rajinikanth has been trying to prevent films from being sold at unreasonable prices by middlemen in the NSC area, and it is expected to change with the release of Kabali.  

Until five years ago, North and South Arcot, along with Chengalpet (also known as NSC), garnered almost 45 to 50 per cent of the total theatrical collections of a Tamil film. The area used to extend from the Kathipara junction (within Chennai city) to Tiruppattur in Vellore district, bordering Salem. With Chennai city developing into a metro, Chengalpet area became a suburb. The advent of multiplexes then further changed the film business in this area. Today, North and South Arcot are individual territories, but marketed jointly. In terms of box-office collection, South Arcot grosses slightly higher than North Arcot, with Pondicherry, Cuddalore, and Villupuram being the top collecting centres. And in the North, Vellore, Tiruvannamalai and Gudiyatham see maximum business.

Traditionally, right from the time of MGR, the NSC area has been determining an actor’s star power. Rajinikanth became a superstar and was sought after in the 1990s because of the success of his mass films in this area. Even today, the price at which a star film is sold in NSC determines the ranking of that particular hero.

Third-party business of Rajinikanth films in the 1990s and early 2000 first started in NSC, and this was his goldmine. In short, a distributor paying a huge amount procured the NSC territory as a whole, and started selling it to sub-distributors at an even higher rate. The sub-distributor took MG (Minimum Guarantee) amounts from theatres and made his profit. In some cases, individuals or third parties (mostly fans who were not connected to the business) paid the high MG amounts, expecting to recover the cost by hiking ticket prices illegally. This resulted in huge losses for films like Baba, Kuselan and, more recently, Lingaa.

Rajinikanth has been trying to prevent films from being sold at unreasonable prices by middlemen in the NSC area, and it is expected to change with the release of Kabali.

Today, the business model in the area has changed, as Chengalpet is well-connected to multiplexes in Chennai that refuse to pay MG amounts.

Srinivasan, popularly known as S-Pictures Seenu, a leading distributor and exhibitor, who runs around 60 screens in the North and South Arcot area says, “Like in all other areas in Tamil Nadu, the business of cinema has changed. We do not encourage the payment of MGs anymore. Today, a film releases in 50 to 60 screens in this area, and there are hardly any shifting centres. 60 to 70 per cent of the entire collection of a film comes in the first three days of a film’s opening.”

There is a shortage of theatres in this area, with Cuddalore having only three screens, and thus, small films do not get released here. Seenu adds, “These days, only well-maintained, air-conditioned theatres with proper restrooms and canteens attract viewers. There is also a large number of private educational institutes in this area and this has increased the popularity of Hindi and Telugu films here. Today, content is of prime importance, as films like Sethupathi are having a better return on investment than certain star films. We are releasing Vijay Sethupathi’s Kadhalum Kadanthu Pogum in a record 55 screens in North and South.” With multiplexes being planned in Pondicherry (SPI Cinemas) and Villupuram (which is being negotiated by two major national chains) the market is set to change even further.

Salem was once the B and C heartland of Tamil cinema business. One of the reasons why B and C stations are disappearing here is because they are not well-maintained and collections are meagre.

New multiplex

A leading Salem-based distributor says, “Collections of any film are the lowest in Salem as the condition of many theatres is dismal. The paying capacity of the audiences’ (mainly rural poor) is limited, with some areas still pricing their tickets between Rs. 25 and 30. In some of the shifting cetres in the region, a distributor's share is as low as Rs. 7000 to 10,000.”

But even Salem is changing as more multiplexes are opening in rural Tamil Nadu. Today, the producer of a mass film cannot claim that his film will do better in B and C centres. It is the first three-day opening that matters, as proved recently by Aranmanai 2 and Miruthan. Both these mass films, targeting the so-called B and C audiences, took fabulous openings across all stations, before they lost steam and collections dropped drastically. It’s loud and clear that Tamil Nadu as a whole is now emerging as a single urban market.

(To be continued next week.)

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Printable version | Apr 12, 2021 12:49:37 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/cinema-columns/how-theatres-from-the-north-of-tamil-nadu-have-traditionally-decided-the-fate-of-a-star/article8346003.ece

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