Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Marvel’s first post-pandemic theatrical release with an Asian actor in the lead, not only revived the big studios’ fading faith in theatrical exhibition, it is also helping to keep the box office business afloat in Tamil Nadu. The Simu Liu-starrer had managed to bring bigger crowds to theatres compared to Tamil originals, Laabam and Thalavii, which were exclusively released in theatres last week.
Vijay Sethupathi’s Laabam and Kangana Ranaut-starrer Thalavii did not help the cause of theatre exhibitors in Tamil Nadu at a time when the local producers are increasingly opting for an OTT-first approach to their new movies. “Conjuring 3, Fast and Furious 9, Shang-Chi, Malignant, they definitely helped. Hindi movies don’t work in single screen theatres other than multiplexes. Last Friday, Laabam collections were better than Thalaivii even as Thalaivii is better content wise. It is because of Vijay Sethupathi’s face value,” Rakesh Gowthaman, owner of Vettri Theatres in Chennai, told indianexpress.com.
The exhibitors and trade experts acknowledge that Thalaivii offers better content than Laabam. However, they feel Kangana Ranaut’s image as an outsider may have affected the box office prospects in Tamil Nadu. “According to the Tamil audience, Thalaivii is a dubbed movie,” reasoned Rakesh.
Thalaivii, which is based on the times and struggles of late political giant J Jayalalithaa, did not evoke as much excitement among the audience as expected by the filmmakers. “Thalavii is a film about a Tamil leader. And the audience was not able to relate Jayalalitha to Kangana, even though she has performed very well. They were able to easily connect with Aravind Swami. They could see him as MGR but they couldn’t see Kangana as Jayalalithaa. That was a big disadvantage for the film,” actor and film journalist Chithra Lakshmanan reasoned.
“Everyone knew Jayalathitaa’s story and it didn’t create any traction among public. Even AIADMK people have not come to watch the film, which has surprised many. In Tamil Nadu, this film’s lifetime gross would be Rs 5 crore at best,” a popular producer and distributor, who did not want to be named, told indianexpress.com. “A lifetime collection of Rs 5 crore means only about 5 lakh people would have watched this film all over Tamil Nadu. And it is not 1 per cent of the state’s population.”
Laabam also didn’t have a strong opening. “When you watch the trailer, you know Labaam is not a film that is going to entertain. I think since the outbreak of Covid, the films that ran successfully in theatres are the ones which delivered maximum entertainment,” Rakesh said.
Rakesh noted that the reception for director James Wan’s Malignant was surprisingly “extraordinary.” He gave the film a try by allowing a single show on the smallest screen of his two-screen theatre. Taken back by the people’s response, he has now moved it to the biggest screen of the theatre.
In normal times, any film that records about 50 per cent occupancy in theatres during weekdays and 100 per cent during weekends is considered a success. With an already exacting cap of 50 per cent occupancy in cinemas owing to the pandemic, every show needs to be house-full for a film to be tagged a hit. And clearly, neither Labaam nor Thalavii falls into this category. “For example, all shows for Master and Karnan were full even during the weekdays,” explained Rakesh.
“Most of the theatre owners were worried, why these films (Thalavii and Laabaam) couldn’t even get a single house-full board,” wondered the producer.
The exhibitors are confident that a good movie that is rich in content, entertainment and has a home-grown star would break the dry spell at the box office for Tamil movies. With Labaam and Thalavii failing to make any real difference to the box office in Tamil Nadu, the exhibitors are hopeful that there will be a significant uptick in the box office collection for Tamil movies from next month.