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Year of the dark horse

SREEDHAR PILLAI

The first half of 2006 saw script-driven, small-budget Tamil movies making it at the box-office.



THE HITS: Pattiyal.

There have been 42 releases between January 1 and June 30, 2006, just short of last year's 45 during the same period. But Kollywood has reasons to smile, as there have been more number of hits than last year, which augurs well for the industry. During the first half of 2005, there were blockbusters `Chandramukhi' and `Anniyan,' a super hit `Tirupachi' and two hits `Arindhum Ariyamalum' and `Ullam Kaetkume.'

The money-spinners

But this year, films with rank newcomers or little known stars and made on a small budget of Rs 1.35 to 3.10 crores, less than the salary of a superstar, have raked in the moolah!

The biggest surprise of 2006 so far is the decline of superstar movies and the rise of small budget ones with up-and-coming heroes. Take a look at the eight films that made money for its producers and distributors: `Dishyum,' `Chithiram Pesudhadi,' `Kalvanin Kadhali,' `Pattiyal,' `Tiruttu Payale,' `Thalainagaram,' `Kokki' and `Parijaatham.'



Kokki.

Says Tirupur Subramaniam, one of the leading distributors in Tamil Nadu: "It has been the year of low-budget, small films with big budget star movies biting the dust. Films such as `Thalainagaram,' `Tiruttu Payale' and now `Parijaatham' are [considered] super hits as they will make nearly three times the money invested in them." He feels that films which had something new to convey, a good presentation along with marketing techniques clicked at the box-office. He adds: "I would say that audiences are on the look out for fresh and innovative ideas and not necessarily stars. I agree that star films have an extraordinary opening but they will not sustain, if the content is not satisfactory."

`Oscar' Ravichandran, `the man with the Midas touch,' who had made that big-budget `Anniyan' last year, changed tracks to set his eyes on small budget movies, which paid off handsomely.

Aggressive marketing pays



Chithiram Pesudhadi.

Four out of eight hits so far such as `Dishyum,' `Chithiram Pesudhadi,' `Thalainagaram' and `Parijaatham,' were produced or distributed by Ravichandran. It was his marketing wizardry that made `Chithiram Pesudhadi' a super hit. Ravi bought the film two weeks after its release and re-released it by boosting the publicity and popularising the number "Vaalameenukkum ... " sung by Gana Ulaganathan. It played on all channels and FM radio. Even `Dishyum' that had a lukewarm opening picked up after the film was aggressively promoted.

When director Sundar C turned hero in `Thalainagaram,' no distributor was willing to touch it. Sundar sold the film to Ravichandran for Rs 1.30 crores and it became a super hit.

In Chennai city it collected only Rs 27 lakhs, but in the North Arcot-South Arcot-Chingleput area (NSC Area), it got Rs 1.24 crores in 40 days! Says Babu, of Chromepet Vetri theatre: " `Thalainagaram' is a huge hit in B and C centres where people love Vadivelu's comedy and Sundar C's silent but deadly hero character. It is the subject and presentation that matter."

Smart audience

`Thalainagaram' made on a shoe-string budget of Rs 1.35 crores is likely to get a distributors' share of Rs. 4 to 5 crores from Tamil Nadu. Says Ravichandran: "For me, what matters most is the subject and the manner in which the film is presented. Our audiences are very smart and once I take up a project, the attention will be more on publicity and promotion,... "

Ravichandran is now planning to take up six small films with three new boys as heroes and is also producing `Dasavatharam,' a big budget film with Kamal Hassan in the lead.

A film like `Parijaatham,' written, produced and directed by K. Bhagyaraj as a launch pad for his daughter Saranya, had no takers as it had no saleable hero. But when Ravi saw it, he was impressed and decided to back the project. Adds Ravi: " `Parijaatham' is a big hit as there is sentiment, good songs, subtle comedy and the love between the lead pair is presented in an innovative manner."

Director Susi Ganesan whose `Tiruttu Payale' is a super hit points out: " `Tiruttu Payale' has worked at the box-office due to its daring theme and the chemistry between Jeevan and Malavika, both of whom had negative shades which made it different... " This thriller is now also being dubbed in Telugu.

There was a plethora of gangster movies released this year but only `Pattiyal' made it big because of the fresh treatment by director Vishnuvardhan and the on-screen bonding between the two young heroes.

This year's superstar films bombed as they had nothing new in content or presentation and were technically tacky.

The message is loud and clear. Stars alone will not get hits, instead freshness in script and presentation matter.

This trend of content-driven films with attractive packaging and essential commercial ingredients show that Tamil movies have come of age. The audiences have also matured and want more than just stars.

Another trend is that a new generation of star-struck young men, including film directors and technicians, are turning heroes. With the right subject and marketing muscle, they hope to have their dreams fulfilled.

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