The changing demography in theaters
into a theater to watch a movie these days and
observe the crowd around. You are sure to find
gangs of friends, colleagues, couples and a mixture
of others. What is missing from this milieu is
the family. Yes, we don’t find families
in theaters these days, at least not too many
of them and that is hurting the business of cinema
big time, even though there may not be a candid
admission of the fact from the industry. Gone
are the days (don’t let that phrase make
you think that we are referring to the Sivaji-MGR
era; this is not more than 15years back) when
cinema/movies used to be regular family outings.
The group of audiences that used to dominate cinema
halls was the families. So, what happened in the
interim that caused this rapid shift in the demography
of the population within cinema halls?
Ask a social scientist and he/she is sure to point
to the failing system of families, working couples
and consequent alienation from children etc. But,
let us not get into all that; let us look at it
from a pure cinema perspective. Come to
think of it; families still do flock to theaters; on
special occasions like Diwali, Pongal, and the final
few days of the summer vacations etc. and also for films
that no one would dream of missing like an Endhiran
or Manmadhan Ambu. Yes, it is taking something really
special like a festival or the presence of a legend
on screen to bring families to theaters. Otherwise,
a marked indifference towards watching movies on the
big screen can be felt amongst family audiences.
One theory that has often been heard is that the current
crop of frontline stars like Ajith, Vijay, Suriya or
Vikram does not have the universal appeal or charisma
like a Rajni or Kamal to pull everyone in a family to
the theater. Each one of these stars has their own strong
points and consequently a fan base which are thoroughly
exploited in every movie that they do. And, in most
cases, it is overdone, leaving little room for other
elements to be inculcated. This generally results in
products that are delectable only for hard core fans
of the star and generate apathy amongst others which
ultimately does not result in enough vibes to bring
families to theaters. This is where we need to understand
that the average family audience is not easily wooed
to theaters by hype or publicity; it is only strong
word of mouth that can draw an entire family to the
theater. But, with polarization of films to suit fan
bases and tastes (like the extensive almost irritating
overuse of the word ‘Thala’ in Aasal), there
is hardly enough widespread good opinion going around;
except for the respective fans who are on cloud nine
(no pun intended).
Yes, each of the current frontline stars have had a
time in their careers where they looked like becoming
a darling of the family audiences, but that unfortunately
was not sustained too long.
And, perhaps it is not just fair to blame the stars
alone. The dynamics of cinema has changed almost at
an unbelievable pace over the last five years and stars
have had to movie with it. No one is any longer safe
with one kind of cinema or character for any length
of time; like perhaps in the late 80s and 90s , periods
where Rajni, Karthik, Murali, Vijaykanth etc. kept doing
their respective brand of cinema with very good success.
The same game plan does not work in 2010. Actors have
been compelled to be unpredictable. That is why we have
Suriya going for something like Rattha Charithiram (something
a hero would not have thought of in the 90s) or Dhanush
alternating between movies like Uthamaputhiran and Aadukalam.
That is also perhaps why some of the stars who established
themselves in the late 90s are a bit lost at the moment.
They earned their stripes when doing a typical brand
of cinema which provided something for everyone in the
family was the norm and now suddenly they find that
what they have been doing all their career is no longer
accepted; Ajith and Vijay are the best examples.
As a result, a hero has lost out on predictability –
which is a good thing. But, with predictability, he
has also lost the reliability – which is bad.
Reliability in the sense that a family cannot walk in
for any hero’s film knowing fully well that it
has been made for family viewing. With actors like Dhanush
and Suriya having done A certificate films in their
careers, no one can be sure as what to expect. The unpredictability
of the products from the film industry can be judged
by a classical example – that of Mysskin. In November
he gave a mellow, soft and sweet story – Nandhalala
and in February he shocked us with a turn of tables,
delivering an intensely belligerent Yudham Sei. Or look
at the jump Gautham Menon has made from romance to psycho
thriller (VTV to Nadunisi Naaygal).
While this unpredictability is good because it keeps
the general audiences interested, it also develops doubts
and aspersions in the family audiences’ minds.
Everyone will agree that films like Rattha Charithiram
or Yudham Sei are not ideal for family viewing, even
if everyone in the family is above 18. The doubts keep
them away from theaters till word about the movie starts
going around. But, with wide release strategies these
days, films don’t stick around in theaters for
much beyond 25-30 days, unless it is Endhiran. Consequently,
by the time, word goes around and families decide that
a film is worth watching; it is playing only in the
B centers and families wouldn’t go within a mile
of these theaters. And, that is where the pirated DVD
wins the race.
So, how do we get families into theaters?
Concept By Murugan
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