Audiences’ message to Ajith, Vijay……

Villu flops, so does Aegan, Padikkadhavan skims through without much injury, Kanthaswamy disappoints….. the list of recent failures of big star ventures is a cause for concern. At the same time, it is also a cause for much hope. That is because alongside the list of these disappointments there is also a list of revelations. When Villu and Padikkadhavan couldn’t keep many people happy, the nondescript and inconspicuous Vennila Kabaddi Kuzhu was evading many a prediction to win over the hearts of audiences. While Kanthaswamy was failing to make any sort of impact, the small enterprise of Nadodigal went about the job in business like manner. Even Pasanga made quite an impression in spite of its release being closely followed by Sarvam, another disappointment of 2009. Enough has been said about Subramaniapuram and its impact, which supposedly made itself heard even over the din created by Kuselan’s release and the subsequent ruckus raised with demands for compensation.

So, where does Tamil cinema stand? Not at the crossroads definitely! There is a new direction but the journey is too young for us to be in sight of the destination. In fact, we do not know what or where the destination is. We just hope that the journey is as or more interesting than the destination itself. The journey is the transformation of Tamil cinema and the fact that makes this transformation so special is that it is being driven by the audiences who are keen on something new. There have been many attempts over the decades to provide that spark which would have started off a change. But, ultimately the push had to come from the people who matter the most, the audience (the clients of cinema). Film makers like Bharathiraja, Mahendran, Mani Rathnam and a few others have tried with distinction to provide a different path to Tamil cinema. While it cannot be said that their attempts went without an impact, it has to be admitted that they were always swimming against the tide. Now, the audience has changed the tide in favor of them and other likeminded film makers.

But, it is now important to understand in a balanced way what the tastes of the audience are. Prima facie, it might look as if the audience is longing for more realistic films. While this observation is not entirely wrong, it is the extent to which this assumption is asserted that could go wrong. The average film-goer is not looking for reality when he enters a theater. What they are looking for is good entertainment as long as they are within the hall. It is the perception of good entertainment that has changed.

There have been many reports and articles that have presented the view that it is reality that the audience wants these days; not exactly. Take a stock of the unexpected hits of the year. They include Vennila Kabaddi Kuzhu, Pasanga, Naadodigal etc. They are definitely products that stand apart in terms of treatment. The makers have been bold enough to steer away from the so called winning commercial formulae and the audience supported their move at the box office.

But, they cannot be termed as movies that are soaked in reality; they too had elements that can be called quite commercial. We can overlook songs as they are integral parts of Indian cinema. But, even otherwise, there were commercial elements, mainly comedy which was woven well into the script. It was quite obvious that most of the lighter scenes were targeted at capturing the imagination of the youth, especially in Nadodigal and Vennila Kabaddi Kuzhu. Dialogues in most of these films too contained witty one-liners (not the regular punch dialogues) and there was also action (without bad men being thrown ten feet in the air). The latest entrant in the unexpected hits category, Eeram, too has its elements that are aimed at pulling in the masses, even though a bit unconventional.

Like many of the claims of the recent past, if absolute reality was indeed the flavor of the season, then how come films like Poo, Kanjeevaram and Kunkuma Poovum Konjum Puravum couldn’t have the same impact as some the movies mentioned previously? Poo and Kanjeevaram are without an iota of doubt, films that border on the reality of human emotions. They had the most minimal commercial ingredients that we have known over the past few years, Kanjeevaram contains almost nothing that can be called commercial. Reality in its most gruesome form was also shown in Naan Kadavul which too didn’t have the desired sustaining power at the box office.

The truth is this; the audiences are not looking for absolute reality or anything related. They have begun to look for entertainment that does not hurt sensibilities or insult intelligence, which is what we had been receiving for some time, and still continue to receive in sizeable doses. If there is anything that seems to be definitely changing, it is the attitude towards hero projection. Not long back, it was almost a golden rule that projecting a star in a superhuman way will guarantee a super hit. Punch dialogues, one man shows and heroism that would have put even Hollywood superheroes to shame were staple in Tamil cinema. But the past two years have proved that mindless heroism will be outright rejected, no matter who the star. And, one feels that the stars too have got the message loud and clear. Be stylish, witty, heroic and superhuman by all means. But, draw a line and do not cross it. The audiences want and are being given a different brand of cinema.

(By Sudhakar, with inputs from Arun.)

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