Rumors of a guest appearance by Rajinikant in Ra.One start, and suddenly industry observers like Sreedhar Pillai say that the film is now worth a lot more in the dubbing market of Tamil Nadu etc. Later news comes that Rajini has 'blessed' the film, whatever that means, but that doesn't get all that mileage. But the film has now got the eyeballs that it wanted in a market that would rather have focused on a '7am arivu' or a 'Velayutham' instead.
For all that we say about Bollywood, one thing we need to admit is their undoubted expertise in promotion of their movies. Every other actor, be it a superstar or a newbie hero goes all-out in promoting his movies, across the nation; and sometimes across the globe as well. The varied promotions of Ra.One across the internet, TV and news media made me wonder why Tamil movies, or for that matter any South Indian movie never tries that kind of promotion, and that was the effect of this. Or why Tamil movies fail to climb the 'next' level in terms of money minting.
Huge Star Egos is one major issue in any South Indian Industry. Every year, one can point out multi-starrers that release in the Hindi Industry. But down south, the ego levels are pretty astounding. So much that Bharath came out in the media against Simbu after the release of the much touted 'Vaanam', for giving him lesser screen space. The older times had a Thalapathy or a Friends or a Nerukku Ner and a Pithamagan. But today, it is a pain for the director to handle two stars. (Like Vivek says in Sivaji, even the stars who sprouted yesterday have started spewing punch dialogues)
While biggie Bollywood movies hardly clash, except for the rare one or two, it is an everyday affair in Kollywood to see two big movies pit against each other, and eat away the other's shares. Standing examples being Pongal where Kaavalan, Aadukalam and Siruthai clashed at the Box Office. All three were good in their own right, but ended up eating into each others collections at the end of the day. If that was a lesson not learnt, Diwali sees two of the costliest movies made in Tamil Cinema - 7am Arivu and Velayutham lock horns. Once again, it is the ego of both stars that prevents them from pulling out, as it might be seen as a sign of giving in to the other, and at the end of the day, the collections take a huge hit. Bollywood on the other hand is more professional in its approach and allows most of its biggies, a free run in the box office, like a 3 Idiots or a Ra.One or a Bodyguard, that enables the producers to get back their investment in no time.
Another aspect where Bollywood scores over Kollywood would be the early DVD releases which ensures good collections. In Kollywood, by the time a decent DVD Print releases for a movie, most people even forget the movie. Producers down south have had an inherent apprehension towards releasing DVDs early as it might end up encouraging piracy, and eat up their theatre collections as well. While they are vindicated in this, it might be a good option to try the same. Even Mozhi which ventured into a same day DVD release with Moserbaer had to later give in to box office pressures and postpone the same.
Like it is frequently pointed out by many industry observers, producers down south have an aversion towards paid previews, a day before the actual release of the movie, due to the fear that it might end up into negative reports about the movie. Both in Hollywood, and now in Bollywood, paid previews have become a completely new revenue stream, which the producers are exploiting to the hilt, by having multiple previews across the globe with the added attraction of the star cast being present at a few. In my opinion, some of the biggies down south can take a chance with a similar thing as well. Who wouldn't pay a princely 1000 bucks to watch the movie a day ahead of the actual release? Probably, the fan frenzy would result in ticket prices even overshooting the same, if there is the added attraction of the star cast being a part of the show. For everything that is said, the majority of the collection comes in the initial week of the movie, which is followed by a long drawn tail (considering Tamil Cinema's obsession with the number of days that a movie was screened in a theatre). In my opinion, producers down south have completely failed to use this to their advantage and get back their investment as quickly as they can.
Yet another burning issue would be the lack of subtitles, which prevents the film from catering to newer markets. When a Hindi movie can release down south with subtitles, why can’t the same happen for a Tamil movie. The tale of Siddharth, trying to subtitle his movies, and having trouble with the same is an oft repeated story. Tamil Cinema can probably explore new areas abroad if it takes up subtitling with zeal. From what I've heard and seen, Telugu Cinema seems to have taken a good step forward in this regard. Telugu movies with subtitles were watched by many people in my hostel in Bhopal too. On the other hand, trying to search online for subtitles of Tamil movies is a quest that often ends in failure. With the kind of universal appeal that a Rajnikanth or a Vijay or a Surya has abroad, this could be a major source of revenue that the producers miss out on.
How can a post on Tamil Cinema be complete without its most striking feature? Fan Frenzy and Fan Rivalry. In a state where movie releases are a festival of their own right, fan rivalry is a major issue affecting any movie. Rival fans start of SMS chains that trash another actor's movie (however respectable the movie might be in the end). At some points, it has even become fashionable to trash certain actors for anything and everything that they do and turn a blind eye to their 'favorite actor'. Such SMSs and passing around of reviews that scythe a movie, do more harm than any good, as the fans of the actor whose movie is being trashed this time around, wait for their chance and do the same to the other actor's movie releases.
And last but not the least is the poor promotions. From releasing bits of the songs of the movies, to running contests on all channels across television, to going on trips across the nation; Bollywood stars - big or small, do their bit to promote their movies. But their southern counterparts have been averse to that kind of heavy duty promotions. Promotional offers for movie tickets are often seen as a weakness that the movie isn't doing particularly well. Co-branding and in-movie branding is something that Tamil Cinema hasn't fully exploited as yet. A Ra.One or a Bodyguard associates itself with multiple brands that give it the eyeballs needed on television.
With multiple music channels across the spectrum, it does make business sense to release mini videos of songs, before the release of the movie. This has been something that Kollywood has been vehemently against, to the extent of showing song videos on TV only after a month of screening on TV. What would be a better promotion for a movie, than the video of a chartbuster song?
Maintaining functional websites of movies would be another step in the right direction in today's internet savvy world. Producers could look at running an online chat with the stars or a contest as part of promotions, with tickets to the first day of the movie as prizes for the same. But the real state of the day today is that some of the movies that are releasing even lack a proper website that offers wallpapers and latest stills of the movie. A step in the right direction was taken by '180' that offered digital download of its songs for a price that the customer was willing to pay for the same. If not a similar thing, official websites could offer digital downloads of songs for a marginal rate that would encourage paid downloads rather than pirated editions of music CDs that are available for download even before the actual audio release.
Some of these steps would probably take Kollywood in the direction that it wants to go in - towards competing with Bollywood. Baby steps are being taken in the form of the entry of corporates like UTV, which did a fantastic job with Deivathirumagal. But there is certainly a long way to go.
S G Shrinivas