Much like the rice gruel in the earthen pot on fire that boils and brims over to the chant of ‘Pongolo Pongal’ on the morning of January 15, Tamil Nadu theatres will be overflowing with films. There are four Tamil releases that day, and as if this was not enough, the extensively written about English movies, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, will also be jostling for the very limited screen space available in the state.
The four Tamil films are Sivakarthikeyan’s Ponram-directed Rajini Murugan, Pandiraj-helmed Vishal starrer Kathakali, Udhayanidhi Stalin’s Gethu (directed by Thirukumaran) and Bala’s Tharai Thappattai. These happen to be some of the biggest names in Tamil cinema. Yes, of course, you do not have a Rajinikanth or Kamal Haasan movie. Not even one with Suriya.
These films will also be battling not just for cinemas but also patronage. Not many are willing to spend money and time watching multiple Tamil pictures in the course of the few days during Pongal, with the result that two or three of the four releases may disappear into the sunset.
In fact, Tamil Nadu does not have too many screens -- just about 1600-odd of which less 1000 are capable of handling fresh releases.
Also, in the current scenario, almost 90 per cent of the revenue a movie makes come during the first weekend, which is Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This is one important reason why producers, distributors, exhibitors and even directors/actors in Tamil Nadu are almost paranoid about film reviews appearing on a Friday. They would prefer them to be published on a Sunday, when the movie has made its money. And so, often press shows are held only on the day a film opens, which is normally a Friday afternoon or evening.
Now, lets us take a look at what the cinema offers this week.
Rajini Murugan is a comedy by Ponram, who debuted with Varuthapadatha Valibar Sangam in 2013 -- also a witty take on life, albeit of a romantic kind.
Kathakali is a thriller with Catherine Tresa by Pandiraj -- who has given us movies like Pasanga, about the steel and determination of a child who wants to be district collector.
Thirukumaran’s Gethu is also a thriller, a crime mystery, made by a man who wove a fantasy called Maan Karate in 2014.
Finally, we have Tharai Thappattai, a musical drama (probably most suited for the festive mood). Director Bala is credited with revolutionising Tamil cinema with his dark and forbidding take on the state’s downtrodden working class. Works like Sethu and Naan Kadavul are classic examples. His latest outing on Pongal Day may well be a pleasant departure from all this.
And, yes, if the audiences are not quite in the mood for Tamil fare, there is always The Danish Girl, screened at Venice last year. A pseudo-biographical drama loosely inspired by the lives of Danish painters, Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. Lili was one of the first to have undergone sex-change therapy in the early 19th century.
Much has been written about The Hateful Eight, whose impressive star cast of Tim Roth, Kurt Russell, Samuel L Jackson and Jennifer Jason Leigh among others narrates, in a kind of Western, a story set a few years after the American Civil War. The characters find themselves trapped in a log house as a blizzard rages on.