This year, the Pongal festival falls on a Tuesday (January 15), but Petta and Viswasam are hitting the screens approximately a week before — on a Thursday — making the perfect continuous holiday weekend. This is happening at a time when Rajinikanth’s previous venture 2.0 has been running successfully in urban pockets of Tamil Nadu and is likely to continue in a few screens.
Film analyst-producer-distributor G Dhananjayan says, “Pongal is one of the biggest festivals in the state that brings the family audience to theaters, yielding a good box-office collection, especially in rural areas. In fact, it is an 11-day holiday period (till January 20, Sunday) for most of us.”
The National Award-winning writer adds he doesn’t subscribe to the idea of viewing the whole situation as a clash between two stars. “Both Rajinikanth and Ajith Kumar are brilliant in their own right. Their films have always had a massive opening. For the first time in more than a decade or so, an Ajith film is releasing alongside a Rajinikanth film. I wish there were more films joining the race because Pongal can easily accommodate three films. Moreover, technically there is no release on the day of the harvest festival,” he smiles.
Clearly, in this case, both films will eat into each other’s collection, and managing director of GK Cinemas, Ruban Mathivanan, opines the same. “Usually, a Rajinikanth film enjoys a solo release, but this time, it has to share the 1000 odd screens with Viswasam. The pre-bookings have been fantastic for both films. Personally, I am a huge fan of the Superstar and looking forward to watching Petta FDFS,” he adds.
What does he think of the ‘big clash’? Ruban says, “It’s not unusual at all. Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan have had their films release the same day. And so has Vijay and Ajith. But it is definitely good to have a solo release. For instance, Ajith’s last outing Vivegam got an excellent opening because no other film got released that day. Even in future, I would not be surprised if we have a clash between multiple films. The more, the better. ”
Another leading multiplex owner, on the condition of anonymity, adds that the concept of solo release date doesn’t work anymore even for ‘big hero films’. He says, “With OTT platforms booming, films in theaters face a tough situation irrespective of the star factor and content. The idea is just to make maximum money within a limited span of time.”
According to reliable sources, popular theaters in the city sell tickets in the range of Rs 800-1000 each for the first couple of shows, that is more than the government-approved rate. “We have been issuing tickets at Rs 190 per head for shows available post-11.30 am. Seventy per cent of the tickets have been sold and there is tremendous pressure for the subsequent weekends,” shares Ruban.
Are all eyes on the Petta versus Viswasam battle? Let’s say this is purely coincidental, but towards the end of the Petta trailer, you can hear Rajinikanth say, “If you’re worried about your wife, children and other things, simply run away. I’m on a rage. I’ll definitely kill you!” On the other hand, Ajith says, “I’m Thooku Durai from Theni district. Niranjana is my wife. Swetha is my daughter. I dare you for a one-to-one.”
While Tamil cinema basks in its star rivalries, is Ajith, Rajinikanth’s rival? Not exactly… though fans of Thala project him as the heir to the Superstar! Like Rajinikanth, Ajith neither attends public functions nor give interviews/bytes to the media in general. During the early days, Ajith was identified only as a romantic hero, but after AR Murugadoss’ Dheena, he was accepted as an ‘action hero’. Now, undoubtedly, he is the ‘king of openings’ after delivering films including Villain, Citizen, Vaali, Billa, Mankatha and Aarambam.
At the same time, expectations aren’t less for Petta that has a terrific star cast including Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Vijay Sethupathi, Sasikumar to Simran, Trisha and others. Directed by Karthik Subbaraj, Petta is expected to be a ‘typical Rajinikanth film’ unlike Kabali and Kaala. Apparently, it is Superstar’s first Pongal release in 24 years. The film promises a throwback to the vintage Rajinikanth and seems to have ‘mass’ moments to suit the taste of his fans.