Theatre owners, film critics and industry trackers weigh in on which film – Ajith’s or Rajini’s – has the upper hand at the box office.

Rajinis Petta or Ajiths Viswasam for Pongal Which film has the edge
Flix Kollywood Wednesday, January 02, 2019 - 16:39

2019 will open big for the Tamil film industry, with Rajinikanth’s Petta and Ajith’s Viswasam releasing for Pongal. While Sun Pictures, the producers of Petta, have announced that the film will hit the screens on January 10, the Thursday before Pongal, Viswasam is expected to release on January 14. However, sources say that the Ajith starrer, produced by Sathya Jyothi Films, may be advanced to the 10th too, making it a direct clash with Petta.

Petta has a huge star cast, which is rather unusual for a Rajinikanth film. The Superstar has, for several years now, been the only heavyweight in his films, apart from the heroine. Petta, however, also has Vijay Sethupathi, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, M Sasikumar, Bobby Simha, Trisha and Simran in lead roles. Ajith’s film, on the other hand, is his fourth collaboration with director Siva and has Nayanthara as the heroine.

With the two films expected to release either on the same day or within the same week, which of them has the advantage?

The screen game

The biggest question is if there are sufficient screens in Tamil Nadu to accommodate the two releases. Last Pongal saw the release of Suriya’s Thaana Serntha Koottam along with Vikram’s Sketch and Prabhudeva’s Gulebagavali. While TSK did better than Sketch, it wasn’t quite the blockbuster that the makers were hoping for. The promos for Sketch were quite underwhelming and the formulaic film sank at the box office pretty quickly. This is among the rare occasions when the films of two popular male stars released in the same weekend.

A crowded date at the box office may mean a loss to the makers even if the film gets good reviews. In the last three months of 2018, for instance, several critically acclaimed Tamil films released but they could not continue their theatrical run for long because they had to make way for upcoming films.

Ruban Mathivanan, Managing Director of GK Cinemas, says, “The word is that both the films are releasing on January 10 and this is a big clash after a long time. Especially after Jilla and Veeram of 2014, this will be the biggest box office clash in Tamil cinema. Both the films are being distributed by powerful distributors and the theatre bookings have been happening for close to a month now. It is evident that both films are splitting up the theatres equally, but we have to wait and watch who will get the maximum at the box office. In the end, it will be based on content. It is, however, clear that both the films will eat into each other’s collections. We are splitting the shows equally between the two. Two shows for each film in the big and small screens respectively.”

Ruban also points out that 2.0, Rajini’s massive film with Shankar, released just a few weeks ago.

“It might have been better for both the films if Petta released a little later in January. People are still watching 2.0 and Viswasam is clearly targeting the family audience, which would give it the deserved break for Pongal. It would’ve been better if there was a decent gap between the two Rajini films,” he adds.

Film writer and box office tracker Sreedhar Pillai agrees that the films will end up eating into each other’s collections at the box office.

“It is 100% sure that both films are going to eat into each other’s collection. There is no other way. Those who release first will always have the advantage. We have to look at the market outside TN as well. Both producers have no other go. They will have to split up. Both the heroes have their own audiences. Thalaivar film will have its own audience, Ajith also has a huge audience. Ultimately it goes down to who has better content. Now more than star power, content wins. Clear winner we will know on the evening of Day 1,” he says.

Sreedhar Pillai further points out that theatres cannot run more than 5 to 6 shows per day because of the legal restrictions in place. This will mean that theatre owners have to decide how they’re going to split the screens.

“All theatres will play both the films but the shows will be split – 2:3 or 2:2 shows since theatres cannot play more than 5 to 6 shows in a day. The collections, therefore, will also be split. If a film can make Rs 50,000 per show and Rs 2.5 lakh in a day, this Rs 2.5 lakh will be split between the two films because the shows are also split,” he says.

However, Tirupur Subramaniam, distributor and exhibitor in the Coimbatore region, thinks the simultaneous release is much better than one film being allowed to dominate the box office, as has been the practice for certain star releases in the recent past.

“Why are people calling it a clash? Two films are releasing for the festival. Back then, Sivaji, MGR, Gemini Ganesan films would release on a festival day. But for the past 3 or 4 years, the theatres have been releasing only one film. It is like one person running in a race and coming first. It is not right. If two or three films release, only then can we tell which one is doing better,” he says.

He goes on to assert that he believes both films will work with the audience because of different factors.

“The films will split the screens between them. In Coimbatore territory, we have 169 screens and the theatres will split the films among themselves. In multiplexes they will split the shows. Both the films look interesting. Petta has a very good star cast. Viswasam has village subject that will work well for this festival. So expectations are equal for both the films,” he says.

Which film will have better content?

Both Rajinikanth and Ajith have legions of fans and the promos of both films have garnered enough and more views. But critics believe that Petta will have the upper hand when it comes to content. Karthik Subbaraj’s films have not always worked at the box office, but his craft has always won him favour. On the other hand, Siva’s previous outings with Ajith have remained star vehicles, with Vivegam proving to be disastrous.

“While fans will ensure both films get the kind of opening they deserve, Petta seems to have an edge. Simply because it seems to have brought back the Rajini everyone loves in all his glory on the big screen. Karthik Subbaraj grew up on a diet of vintage Rajini films and he seems to have given them a lovely twist. The film also stars Simran and Trisha, both with great recall value. More importantly, Karthik’s films are all about treatment, so there’s great expectation to see how he’s used Rajini. Viswasam marks yet another collaboration of Ajith and director Siva, and it seems to be packed with clap-worthy moments, like all their earlier films,” says Subha J Rao, consultant editor at Silverscreen.in.

Sudhir Srinivasan, editor of Cinema Express, echoes Subha’s views.

“The fans of both Rajini and Ajith, especially after the disappointment of their previous films – 2.0 and Vivegam respectively – are quite eager to watch a good film. I think it is safe to wage your bets on Karthik Subbaraj. I don’t believe he has yet made a single film that can be dismissed. All his films in varying degrees have always worked. Now the only concern is has he gone fully fan boy on Rajinikanth? The teasers and trailers seems to suggest that. But it is Karthik Subbaraj and we have to see how much he has poured himself into the film. As an admirer of his films, I genuinely hope there’s more of him in the film,” he says.

Sudhir also points out that the audience is changing and that the mere presence of a star cannot ensure a hit. Even a masala film has to be made well if it is to click with the audience.

“As far as Viswasam is concerned, it remains to be seen if Siva can get all the elements working coherently and be inventive within the framework of a masala template. The point I really want to make is that I think we are at a time where we have to examine how much star worship we need. It is worth thinking about. The recent films that did well are not the ones mounted on star value. 96 might have had Vijay Sethupathi but was not mounted on star appeal. Same goes for films like Pyaar Prema Kaadhal, Merku Thodarchi Malai, Irumbuthirai, etc. We have to examine how much star worship we need and is it worth getting absolutely carried away by star power alone,” he says.

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