Small is big: How low budget films are challenging star power in Kollywood

The Tamil cinema audience has evolved and matured, resulting in higher expectations from Tamil films.
Small is big: How low budget films are challenging star power in Kollywood
Small is big: How low budget films are challenging star power in Kollywood
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Of the 190 Tamil films that released in 2016, there were many small films (within a Rs 5-6 crore budget) that made a big mark on screen like Visaaranai, Irudhi Suttru, Sethupathi and Chennai 28 II. From January to April 2016, 40 small budget films released among the total 75.

Cut to 2017. Out of the 11 films released till February 5, two small films have been declared superhits and are being widely spoken about. Considering these statistics, it’s a given that small is big and here to stay in the Tamil film industry.

Dhuruvangal 16 directed by Karthick Naren and Adhe Kangal directed by Rohin Venkatesan are drawing crowds to the theatre in droves this year. And interestingly, these films are helmed by debutant directors (as are many small films) and have no big actors or stars to speak of. So what makes such small films click with the audience?

While the big budget star films do appeal to fans, the Tamil-speaking audience is now looking for films which provide them with fresh content and narratives. Small budget films don’t rely on ‘hero power’ – it is content that is key and how it’s presented. Take, for instance, Kaaka Muttai, Kutram Kadithal or Visaaranai. None of these films has a grandiose theme, the typical song-and-dance routine or girl-meets-boy romance. Instead, they have unique storylines which don’t provide a sense of déjà vu for the audience. And this is what has filmgoers hooked.

For the producers’ too, it makes more sense to invest in two or three smaller films a year as compared to one expensive commercial potboiler. A big budget film comes with its own baggage as the demands of the hero and the director need to be met both financially and how lavishly the movie is shot. And in the end, there is no guarantee that the movie will smash the box office as it’s just the first three days that really count. However, the risks associated with smaller budgets are far less and they can produce more variety. The producer has a better hold on the project as well.

The Tamil film industry today has numerous production houses that are thriving because of small films. Escape Artists Motion Pictures made a name for itself by backing small films. Similarly, Thirukumaran Entertainment also adopted a successful strategy with films like Attakathi, Pizza, Soodhu Kavum, Mundasupatti and more. While producers are welcoming debutant directors with open arms, they also stress that the script is key. Even actors who have production houses have realised the merit (both financial and otherwise) in this approach – so if Dhanush has a Kaaka Muttai to his credit, then Suriya has a 36 Vayadhinile.

Meanwhile, the Tamil audience has also undergone a sea change over the last five years. There is more exposure to cinema from other Indian languages and world cinema, too. The widespread use of social media and content available at the click of a button means that film buffs have access to more content than ever before. Thus, the audience has evolved and matured, resulting in higher expectations from the Tamil film industry.

Most of those who flock to the theatre in Tamil Nadu are in the age group of 18 to 30. Given that most small films release in a multiplex versus single screens, a person spends an average of Rs 350 (ticket + parking + snacks) for a show. In this scenario, if the movie does not fulfil their expectations, the producer can be assured that he will looking at a flop.

Now the audience is also clear that big is not necessarily the best. Five years ago, a producer was assured that he would make a certain amount of moolah at the box office if he released a film with a big star. That is no longer the case today. As quick as the audience is to accept a film, they are also as quick to reject it. And with the success of smaller films, it’s clear that the audience recognises and rewards good cinema irrespective of the director or actors.

Many state that the growth and sustainability of the Tamil film industry will be determined by small budget films. Of course, there is a downside to this business. As stated, from January to April 2016, 40 small budget films released and the irony is that they all flopped. Unless these films have got the backing of a good production house or distributor, getting a proper release date and the right screens is a monumental issue. Numerous small films have got lost in the melee as a result. Actor Delhi Ganesh produced a film starring his son Maha in 2016 titled Ennul Aayiram. He was upset that the movie didn’t get primetime shows and went into oblivion in a jiffy.

With digital technology being the norm, more people from different walks of life are coming forward to produce films. There are even debutant actors who are producing their own films! Unfortunately, they seem to have adopted a ‘quick gun Murugan’ method to making a film rather than keenly assessing its content and the business of films in Tamil Nadu. Despite the hurdles producers may face, small films are being applauded as the way forward for Tamil cinema to make its mark not just on the audience but also world cinema.  

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