Which star rules the Deepavali box office in Tamil Nadu?

Is Deepavali still the biggest release date for a Tamil movie? And which star dominates the box-office on the special day?
Which star rules the Deepavali box office in Tamil Nadu?
Which star rules the Deepavali box office in Tamil Nadu?
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Vijay’s Sarkar is gearing up for a massive worldwide release on November 6, which is Deepavali day in Tamil Nadu. Last year, too, the Deepavali release went to Vijay, with Atlee’s Mersal releasing on the day.

The Deepavali release date is widely considered to be the biggest in the trade and there’s always competition in the industry to lock a film for the day. Fans, too, debate on social media about which star will get the coveted date for their film.

Deepavali vs Pongal

However, film critic and industry tracker Sreedhar Pillai says that with the changing weather in Chennai, the Pongal release date may work out to be more favourable for a film business-wise.

“The biggest release date used to be Deepavali. But over the years, because of the North East monsoon and other factors, Deepavali is not as attractive as it used to be,” he says.

On the other hand, Pongal, which falls in the January-February season, is much more pleasant and encourages people to visit theatres, he adds. However, the tag of a ‘Deepavali release’ is still highly coveted.

“To me, Pongal is now the biggest release date, followed by Deepavali and then April 14, Tamil New Year. But Deepavali has always been the ‘prestige date’, right from the times of MGR,” he says.

Abirami Ramanathan, who heads the Tamil Nadu Theatres’ Association, says there’s no two ways about Deepavali being the best release date in the industry. 

“Footfalls during a Deepavali release has been maintaining for the past 20 years. Two reasons – one, it is Deepavali, and second, for a really long time now, people believe that they should go for a movie on Deepavali. Moreover, all good movies, the big ones, release for Deepavali, so the crowds still come,” he says.

Abirami Ramanathan does not believe that Pongal has an edge over Deepavali.

“I have been in this trade for 42 years as a theatre owner. Nothing to beat Deepavali date. As for the weather and if a film can sustain because of it, for Pongal, it will sustain because of the weather. But for Deepavali, it will sustain if the movie is good, irrespective of the weather. Deepavali is Deepavali,” he says.

Nikilesh Surya, the Executive Director of Rohini Silver Screens, has a more measured response.

“Deepavali and Pongal are the biggest release dates. Everyone wants to spend time with family and the biggest entertainment option here in Tamil Nadu is cinema. Whatever movie plays, even if the verdict is not that great, it will do minimum guarantee business. Pongal release is slightly better because it’s a long holiday while Deepavali is only one day. But in cities, especially Chennai, Deepavali is a better date. Because people tend not to go home to their native place. But for Pongal, usually, the city is kind of deserted. So outside Chennai, Pongal might be better, but in Chennai, Deepavali is still No.1,” he says.

Sreedhar Pillai further points out that releasing a film mid-week for Deepavali might affect the overseas first day collections since people may not be in a position to drive long distances to catch the film. However, the Deepavali sentiment is so strong in the industry that such concerns are brushed away. 

Which star gets the priority dates?

In the last 10 years, from 2008 to 2018, Vijay has had five Deepavali releases – Velayudham (2011), Thuppaki (2012), Kaththi (2014), Mersal (2017) and now the upcoming Sarkar. Ajith, who is often pitched as his rival by fans and the trade, has had three – Aegan (2008), Arrambam (2013) and Vedhalam (2015).

Five Pongal dates have gone to Vijay – Villu (2009), Kaavalan (2011), Nanban (2012), Jilla (2014) and Bairavaa (2017) – while Ajith has had one – Veeram (2014) – in the same period. Ajith’s Viswasam is expected to release for Pongal next year.

Including Sarkar, Vijay has had 16 releases in these 10 years, while Ajith has had 9.

In the last decade, Suriya has had two Deepavali releases (Aadhavan in 2009 and 7aam Arrivu in 2011) and one Pongal release (Thaana Serndha Kootam in 2018). Vikram has had three Pongal releases (Bheema in 2008, I in 2015 and Sketch in 2018).

Dhanush has had a good number of releases on these coveted dates – two Deepavali releases (Uthamaputhiran in 2010 and Kodi in 2016) and three Pongal ones (Padikadhavan in 2009, Kutty in 2010, and Aadukalam in 2011).

Sivakarthikeyan, despite his quick rise to the top, has had only one release on these two big dates so far – Rajini Murugan for Pongal 2014.

Both Sreedhar Pillai and Nikilesh agree that Vijay is currently the No.1 when it comes to getting the big release dates and openings.

“Any day Vijay. Vijay always has a Deepavali date. The big stars of Tamil cinema get an extra 10% from the box-office on a particular day. Right from MGR’s days, this has been the case. Vijay’s Thupakki released in 2012 on a Tuesday and became a super duper hit. Like how Eid is for Salman Khan, Deepavali is for Vijay,” says Sreedhar Pillai.

Nikilesh points out that Vijay has been consistent with his performance at the box-office – he misses the mark very rarely.

“It’s definitely Vijay. Rajinikanth doesn’t care about dates. His movie can release on any day and it will have a big opening. Vijay has been capitalising on the dates. He has been consistently getting movies for Deepavali, Pongal and also Tamil New Year. And he’s also been giving consistent hits on these big days,” says Nikilesh.

A big star’s Deepavali release is such a juggernaut that other films have no choice to but to give way. Previously, there was speculation that Vijay’s Sarkar, Ajith’s Viswasam and Suriya’s NGK would clash at the box-office for Deepavali. However, industry insiders knew that would never happen because there simply aren't enough screens to accommodate three big films on the same date.

And although the Tamil Nadu Film Producers’ Council (TFPC) is supposed to clear the release dates, Sreedhar Pillai opines that it's mostly a big actor's call to take a festival date.

“If Vijay says Deepavali is for me, that’s it. This has been proved over and over again. Why did Vijay Anthony (Thimiru Pudichavan) move out from the Deepavali date? He’s just given a press meet. Even if you are ready to release the film, no theatre will play it. Because Sarkar will get them houseful shows while other films won’t get even 50% full shows, irrespective of content,” he says.

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