Decades-old Tamil movies are re-releasing and film buffs are thrilled
“I have watched Vaaranam Aayiram around a hundred times on OTT and whenever it came on TV. Despite that, when I watched it in the theatre, I cried when Meghna (Sameera Reddy) died. That is how much this film moves me, and that is why I decided to re-watch it in the theatre,” said Shakeenaa Abdul Gafoor, an advocate based out of Chennai. Like 25-year-old Shakeenaa, many Tamil people are reliving the theatre experience of their favourite movies despite being released many years or even decades ago.
The trend of re-releases started when Kamala Cinemas, a chain of theatres in Chennai, re-released the Dhanush starrer 3, released in 2012. Surya Chidambaram, the owner of Kamala Cinemas, said that this decision was taken at a time when no new films were released, but even then, the concept was relatively foreign. He said, “We contacted Dhanush’s office and informed him about our decision to re-release 3, and even he was a little sceptical as it was not a commercially successful film. But he agreed to the re-release, and we were surprised to see this film getting more footfall than newer movies. Soon enough, we began re-releasing other movies, and they attracted a large audience to a point where even I could not get a ticket once!”
‘Cult classics’, good music and nostalgia
There seem to be several factors driving people to spend money on movies released a decade or more ago. Most of the re-released movies like Vaaranam Aayiram, Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu, 3, Paiyya, Mayakkam Enna, and Kushi are not only deemed ‘cult classics’, but known for music that many of its current audience grew up listening to and singing. Several people who watched the re-released films in theatres told TNM that they were singing along, and the experience felt more like a concert than a film screening.
Nostalgia also seems to be a major factor in pulling crowds for re-releases. The re-release screenings are most often watched by a younger crowd who must have been children when the movies were originally released and were unable to watch them in the theatres.
For instance, when Mona, a 21-year-old content writer from Chennai, watched Pudhupettai when it was first released, she felt that she was unable to appreciate it. But re-watching it in the theatres gave her a new perspective, and Pudhupettai is one of her favourite films now. She said, “I watched nearly 12 re-released movies, and most came out when I was very young, so there was little chance of watching them in the theatres. I was in Pune and Mumbai for a major part of my life, so Tamil movie releases did not feel the same way as they do here. I have watched Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu and Pudhupettai before, but watching it in the theatres was a new experience, especially with fans who cheer and sing along.”
Low ticket prices, predictability, and virality on social media
The pricing of the tickets has also played a role in getting people to rewatch older movies in the theatres. Moviegoers told TNM that most theatres did not charge more than Rs 50 for some screenings while others were as low as Rs 100-Rs 120. Compared to theatres that charge as high as Rs 250 for movie tickets, re-releases seem a more viable option for film buffs who want a theatrical experience of their favourite movies.
Social media also plays a major role in ensuring the re-releases are a major hit in the state. Often, people record themselves singing and/or dancing in the theatres or cheering for their favourite scenes from these movies, which become viral on social media. This spurs more people to visit theatres and experience it for themselves. Vignesh, a 26-year-old media professional from Chennai who re-watched Mayakkam Enna in the theatre, said that videos of people singing along to popular songs in the movies went viral on social media, making everyone want to watch the screening in theatres. He said, “These videos also end up being a form of marketing for theatres as it makes these experiences mainstream where everyone wants to experience it.”
Surya Chidambaram also agreed that social media helped draw crowds to Kamala Cinemas and other theatres re-releasing movies. He said, “Re-releases without social media would have been a flop show. Regarding re-releases, people enjoy what comes along with the movie - the music, singing along, dancing, the fun and the ability to document and share it on social media. This translates into business for us as well.”
One also wonders why people might be willing to spend money on movies where the audience knows what happens and is easily available for streaming on OTT platforms. For Mona, it was this predictability that pushed her to rewatch these films in the theatre. She said, “I know I am now going to gamble my money like I would with a new film. I know what I am paying for and I know my money will not go to waste. When my friend and I watched Vaaranam Aayiram, he did not want to watch the last scene where Krishnan (Suriya) is diagnosed with cancer and eventually dies. Since we knew what was coming, we left the theatre before the movie got too sad.”
How did the crowd react to ‘love failure’ songs?
Most of the re-released movies are at least a decade old, and some had ‘love failure’ songs (3, Mayakkam Enna, Vaarnam Aayiram) derogatory to women. Other movies like Pudhupettai had scenes where sexual assault survivors were victim-blamed and where the hero forcibly marries the female protagonist. While such scenes and songs might not be as prominent in Tamil movies as in the previous decade, they still elicited cheers, agreement and celebration during the re-releases.
Shakeenaa said that she saw both women and men singing and dancing along to ‘Anjala’ during the re-release of Vaaranam Aayiram in the theatres but is unsure if this is harmful. She said, “Apart from what happened in the theatre, I also saw several posts on social media which said that the song ‘Anjala’ does not echo the sentiments of [heartbroken] men but also of women. If men and women are happy to celebrate the song, then it cannot be perceived as harmful. As far as I observed, people who did not know each other were also dancing with each other to songs like ‘Anjala’, so maybe they were not paying attention to the lyrics.”
Vignesh watched the re-release of Mayakkam Enna, which features the ‘love failure song’ ‘Kadhal Yen Kadhal’ with the infamous line ‘adi da avala, odha da avala, vidra avala’ (beat her, kick her, leave her). When asked if people singing along to ‘Kadhal Yen Kadhal’ during the re-release was harmless or not, he said, “I think it is a harmful trend, but we should also observe whether people were really enjoying the song [and its lyrics] or they were singing along because everyone around them was. I think what we saw in the theatres [during the song] reflects a larger problem of how cinema appealing to the male gaze is still enjoyed by a large section of society.”
Mona is also of a similar opinion and said that the way problematic songs and scenes were celebrated in the theatre showed how times changed, but some people did not. She said, “Selvaraghavan [the director of Pudhupettai] has apologised for the misogynistic scenes in the film and said that if he were to remake it, he would not include them. But I think the damage is done. I also think people do not realise that Kokki Kumar [Dhanush] is a flawed character whose actions and dialogues should not be idealised. But it was disheartening to see people cheer and agree with his victim-shaming dialogues even after so many years of its initial release.”