As Tamil film Lal Salaam hit theatres in Canada, the limited number of screenings has left fans of Superstar Rajinikanth — popularly called Thalaivar — feeling frustrated. The film debuted on approximately 20 screens nationwide, a number that fans find insufficient. Directed by Aishwarya Rajinikanth, the Superstar plays an extended cameo in the film alongside actors Vishnu Vishal, Vikranth, KS Ravikumar, Nirosha, among others.
Natraj Shriram, a blogger under the pen name Rasanai Shriram and a spokesperson for the Rajini Makkal Mandram, a fan club that celebrates Rajinikanth in the North American continent, articulated the fans’ dissatisfaction: “When we can see Pathan, Jawan, and other Indian movies, why can’t we see a Thalaivar movie in a multiplex?”
For years now, multiplexes in Canada that show Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam movies have been subjected to routine attacks. Vandals have slashed screens, released pepper and bear spray inside theatres during showings, and in recent events, shot at the windows of theatres when they were empty.
“I do not know the full details about who is behind these attacks, but it appears that some distributors are trying to monopolise the market,” Shriram said, reminiscing about his long-standing Thalaivar fandom since he first watched Guru Sishyan, which was released in 1988. “They’re not only attempting to monopolise, but the ticket prices are exorbitantly high — CAD 25-30 per person in these independent theatres compared to the CAD 15-17 charged by large multiplexes,” he added.
Despite repeated attempts, Lyca Productions, the producers, and Aishwarya Rajinikanth, could not be reached for comment. An email sent to York Cinemas, the distributors of Lal Salaam, remained unanswered.
The theatre attacks began around the time Vijay starrer Theri was released in 2016, with over 20 such incidents reported to date. “I’m puzzled by the Canadian government’s inaction regarding the theatre attacks. What are the police doing? These vandals are shooting at theatres, slashing screens, and using irritants in cinemas. Why won’t the police act? It’s disheartening to see such crimes go unsolved for years. As a result, I refrained from releasing Asuran and Karnan to Canadian distributors, a regrettable situation for the Tamil-speaking community in Canada, given both films were runaway hits,” said Kalaipuli S Thanu, who produced Theri.
The most recent incident occurred on the day Mohanlal starrer Malaikottai Vaaliban was set to premiere. About four theatres across Toronto, a major city in the province of Ontario, were targeted, prompting Cineplex, Canada’s largest multiplex chain, to cancel the shows, much to the dismay of fans. Malaikottai Vaaliban had one of the largest releases for a south Indian movie in Canada, with over 50 screens listed.
Ontario boasts the largest south Indian population in Canada, particularly comprising Tamil-speaking individuals. As per Statistics Canada, the Tamil-speaking population in Canada was recorded at 2,38,000 as of 2021. In recognition of one of the world’s most significant Tamil diaspora communities, the Canadian government commemorates January as Tamil Heritage Month. Canada is home to Tamils from Tamil Nadu, Sri Lanka, and Singapore. Statistics Canada is similar to the Central Statistics Office in India and provides statistical data to better understand Canada’s population, resources, economy, society, and culture.
Beyond the high ticket prices, fans also lamented the distance to the theatres that show their preferred movies. “We have world-class screens, but when movies are released we are not able to experience them on those screens. I am not suggesting the other screens are inferior, but they are limited and only available in certain parts of Toronto. If we could watch in more theatres, the opening day collections would undoubtedly be higher,” said Randeep Vidun, who has been residing in Canada for eight years. Randeep, once the deputy secretary for Rajini Makkal Mandram in Canada, has to travel 45 minutes to a theatre, despite having a multiplex nearby.
“Internationally, Rajinikanth’s movies vie for the highest number of screens and box-office collections. Yet, only in Canada do we see such a restricted release, and despite people paying $25 per ticket, the collections remain modest. Jailer collections in Canada were less than $60,000. With Malaikottai Vaaliban, we demonstrated this market’s potential. We executed the largest release for a south Indian movie in Canada, with 50 plus locations and advanced sales of about 100K — unheard-of numbers in Canada,” stated Saleem Padinharkkara of KW Talkies, the Canadian distributor for Malaikottai Vaaliban.
“We’re requesting the Kerala police’s help in the case. It is seriously embarrassing that Canadian law enforcement has limited technical abilities compared to Kerala police,” said Neil Vince, representative of Aashirvad America, the company that has the North American rights to the movie.
Shilpashree Jagannathan is a Toronto-based journalist whose work spans across Canadian, Indian, and international media outlets, with a keen focus on human rights, feminist movements, and decolonisation themes across Canada and India. Discover more at https://linktr.ee/shilpajn