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Four shocks have rocked the Kaala group led by actor Rajinikanth, his son-in-law and actor Dhanush (Wunderbar Films), production company Lyca, the distributors of the film and director Ranjith, as the film is set for release on June 7 worldwide. The mediocre and lukewarm response to advance bookings throughout Tamil Nadu has come as the first shock on release eve.

Theatre owners confirmed on condition of anonymity that normally on the opening day of advance booking for a Rajni starrer, tickets would be sold out for the first week. This time, after the first two days of advance booking, Kaala tickets have been sold out only for the opening day – June 7. Bookings are sluggish for the week-end, although the film distributors and exhibitors believe that tickets for Saturday and Sunday would be sold by Friday.

However, distributors do confirm that the opening is sluggish, and not on expected lines.

The second shock has come from reports of the film being made available live from a Singapore theatre on Facebook for over 45 minutes on Wednesday night. Several theatres abroad had commenced screening of the film on June 6 itself. The reports of the film being available on FB have jolted the producers and distributors.

A third shock has come from a section of the exhibitors, who in the past used to line up to release a Rajini film on the terms of the producers or the distributors. This time around, theatre owners are reluctant to jack up the prices for the first week as said to be demanded by some distributors. After the film industry strike in April, the Tamil Nadu Government permitted theatres to charge a maximum of Rs 150 plus taxes for big budget films. Therefore, theatres can charge a maximum of Rs 207.26 as against Rs 165 before.

The new rate has become a bone of contention now. While distributors want all theatres to charge Rs 207.26, several theatre owners feel it is too high and could have a backlash as film goers, except the die-hard ones, may prefer to see the film after two weeks when rates may be lower. This may lead to a slump in the opening week, these exhibitors are said to have pointed out. 

Late on Wednesday, the Kamala theatre group issued a statement that the decision not to screen Kaala in their chain was taken as a commercial deal could not be reached with the producers.

A sign of the jitters among exhibitors came late on June 6 when Kamala group of theatres, a prominent movie chain in the heart of Chennai in Vadapalani (where most of the film work gets done in Tamil Nadu), announced that they had decided against screening of Kaala in their theatres and that they would screen Jurassic World! This has jolted the Kaala group. The unthinkable has happened in the heart of Chennai. Late on Wednesday, the Kamala theatre group issued a statement that the decision not to screen Kaala in their chain was taken as a commercial deal could not be reached with the producers.

In neighbouring Karnataka, the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce decided not to release the film owing to pressure from pro-Kannada activists. Representatives of the chamber and film trade associations met chief minister H. D. Kumaraswamy regarding this. The Kaala group moved the Karnataka High Court which cited the recent Supreme Court ruling that state governments had little power to ban a movie that has been certified by the censor board. The state government too cited the judgment and said it has taken no decision but promised to provide police protection if the producers gave a list of theatres where it would be realised, said M. S. Bharat, a senior partner at the law firm Anand & Anand that appeared for the Kaala group. While there is no bar on the film’s release, Kumaraswamy, while accepting the court order, has requested that the film not be released due to the Cauvery controversy, casting a shadow over theatre owners.

C company has planned to release Kaala in 130 screens in Karnataka. Fringe groups have threatened agitations against such theatres in Karnataka. There could be a few violent protests and this may force a few theatres to suspend screening of the film. The threat of violence could also result in a drop in ticket sales for the film. On his part, Rajini has asked for cooperation.

Meanwhile, some Tamil groups overseas have cited Rajini’s criticism of the agitationist tendencies in the state to ask that the film not be released in their countries.

Rajinikanth meeting the injured in the Tuticorin firing

Kabali repeat needed
A chat with some Rajini fans indicated the sombre mood in their camp. Although they are enthusiastic about the release of a film starring their Thalaiva, they are not happy with the songs of the film and the way director Ranjith has chosen to thrust his ideology on the film. The fans would prefer a typical Rajini film, a regular entertainer. However, they are sore that their Thalaivaa had fallen into the Ranjith trap, and hope that Rajini would look for a different director next time. Although Kabali fetched money at the box-office, hardcore Rajini films themselves watched Kabali only once, unlike the films prior to Lingaa and Kabali, which they watched several  times over. It is the repeat audience that converts a film into a hit, and the fear is that Kaala would not generate a repeat audience.

At the end of the day, producers couldn’t care less. They would prefer to go laughing all the way to the bank. Gone are the days when a film was expected to run for 100 days or a 25-week jubilee run. These days, producers and distributors would be happy with a packed month-long run.

Kabali, though not a hit in the true Rajini term, is said to have grossed Rs 650 crore world-wide, nearly half of it coming overseas.

Kaala’s theatrical and musical rights are said to have been sold for Rs 230 crore including the rights for the Telugu and Hindi dubbed versions. The problem for producers and distributors and for Rajni himself would be a demand for return of advances paid for rights if the film doesn’t do well at the box-office in the second week onwards. The producers are keeping their fingers crossed, hoping that corporate shows would make up for poor demand in theatres.

This is the fourth shock for the producers. Are fans going to be unhappy all over again? Will there be no repeat audiences? Rajini has a lot at stake in this film as he hopes it would be a stepping stone to success in the political arena. This being his first film after his political avatar, he cannot accept anything less than a super hit. The verdict will be out not on June 7 but after June 10 when people, not fans, will begin to turn up at theatres.

The film is set for release in 700 screens across Tamil Nadu on June 7.

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