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The state government has announced that cinema theatres can admit full house capacity starting November 1, setting the stage for the release of Sun Pictures’ Rajini-starrer, Annatthe. It will be a one-horse race since it appears no big-budget movie with big stars will likely be released on Deepavali day. Coming in the wake of the Dadasaheb Phalke award, this would mean a sure shot Rajini hit movie this year.

Simbu’s Maanadu and Vishal’s Enemy had been scheduled for Deepavali release. But it is now certain Manadu will not be out next Wednesday. Enemy producer, Vinod Kumar, has requested that the producers’ association should help to release his film since having only one Deepavali release does not portend well for the Tamil film industry. Arun Vijay’s Vaa Deal that has been in the making for eight years will be released that day, but few would call it a competitor for audience attention on a par with Annatthe.

Moondru Mudichu

Rajini’s first Diwali release Moondru Mudichu

This year marks the 45th year of Deepavali releases for the 70-year-old star. Introduced in 1975, Rajini had a Diwali release in 1976 with Moondru Mudichu. Rajini was given a salary of Rs 2,000 for the Balachander movie whereas Kamal Haasan, a much bigger star then, got Rs 30,000. Rajini played the villain in the movie, a friend of Kamal who does nothing to save Kamal from drowning in a river. Next year, Rajini’s Deepavali release was Aaru Pushpangal that had two heroes, he and Vijaykumar. This year, Vijaykumar’s son is having a film release along with Rajini.

In 1978, as many as three films of his were released for Deepavali. Rajini was hero in Thappu Thalangal and Thai Meethu Satyam but played a negative character in Aval Appadithan. But Rajini’s character in the Rudraiah-directed film had enough panache to wow audiences.

For the next two decades, Rajini had a Deepavali release almost every year barring 1982 and 1990. Such was his popularity and bankability. Deepavali day in 1990 saw posters appearing on Madurai city walls that it was a day of mourning since no Rajini film was being released. As if to make up for it, Thalapathi came out next year. Muthu was the last Deepavali release for Rajini. The year was 1995.

Some 26 years later, Rajini is once again having a Deepavali release. The makers are hoping Rajini remains a bankable star, one that the audience still love, political entry fiasco notwithstanding.

Most of Rajini’s Deepavali releases over the years have done well: Polladhavan, Thanga Magan, Nallavanukku Nallavan Padikkathavan and so on. The few flops include Maveeran, Kodi Parakkuthu and Pandia.

But the times were different then. All films were released only in theatres. Going to a movie on Deepavali day was a must for many much like the oil bath. If they didn’t get tickets for a big starrer, movie goers would scout for tickets elsewhere, even for films with no stars. Most films would do well. On occasions, more than one film of a star would release and still do well. For instance, in 1987, Sathyaraj’s Palaivana Rojakkal and Vidinja Kalyanam released. Directed by Manivannan, both did well. The same year, Rajini’s own production, Maveeran, bit the dust, however. Vijayakanth had two releases: Dharma Devadhai and Thazhuvatha Kaigal. Balachander’s Kamal movie, Punnagai Mannan, came out that Deepavali.

In the 1980s and 1990s, multiplexes started coming up: Sathyam in Chennai and KG Complex in Coimbatore. Some theatre owners had more than one hall in a city. Some distributors would procure one print and show it in multiple theatres in the same city. Even in a town like Thenkasi, Thalapathy was showing in three theatres. The idea was that showing in multiple venues would help to make money since the window period for a movie was getting shorter.

Today, there is no limit on the copies that can be made. A click and some minimal hardware are enough to make prints although this has also led to piracy, too. Releasing in several theatres became a trend.

Today, we have one big budget movie with a mega star which will be showing in practically every theatre in the state. This is a culmination of that trend.

The question to ask is whether Annatthe’s success, which seems like a sure shot now, will show Rajini’s continued saleability. Will it not be a pyrrhic victory for a 70-year-old actor? Shouldn’t there be healthy competition and a level playing field in which Rajini can be tested?

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