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The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown cut down the larger-than-life style of Tamil cinema and restricted it to small projects. Big ticket directors like K S Ravikumar and Shankar could not do what they are the best at. Limits on the number of people allowed on set meant that the whole industry shrank.

Closing down the theatres during the Covid-19 lockdown was the first blow for the industry and fans alike. Nobody could have imagined such a drastic change before 2020, and therefore they were left fumbling in the dark without a way around. The shutdown of theatres and the restrictions in shooting that came in once the lockdown was eased have affected the affected the whole economy of the film industry. Filmmakers and film distributers alike suffered huge financial losses.

The Covid-19 pandemic changed the way movies are conceived. Film makers had to consider the pandemic and lockdown factors even before the movie makers decided on a plot. The conventional ones among them could not even think under such a restricted atmosphere. Thus, cinema suffered setbacks at the conception stage itself. Our movie makers have the tendency of thinking of plots based on a budget. “I got a story for three crore rupees budget or ten crore rupees,” is the way a Tamil cinema maker would begin his story telling.

Many movies that were initially planned with epic proportions stopped at the discussion stage itself. Even if some films managed to made amid all these constraints, they could not be released in theatres due to the lockdown. Big movies such as Ajith’s Valimai needed a theatrical release to make returns. Over the Top (OTT) releases of such movies would not generate revenues the makers anticipated. Covid-19 crippled big stars and directors in this manner.

Film makers had to consider the pandemic and lockdown factors even before the movie makers decided on a plot. The conventional ones among them could not even think under such a restricted atmosphere. Thus, cinema suffered setbacks at the conception stage itself.

Once the virility of the spread of Covid-19 came down, theatres were allowed to function with 50 percent occupancy. It was further relaxed to 100 percent later. Some movies such as Doctor, Annatthe and Master got to have theatrical releases at this time. But these movies were made before the pandemic. Only their release was delayed. Such movies could never have been made during the pandemic.

Another change in Tamil cinema during the Covid-19 restrictions was that movies had to give a miss to item songs. The popular format requires a whole lot of dancers and particular sets—all of which needs a lot of people. With a cap on the number of people allowed at shooting spots, there was no way to produce a dance video of the scale of item numbers. Filmmakers therefore adopted the method of montage for songs.

While the star directors and actors kept away from the silver screen, something remarkable happened with small budget films. A lot of such films succeeded. Some of the best examples are Pa Ranjith’s Sarpatta Parambarai and the police thriller Writer. Some new ventures like Sivaranjaniyum innum sila pengalum were also made by the filmmakers during this time. The themes touched upon the oppressed and minorities, like in Karnan.

Without a pandemic and lockdown, we are left to wonder if OTT platforms would have succeeded to the extent that they have. When the general lockdown was announced, Jyothika’s Ponmagal Vanthal and Keerthi Suresh’s Penguin were running on the streaming platforms. Virumandi’s Kanavar Peyar Ranasingam also did a stellar performance on OTT. As the lockdown proceeded, OTTs became a medium for more movie releases. Big ticket movies like Soorarai Potru and Jai Bhim, both starring Suriya, too were also released on OTTs during the pandemic. Fans who could not go to theatres were able to satisfy themselves by watching their favorite stars on streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

Another change in Tamil cinema during the Covid-19 restrictions was that movies had to give a miss to item songs. The popular format requires a whole lot of dancers and particular sets—all of which needs a lot of people. With a cap on the number of people allowed at shooting spots, there was no way to produce a dance video of the scale of item numbers. Filmmakers therefore adopted the method of montage for songs.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown itself had a direct influence on films. The anthology Putham Pudhu Kaalai consisting of five short film segments featured the 21-day lockdown in March 2020 as a theme. Similarly, Nathan G made the short film Obsessed, which talked about the fear of Covid-19. The story revolved around a family in lockdown and the protagonist’s obsession over the pandemic was realistically portrayed.

Although not cinema, there were a number of web series that were released during the pandemic. A good number of them received positive reception on OTT platforms.

The pandemic appears to be almost over. But the challenges galore remain in the Tamil film industry. The biggest challenge could be bringing fans back to theatres, when by now many of them are accustomed to watching movies in the comfort of their homes. Movies will have to be really compelling to bring back crowds to theatres. It seems like a chicken-and-egg problem where only if movie-goers are thronging theatres will filmmakers have the confidence that the big budget films that they make will get returns. And only if epic scale movies are made will it give viewers an incentive to come watch them on the big screen. Time will tell how it pans out.


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