On Tuesday morning, most of those following the news had their focus turned towards the Supreme Court where the five-judge bench was coming out with this ruling on the issue of same-sex marriage.
Almost around the same time, those following the news in Tamil Nadu also had their eyes trained on the court. But to be precise, the Madras High Court, which was taking up — mind you, on an urgent hearing — the all-important issue of whether the upcoming Tamil film Leo, directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj and starring Vijay, should be allowed to have a special screening (from around 7 am or even before that) or not.
For the record, the court left it to the government to decide. That such an administrative issue ended up in the courts is revealing of things as they exist in Tamil Nadu now.
If you have scoured the social media platforms in the last few days, the fate of Leo's special shows has been the topic of animated discussion among fans and the lay public.
Now, those of you wondering what this special shows are well these typical Tamil cinema-heralded innovations — now they have travelled to other parts of the country, too — and they usually refer to midnight (1 am types) or early morning (4 am) screenings of new movies of big stars.
In fact, an actor is classified as a star in the Tamil movie hierarchy only if he is able to command this special show. Only a handful can pull this off. It is basically a show of strength for them.
These midnight or early morning shows are highly priced ones and the theatres, hand-in-glove with the star associations mandarins, usually make a huge killing.
The money made during such shows are also not fully accounted for as the rates are not really mentioned and in any case deemed a private screening. These events also stand out for fans' excesses as a free-for-all environment hangs over them.
Pouring of milk over gigantic cutouts of the stars, showing of camphor to the screen at the introduction of the star in the film, cat-calling and badmouthing the villain if and when he threatens the hero within the story on screen... you know them, it is theatre of absurd in a literal sense.
This show of extreme fandom, like all mass idiocies, has also gotten popular in the neighbouring states, especially in the Telugu-speaking lands.
Is Leo Being Targeted By The Ruling Dispensation In TN?
As it happened, these late-night early-morning shows, which were a major thing till the Pongal festival early this year, suffered a jolt in Tamil Nadu as a couple of fans of Vijay and Ajith died around these shows of Varisu and Thunivu.
As the general public, who had suffered due to the excesses of the fans, loudly expressed their displeasure at the screenings, the state government clamped down on them and the midnight and early-morning events were scrapped. The first screening could not be earlier than 9 am, it said.
Rajinikanth's Jailer, which released on 9 August this year, adhered to the new norms. The film went on to break most of the box-office as the superstar proved once again that he is the man to beat in the Tamil filmdom.
Jailer's success is deemed to have put Vijay's fans in a fix as they had all along claimed that their 'Thalapathy' had gone past the 'Thalaivar'.
Now, if this claim is to be true, Leo has to beat the earnings of Jailer. But for that to happen, the pricey special shows were needed.
Amidst all this, Vijay's rising popularity and incipient political ambitions seem to have not gone down well with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) top brass who see him as a potential rival to Udhayanidhi Stalin, who has no real own base except the one inherited from the family.
So, Leo has been facing pressure from the cabal surrounding Stalin Jr which is said to control Tamil filmdom. That the films produced or released by Red Giants get the pride of theatres and have an easy passage is well known.
Leo, on the other hand, has suffered the backlash from the theatre owners. The film's audio launch — which was widely anticipated as the stars usually make controversial statements at such affairs — was called off at the last moment.
Though the producer said the event couldn't be held as the demand for tickets was huge and fake tickets were doing the rounds, the popular perception was that pressure was brought to bear upon the Leo team to not go ahead with the show due to political reasons.
When the Leo team sought government permission to have the special show, it initially seemed to relent. The home secretary announced that the film would be allowed to have shows from 7am in the morning. But two days later — not surprisingly — the government made it clear that shows would commence only from 9 am.
It can be nobody's case that Leo should be given special permission, but the ad-hoc approach from the powers that be is worrying.
Now, it seems some of the theatres are also backing out from the regular screening of Leo as the talks between the producer and cinema hall owners over sharing of revenue seems to have failed. The popular Rohini theatre in Chennai Koyambedu area is one among them. The theatre, incidentally, suffered damage as Vijay's fans created chaos and went on a rampage during the unveiling of Leo's trailer in the first week of October.
Why Are Vadivelu, Goundamani Nemes So Popular?
That a film's trailer release be rambunctiously unruly and violent is the reality of Tamil Nadu, whose population have always exhibited staggering craze for films and their stars.
It can be even claimed that when it comes to fanaticism for movies, Tamil Nadu stands at the top. It is not as if film-viewers in other states are incapable of such frenzied fandom, but there seems to be an intense obsession for films and their stars in Tamil Nadu.
It is often said that meme-makers from Tamil Nadu are the best. On the face of it, this can be argued to be true. But these memes get popular because the film references therein are never lost and there is an instant connect.
On social media platforms, it is not uncommon to find Tamil film fans gushing that there is a Vadivelu or Goundamani (two of the most popular comedians from Kollywood) line for most of life's situations. The real fact is the comical dialogues from the actors have become well internalised for most of the people that they are able to relate them to their own realities of life.
While Vadivelu’s and Goundamani‘s comical prowess is indeed terrific, they have become meme stars solely because there are multitudes of them out there who can recall their gigs verbatim and vowel-perfect.
It is no wonder that Tamil Nadu led the nation on how to use the power of cinema in politics. No other state has a seen succession of chief ministers who owe their popularity solely to the power of movies.
The connection between films and politics in this state is almost umbilical. But you can't blame the politicos. At the core is people's maddening and cultish following of movies and their actors.
Is it wrong to be so much into films? Well, it is indeed a human failing. Fascination for things like religion, politics, sports can end up in extremes.
In Tamil Nadu's case, it happens to be movies. I would like to say more on the subject, but pardon me, I have to get off urgently as the booking for the first-day first-show of Leo has just opened. The Tamil nation will probably cancel my visa if I don’t watch Leo first day first show and tom-tom it on social media platforms.
Thalapathy, here I come!
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