Tenet, the Christopher Nolan directed science-fiction action thriller, released in India on December 4 and collected ₹4.25 crore during its opening weekend. In fact, according to trade website Box Office India, despite being a niche film, Tenet (Elizabeth Debicki, Robert Pattinson, Dimple Kapadia) has been the best performer in India since cinemas reopened in October.
This strong showing brought some hope to theatre owners in Tamil Nadu, who talk to Silverscreen India about battling eight months of lockdown, the scarcity of good content, the piracy issues surrounding Tenet‘s release, and the problem of the big Tamil releases moving to OTT platforms.
From November 20, cinema halls began to reopen in Tamil Nadu after eight months of lockdown. In the first two weeks, they reported brisk business from Tamil releases like Biskoth and Irandam Kuththu, but there has not been enough good content to keep crowds interested.
However, several big Tamil releases had moved to OTT platforms. Jyothika’s Ponmagal Vandhal and Suriya’s Soorarai Pottru released on Amazon Prime Video, while Vijay Sethupati’s Ka Pae Ranasingam on Zee5, and Nayanthara’s Mookuthi Amman released on Disney+ Hotstar.
According to Royal Theatre Coimbatore owner G Rathnavel, the release of any one of those films in theatres “would have attracted large crowds as it has been eight long months since people went to theatres.”
“You will have to give a good product. And people are hasty in giving the nice pictures [films] to OTT. If those two or three pictures (Soorarai Pottru, Ka Pae Ranasingam,and Nayanthara’s Mookuthi Amman) had come to the big screen, things would have been much better,” he said.
Soorarai Pottru, a film directed by Sudha Kongara and based on the life of Captain Gopinath and the rise of Deccan Airlines, received flak from the Tamil Nadu Theatre and Multiplex Owners’ Association for opting for a digital release. Soorarai Pottru is the second film after Ponmagal Vandhal to have premiered online. Both are produced by actor Suriya under his banner 2D Entertainment.
Many theatre owners decided to simply keep their establishments closed until new big-budget Tamil movies were released in theatres during Pongal next year. This includes G Rathnavel, whose cinema has been shut for more than eight nine months now. He said, “We have kept the theatre closed. Most of the theatres are running very poorly. In Tamil Nadu there are a few theatres that have closed and are waiting for Pongal because we want the big pictures to come. Then only it will slowly start picking up. Otherwise, it is going to be like this.”
Tenet – Piracy
Tenet, along with The New Mutants, was facing piracy issues during its worldwide release. So when it came to India, not every theatre owner was willing to screen it.
Ganesh, who runs Kamala Cinemas in Chennai, said, “I did not screen Tenet. Because it has already premiered on the OTT platforms. And there is a lot of leakage of content and everyone has seen it everywhere. And there is no point that we are going to play the movie which has already released anywhere again here.”
Tenet will be made available on DVDs and Blu-Ray from December 15. But pirated versions of the film were leaked in September itself, just around the time of its release. In India, its badly-recorded versions were available on various sites.
“When the content is released with 100% clarity on those OTT platforms, it will have leakage. People are not going to pay a new movie’s price to watch an old movie,” he added.
Piracy wasn’t the only issue for him. He added, “The content is not that strong. It is not like Master or Annaatthe. Soorarai Pottru had to be released only on the screens for the kind of movie that it is.”
Tenet – the Tamil Version
For some though, it was a no brainer to screen it.
Ruban, of GK Cinemas, said, “Big ticket Hollywood films generally do well in India. We saw Avengers, Fast and Furious franchise, The Jurassic World franchise, Wonder Woman, Batman, James Bond films, etc. all doing well here. So, definitely there is going to be an increase in occupancy in the case of Hollywood films.”
In fact, Tenet had become a major factor in keeping theatres afloat, say many owners. In its first week, most shows for Tenet were booked fully (within the new 50% occupancy model).
Speaking of Tenet‘s opening week, Ruban said, “The response was good. Initially, for the first three days, both the English and Tamil versions did good business. Since Monday, the Tamil version has been doing well. Even in its second weekend, it’s doing well.”
While the film had opened strongly, it was the Tamil version that was keeping the occupancy up.
Nikhilesh Surya of Rohini Theatre in Chennai said, “We have screened Tenet in both Tamil and English. For us, the Tamil version is doing better. Because I think they just wanted it to play across all national chains and IMAX chains. So, people preferred to watch it there and the Tamil version worked.”
In fact, the Tamil dubbed version has fared better than the Hindi version did in theatres in north India.
#Tenet has restored normalcy in theatres..although collections for the hindi version are on the lower side..but the trends are same as pre covid times..many regulars turned up..it has helped build momentum..🙏 @warnerbrosindia @DenzD
— Vishek Chauhan (@VishekC) December 7, 2020
However, Tenet‘s footfall is nowhere near what theatre owners expect from major releases. Nikhilesh Surya said, “There is a mild increase in footfall [with Tenet] but the content is not enough to pull people in large numbers.”
Pongal 2021 is when a number of major films are set to release, including Karthi’s Sulthan, Silambarasan’s Eeswaran, and Vijay’s Master. With that star-heavy line-up, a heavy footfall is guaranteed. The issue now for theatre owners is – how to increase the seating capacity, which currently stands at 50%.
“Right now we are looking forward to 100% occupancy flag-off, irrespective of when it comes. The expectation is, probably we will get a flag-off in Pongal. There has only been a request. However, there is no guarantee. We have no clue because we don’t know what the medical situation will be like in Tamil Nadu,” said Ganesh.
Tenet brought a ray of hope, but a cloud of uncertainty still persists, they say.