A dimly-lit theatre suddenly drowned in light revealed hundreds of fans crowding the aisles. Chatter and hooting reverberated through the hall as the film paused, only to replay a song that had just made the audience sing and dance in the dark. With the lights on, you could see it all — phones recording the unruly audience, friends dancing in nostalgia, women singing at the top of their lungs, a coy couple making eyes at each other. A celebration ensued.
‘Ava Enna’ (popularly known as ‘Anjala’) from actor Suriya’s 2008 film Vaaranam Aayiram, a kuththu song about a heartbroken man singing out of remorse and despair, had made audiences move their feet. The weight of the plot point faded away for a brief moment, as people celebrated their memories.
“Back when we made ‘Anjala,’ we did feel that this was the kind of song that would make people dance,” says director Gautham Vasudev Menon, whose Vaaranam Aayiram re-released recently to much fanfare in Tamil Nadu, along with its Telugu dubbed version Surya S/O Krishnan in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. “Harris (composer Harris Jayaraj) was intrigued with the descriptions of how I wanted the song to be — I wanted a folksy beat; the saavu melam one to be precise. I am happy that we tried to do something different and that it has worked,” he adds.
Vaaranam Aayiram is one among the many other Tamil films — like 3,Aalavandhan, Muthu, Baba, Siva Manasula Sakthi, Vallavan, Minnale, Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa, and Vettaiyaadu Vilayaadu — that saw a re-release in theatres in the last one year. Four of these are directed by Gautham, and he is elated that audiences are choosing to re-live his films more than 15 years after they were released. “One day, I got a call from someone who asked me to arrange some tickets for them. This was just days before the release of Leo, in which I acted, and so I assumed they were talking about Leo, but it turned out they wanted tickets for Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya.” That their films transcend time and stay relevant is what every filmmaker dreams to achieve, he adds.
Arunkumar Sekhar, a Chennai-based freelance writer, caught a show of Vaaranam Aayiram recently, and he is in awe of the community experience it gave him. “Laughing, singing and crying with everyone is an experience you do not get when you watch a film alone. Catching these films on a large screen evoked a lot of memories from the old times which I cherish even now. It renews my hope that there will be more such movies that we can look forward to,” he says.
Re-releasing older films in theatres is not a new trend; it is a common practice on the birthdays of stars or when a film achieves a landmark since its release. However, if more of these re-released films have been listed in your ticketing applications in the last three months, there is a different reason.
Thanks to the efforts of a few theatres in the city, a micro trend boosted by social media users has emerged. There are some very specific markings to this trend — these are films that target youth, and theatres are encouraging people to shoot videos on their mobile phones and dance to marquee songs, some of which get an encore, like at a concert.
After seeing the fanfare that re-releases of films like Vada Chennai and Vellai Illa Pattadhaari got on actor Dhanush’s birthday last year, Vishnu Kamal, owner of Kamala Cinemas in Vadapalani, played Vada Chennai once again in October in the weeks ahead of Vijay’s Leo, which was dull as is the case before any star film’s release. “It was also the film’s fifth anniversary. But how would you invite people to watch a popular film that had a successful theatrical run, television reruns and is available on OTT? That’s when I thought of reducing the price of the ticket to ₹49. And in the run that Vada Chennai had till the release of Leo, we sold 21,000 tickets.”
But that is not all. Once again when things got quiet in the weeks following Leo, Vishnu decided to re-release 3 (Moonu) and actor Dhanush agreed despite the film not doing well after its original release in 2012. What really made this a success was not just the decision to re-release Moonu but, as Vishnu recounts, when he instinctively decided to turn his theatre hall into a mini-concert. “When ‘Kolaveri’ was playing, I thought, ‘Everyone knows the lyrics to the song by heart. Why not play it for a second time but dial down the volume to let them sing?’ That was a difficult call to make because what if they don’t end up singing with you? It worked. People started to post videos on social media, and that’s when it all started,” he shares.
In Kamala Cinemas, Moonu ran for over 50 days, selling over 81,000 tickets, according to Vishnu. The Instagram Reels of college-goers dancing in theatres made re-releases popular across Tamil Nadu. As it turns out, this is also working well as a business strategy for the makers, according to producer Kalaipuli S Thanu, whose Aalavandhan and Baba were digitally remastered and released recently. “Firstly, people who are watching these films are watching it on the big screen for the first time, and so they get a fresh experience. Moreover, these are digitally remastered versions and not the film prints that were used in those days.” Being able to distribute more prints per film than when it was originally released, and releasing using the far-evolved distribution system also helps producers, he adds.
This has altered the business model for theatres like Kamala Cinemas; what initially started as a way to fill screens when things were bleak has now become a regular affair. Whether these films can compete with new releases is subjective, but people are more willing to watch tested content in theatres than new content, says Ruban, the owner of GK Cinemas, Chennai.
What is baffling is how at a time when theatres are struggling to pull crowds for films that do not guarantee a visually spectacular experience, films like Vaaranam Aayiram and Moonu , now categorised as ‘OTT films,’ have been drawing crowds effortlessly. Does that mean people will go to theatres more often? Ruban does not think so. “We have had many big star films last year that are meant for the big screen. But even those films aren’t necessarily working. So a tectonic shift is happening in the way people consume films.”
The reason why these films are working has less to do with how new films are working, says Gautham. “It’s more about what these films meant to people. And so, when it comes back even after a decade, they want to go back to that space to re-live those moments.” Arunkumar concurs. “Movies are like a time capsule; they are a reflection of the time they were made in, but some movies stand the test of time. Not only do they give you the memories of past years, but show you how timeless some of those movies are,” he says.
However, this aspect is also a major reason why you cannot be sure if this trend is here to stay. Ruban believes it will fade away, because, only a few films are available on digital for a re-release, and out of them, only a handful guarantee such an experience. Additionally, not all producers are willing to re-release or invest to digitalise their films.
Vishnu disagrees. However, he admits that the unavailability of digital versions is a disadvantage. “So many people want to watch Ghilli, Sachein or Poove Unakkaga but none of them are re-mastered digitally.” Hence, this is possible only for those films that came out after 2007 or 2008, when digital cameras took over film cameras, or if the films’ digital versions are available. “Further, the producers should agree to a re-release,” says Vishnu.
As Ruban and Vishnu point out, even if they are available digitally, not every film brings in large audiences. “Only four or five films have worked well in these re-releases, like Pudhupettai, Aayirathil Oruvan, Moonu and Vaaranam Aayiram; of these, the first two are films that didn’t do well initially and later gained popularity,” Ruban explains. As Vishnu says, films like Vaaranam Aayiram,Moonu, and Siva Manasula Sakthi draw college-goers and young couples. But how many such films can get re-released, wonders Ruban. Theatre owners also cannot do much if even the three to four other films that adhere to all these parameters do not get re-released as the producers don’t seem to be interested or are unable to invest in digital remastering of their films.
But say the game keeps going, what kind of films would work well if re-released? While Ruban chooses Kamal Haasan, Arjun starrer Kuruthipunal, Vishnu wishes to see Rajinikanth films like Maappillai, Padayappa, Annamalai and Arunachalam on his screen. “We have asked Red Giant Movies to give us Oru Kal Oru Kannadi, and of course, we are waiting for Thanu sir to re-release Sachein,” says Vishnu, adding that the official re-release of Sillunu Oru Kaadhal might turn all heads soon.
Gautham wishes his 2003 action thriller Khakha Khakha gets a re-release, and producer Thanu is all game for it. “Khakha Khakha and Sachein will surely see a re-release this year. Even Kandukondein Kandukondein has a chance of seeing a re-release someday,” says the producer, adding that Shivaji Ganesan’s Uthama Puthiran and MG Ramachandran’s Nadodi Mannan are films he personally wishes to see on the big screen again.
Whether this trend is here to stay or not, only time will tell. For now, let’s ride the tide and watch out for evergreen hits to grace the silver screen again. The month of love will see a city-wide re-release of Premam and 96, adding to the list of classic romantic films like Vinnaithandi Varuvaayaa that have been running for a while now. Witness the romance that is cinema with a date down memory lane.
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