Post-Vishwaroopam protests, comedy makes a giant box-office comeback

By Sreedhar Pillai

2012 was the year of small films at the Kollywood box-office. Among the big winners were Oru Kal Oru Kannadi (OKOK), Marina, Kadhalil Sodhappuvathu Yeppadi (KSY), Kalakalappu and Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom (NKPK).

All these small budget films had one thing in common: they made the audiences laugh out loud. In 2013, out of a dozen Tamil released in January, only one film has succeeded – Kanna Laddu Thinna Asaiya (KLTA), an outrageous comedy caper. It is not just successful, but is a huge hit.

KLTA, which featured the current comedy czar of Kollywood, Santhanam along with little known Dr Srinivasan, was released during the Pongal festival. It was pitted against festival biggies like Karthi’s Alex Pandian and Vishal’s Samar, but emerged the super hit of the season.

The critics found KLTA humour slapstick, with cheesy over-the-top dialogues, double entendre and gags which varied from humour to humdrum. But mass audiences laughed their heart out, and the film produced by Santhanam himself for around Rs 5 crores, went on to do theatrical business worth Rs 12 crore!

Protests and censor bans are making producers opt for safe bets. PTI

Protests and censor bans are making producers opt for safe bets. PTI

KLTA once again reinforced the belief that Tamil films in comedy genre work best at the box-office. Today Santhanam has emerged as a comedy superstar with a fantastic opening. All superstars of the industry want to rope him in for the comedy track in their films. Udhayanidhi Stalin, son of DMK stalwart MK Stalin and Karunanidhi’s grandson, became a star last year with the help of Santhanam, who had a lengthy parallel comedy track in OKOK.

KLTA’s success is due to Santhanam and the another mysterious comedian who calls himself “Powerstar Srinivasan”. Dr Srinivasan, who is said to be 50 plus, debuted in Kollywood by producing and acting in a film called Lathika, which “ran mysteriously” in a dilapidated single screen in Chennai for 100 days.

He claimed a following of “thousands of fans” and started calling himself ‘Powerstar”, but made news only when he was jailed recently in a cheating case. However, after KLTA, Srinivasan is popular among the mass youth audience. Today he is doing showman Shankar’s I and half a dozen other films. In a newspaper interview, he recently bragged that he charges Rs. 1 crore per film.

In fact, UTV, in a reverse process, is remaking its hit adult comedy Delhi Belly into Tamil as Settai. G Dhananjayan UTV Chief - South Business said : “Delhi Belly worked in Hindi more for the entertainment value than the irreverence. In Tamil, we picked up the entertainment value alone and left out the language of the original film. We adapted it to suit our audience’ taste by bringing in additional entertainment elements like comic situations and songs. Further, Delhi Belly had reached only a limited audience as it was released small in the South, hence its adaptation will allow the Tamil audience to watch a different interpretation.”

The current trend in Kollywood is that the comedian is a part of the main story, and moves the film forward. In big superstar driven films, comedian has always been the buddy of the hero. According to Tamil film historian Film News Anandan “comedy as a genre has always found favour with Tamil audiences from time immemorial. Comedians like NS Krishnan, Chandrababu, Nagesh, Thengai Srinivasan, Goundamani, Senthil and others ruled during their times. Till recently Vadivelu and Vivek ruled supreme. The new flavour is Santhanam.” A comedy film in Tamil today is commercially more viable than other genres. The economics of a comedy film illustrates the point. It can be made for anything between Rs 3 to Rs 6 crore, and has the potential to recover its cost from theatricals alone. Plus there is additional revenue streams such as television and remake rights.

The Tamil comedies have a market in Bollywood as well, especially after Housefull 2 became such a big grosser. Remake-rights of many crass-comedies have been snapped by Mumbai producers at fancy rates. After buying the rights, Mumbai based script writers brush them up and change nativity to suit the taste of upcountry audience. In Tamil, a new breed of actors such as Shiva, Sivakarthikeyan, Vijay Sethupathi and few others have has emerged to do the roles which require comic timing to make audiences laugh. Most of these people were earlier radio jockeys, presenters or stand–up comedians in television shows.

 Poster of the recent comedy hit "Kanna Laddu Thinna Asaiya!" Some comedians like Santhanam and Dr Srinivasan are reported to be working on daily wages, so that their call-sheet is not wasted and they can do multiple films. Santhanam is rumoured to be charging around Rs 7 lakhs per day, making him India’s highest paid daily wage earner! Director Sundar C (actress Khushboo’s husband), who made the super hit comedy Kalakalappu last year, is now doing Mada Gaja Raja (MGR), and all areas for the film have been sold out even before release. Says Sundar C: “A comedy film is like a Thali Meal. I have found from my first film Ulathe Alli Tha that there is always an audience for unlimited far-out comedy fun rides. The story has to blend with the situations, gags and all other essential comedy elements mixed in the right proportion for it to work at the box-office .” Meanwhile, the success of recent comedy capers has created a boom in Kollywood.

There are at least 50 comedy films on the floor in various stages of production, and more are in the pipeline. Even big hero films are trying to rope in top comedians to help the film sell better with the distributors. Four of the hottest films in the market ready for release are Kedi Billa Killadi Ranga, Rendavuthu Padam, Yaaruda Mahesh and Sonna Puriyathu. They are all light-hearted comedies.

Kollywood feels that genres such as romance, thriller, horror, family drama or action will restrict a big chunk of moviegoers. A mindless comedy is one genre that will attract all film buffs. As Santhanam said in a recent interview: “comedy is serious business. It is tough to make people laugh. More than slapstick comedy, it is the writing and creation of comic situations that work the best with the audiences.” This year is likely to see a record production of films in Tamil and majority of them are going to be in the comedy genre. Today with censor trouble and ban-threats looming over Kollywood, comedy films are a safe bet.

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