Tracing Vijay's exponentially increasing box office dominance over the years in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and overseas
Vijay's 63rd film Bigil may repeat or even surpass the success of his last two blockbusters, Mersal and Sarkar, when it releases this Diwali.
He has been in the industry for more than 25 years, and has witnessed the highest of highs and lowest of lows. From successive blockbusters to box office duds. From harshly criticising opinion columns on his looks in the nascent stage of his career to becoming a celebrated, the most in-demand star in South Indian cinema, Vijay's filmography has been a roller-coaster ride. As Thalapathy Vijay celebrates his 45th birthday today on 22 June, and the internet is replete with record-breaking tweets and wishes for his 63rd film Bigil, we trace his exponentially rising box office stature in the last few years.
Vijay's last two films, Mersal and Sarkar, successfully sailed past the huge benchmark of Rs 70 crore distributor share in Tamil Nadu, making him the only actor ever in the history of Tamil cinema to attain the feat. Not even Superstar Rajinikanth was able to achieve that consecutive success in his decorated and a hugely successful four-decade-long career. In overseas regions, both Mersal, and Sarkar, quietly touched the $10 million lifetime total in theatrical ticket sales.
Trade analyst LM Kaushik tells Firstpost, "When it comes to overseas, it's safe to say Vijay is the second biggest South Indian star next to Rajinikanth. If there are no big releases in Bollywood this Diwali, there is a slight possibility for Bigil to rake in Rs 100 crore from just overseas takings. In fact, $10 million lifetime earnings for a film from foreign territories is a big dream for any South Indian actor. Vijay has achieved that benchmark twice with Mersal and Sarkar. When it comes to the UK, Sri Lanka, and France, Vijay has become the biggest superstar with supreme box office numbers."
Even Vijay's top contemporaries from the neighbouring Telugu film industry, like Mahesh Babu, besides their extraordinary pull in the Western market, have not had consistent success in overseas markets as Vijay does. "Mahesh Babu's best overseas totals range somewhere between $4 to 5 million for his films, compared to Vijay's consistently increasing box office stamina in foreign markets," a popular overseas distributor, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells Firstpost.
From the 2011 release Velayudham to the 2014 release Jilla, Vijay's films have had only decent success in overseas markets, barring Thuppakki, which crossed the $5 million mark for the actor for the first time. Despite a variety of hits and genres, his foreign box office was growing only in the range of $0.5 million before AR Murugadoss' Kaththi provided the much-needed impetus with a sudden uptick of $1 million difference from his previous release, Nanban, which was helmed by 2.0 director Shankar.
"Ajith's Vedalam, Vivegam, and Viswasam have only grossed close to $5 million lifetime overseas total. Ajith is considered as Vijay's biggest arch rival, and his overseas box office has not witnessed any surge in the last few years compared to the latter. Vijay's collaborations with Atlee and AR Murugadoss have significantly transformed his overseas box office might. The kind of stories he chooses and the contemporary societal issues his films deal with are also some of the reasons for his strong overseas pull," the overseas distributor adds.
However, in homeground Tamil Nadu, Kaushik says Ajith is a good competitor for Vijay. "It was during the gap between Vedalam and Vivegam, Vijay's Theri set a benchmark. Then Vivegam didn't do well, and Mersal continued to set another milestone in Tamil Nadu. Now, Viswasam has set a fresh benchmark. Since Ajith's Nerkonda Paarvai is not your usual commercial entertainer, we have to wait and see how big it goes. So, in all likelihood, Bigil's Tamil Nadu gross will compete for the lifetime numbers of Viswasam, Mersal and Sarkar. In home ground, it will be a three-horse race between Rajinikanth, Ajith and Vijay," states Kaushik.
Another local territory where Vijay enjoys extraordinary box office dominance is Kerala. It took Mohanlal's most-anticipated fantasy thriller Odiyan to surpass the opening day record of Vijay's Sarkar in the state. It was Sarkar which broke the opening day record of Baahubali 2: The Conclusion in Kerala and emerged as the biggest day-one grosser in Kerala last Diwali.
Box office tracker Irshad, who religiously analyses Kerala and the UAE-GCC territories, says, "Vijay is the only other language actor who is still able to pull the first-day crowd in Kerala on par with the Big Ms (Mammootty, Mohanlal). Ghilli was the turning point of his career in Kerala. It surpassed the record set by Kamal Haasan's Indian and then Pokkiri broke director Shankar and Vikram's Anniyan record. Vijay's domination in Kerala started from Pokkiri, and it continues even today."
The pre-release theatrical rights for Bigil in Tamil Nadu are pegged at the upper limit of Rs 75 crore, an unheard-of figure for a Vijay film. Screen Scene Media has reportedly bagged the Tamil Nadu distribution rights of the movie. While a section of the trade is quite wary of the exorbitant price, exhibitors and distributors believe that if the film surpasses the ambitious scale and presentation of Mersal, it may become the first ever Tamil title to touch the Rs 80 crore share mark.
In one of his famous audio launch speeches, Vijay once said, "Eppome Aduthavanga Thotta Uyaraththai Neenga Ilakkaa Vechchukaatheenga. Neenga Thotta Uyaratha Adathavangaluku Ilakkaa Veyyunga." (Don't chase the benchmarks set by others. Make others chase your milestones.) With Bigil, Vijay may just walk the talk once again.
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