Vijay’s ‘Varisu’ takes on Ajith’s ‘Thunivu’: Why Tamil cinema fans are excited
Camp Vijay: Time for celebration
Mohammad Ashik is busy creating a hashtag for the upcoming Tamil film Varisu. He hopes to create one that goes viral among fans of ‘Thalapathy’ Vijay, all excited about seeing their matinee idol on the big screen this Wednesday.
This 26-year-old, who works at a production company, manages not one or two, but four active Twitter fan clubs celebrating Vijay: among them is the handle actor_vijay, a fans’ account that enjoys more than a million followers.
This Wednesday, Ashik plans to be at two Chennai theatres – Rohini and Vettri – to watch Vijay’s Varisu for three shows… all on a single day! With him will be a big gang of Vijay fans, who profess their love for the star online. “This is a very special Pongal festival for us,” says Ashik, “While we have celebrated the release of Vijay’s releases in earlier years with a lot of gusto, this year will be the biggest of them all: as it is a direct clash with Ajith’s Thunivu.”
With memes, trolls and social media fanfare, this is the biggest event in Tamil cinema in recent times, something that will set the ball rolling for how 2023 will pan out in the movies. The rivalry among Ajith-Vijay fans is among Tamil cinema’s most-discussed topics, and it’s not every day that their films release on the exact same day: the last time such an event unfolded was during January 2014 when Vijay’s Jilla took on Ajith’s Veeram.
Kancheepuram-based Ramkumar R, an ardent Vijay fan who proudly professes his love for the actor on his social media page, remembers that phase vividly. “But things are different now. Vijay’s popularity has soared since then, and we are looking forward to this film,” says Ramkumar, 30, who runs a mobile phone shop.
He will keep his regular date with Vijay fans at Kancheepuram’s Babu Theatre, which will be festively decorated to celebrate the film. However, he doesn’t view the ‘Varisu v/s Thunivu’ release as a “clash”. “It’s just healthy competition,” says Ramkumar, who has been a fan of Vijay since the release of his super hit 2004 flick Ghilli.
For theatre owners, if these two films had released on different dates, the box-office collections might have been higher, says Rakesh Gowthaman of Vettri Theatres, located at Chromepet. “While we usually prefer a big-star film and a second-tier film to be released together on a festive long weekend so that we can balance the number of shows and inventory. In the case of Thunivu and Varisu, despite having a release date way ahead of Pongal, the buzz is tremendous,” he says.
Like most city theatres, Vettri too has already sold out shows for both films from Wednesday till Sunday (Pongal day) in advance bookings alone — a phenomenon it has never seen to date. “It’s a great sign. Also, there are more holidays next week in lieu of Maatu Pongal and Kaanum Pongal. If the content of these films is even average, the box-office collection is going to be great.”
We’re not sure yet if the trending hashtag will be #Thalapathyloading or #AKloading. But, we’re sure it’s #Entertainmentloading for Tamil cinema fans this Pongal.
Camp Ajith: A bond for life
In Vellore, a 38-year-old assistant bank manager and a part-time singer, T Dhanasekar, along with his music composer-friend Aandhageethan, is releasing a cover rendition of ‘Chilla Chilla’ from Thunivu on his YouTube channel. Two things about Thunivu, a H Vinoth directorial, seems to have piqued the interest of this ardent Ajith fan: Ajith Kumar’s looks and its bank heist sequences.
“ Vera maari stylish ah irukaar, Ajith (He looks so stylish). After Mankatha (2011), I am now eager to see how he pulls off a heist this time,” says Dhana. For Dheena Shankar, a Madurai-based businessman and a fan who runs an online Twitter handle for Ajith with over 20K followers, the character’s grey shades are what intrigue him. “We are seeing him in a negative role after Mankatha (2011), which was a very special film for all of us,” notes Dheena.
It’s interesting to gauge fans’ reactions to Ajith’s film choices. For instance, the actor does a film like Nerkonda Paarvai after Viswasam, and in Thunivu, he plays a bank robber after playing a cop in his earlier, Valimai. “Rajinikanth sir built his career by doing such negative roles. Even after he was established as a hero, he did a Netrikkan. And Ajith is following that path; he just wants to be an actor and he does whatever the character requires of him,” says film producer Dhananjayan, adding that films in which Ajith played a character with shades of grey, like Vaali, Villain, Billa, Varalaaru, and so on, have been hugely successful.
Ajith is also unique given how detached he is from his films, despite the current trend where production houses focus on aggressive promotion and marketing. The actor has been a bit of a recluse for more than a decade: however, fans seem to be content with just viewing his films.
“As we don’t get to see him often in public appearances, fans are more eager to watch the film. And even though we only see him on screen, he manages to connect with audiences by just being who he is as a personality. This is a unique aspect about Ajith,” says Manoj Kumar P, a Chennai-based advocate and an ardent fan of Ajith.
Dhananjayan, however, believes that Ajith needs to take another look at this approach. “It worked for a film like Viswasam, but the market keeps changing every year in how it responds. The market now needs promotion. If Ajith sir promotes a film, even an average film will do really well,” he says.
Fans unanimously agree that Thunivu is much more hyped than Ajith’s previous film, Valimai, which was released after many delays due to the pandemic. A major reason for this is the fact that it releases on the same day as Vijay’s Varisu. Dhananjayan likens it to an India-Pakistan cricket match and says that such competition will be healthy for the trade as well. “There’s a reason why more people watch India-Pakistan matches. You wouldn’t see such craze for ticket bookings if only one film had been released,” he adds.
Manoj says that there has been a back-and-forth between fan groups that have added to the excitement. “If we do a trailer celebration, they (Vijay fans) organise a similar event when their trailer releases, and vice versa.” Manoj has been involved in the one-upmanship drama for a while now; he heads an unofficial fan club called Thalainagaram Ajith Fans for the past ten years. The club has 30 active members with an average of over 500 people participating in their events regularly.
The group is currently gearing up for a DJ night at the premises of Rohini Silverscreen in Chennai on the opening night of Thunivu. The cheers at cinema halls just became louder this Pongal.