#FDFS in Tamil Nadu: Tracing fan frenzy through the decades – DTNEXT

The frenzy began soon after midnight on Friday. Diehard fans who could not get sleep got together, formed groups and gathered under Koyambedu Flyover on Poonamalee High Road much before the First Day First Show #FDFS pre-dawn screening of Kamal Hassan-starrer Vikram at the Rohini Silver Screens. Cutouts, posters and banners of their hero, Andavar… Andu… Ulagayanagan… as the veteran actor’s fans address him, oozed out of the theatre complex, already packed with them for the past few days. Soon, the crackers and the band players arrived. They were followed by the DJs, camera-wielding Youtubers, and media videographers who tried to capture the mood as yet another balmy day began in Chennai. A sweat-soaked young man dressed in a white vest, light blue half sleeve unbuttoned shirt tied together at the tip and denim jeans, who had been dancing with his friends to the kuthu music played by the band, halted as videographers focused on him.
“Our Andavar’s movie is coming after four years. It will be a blockbuster… I know for sure. And if it doesn’t, we will make it one…” he stammered, gasping for breath before resuming his Kuthu dance. The video cameras then focused on a group of city college girls, who decided to watch the film before heading to the campus. “We have promised our friends to give a review when we meet in college today,” said a young woman wearing a black t-shirt with Kamal Hassan’s portrait on the bust. After the girls had their say, the cameras zoomed in on the families who were soberer but enjoyed the hysteria around them.
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Even before the first show of Vikram (2022) reached its climax in theatre complexes and multiplexes across the city by around 6 am, crackers worth several thousand rupees had been burst, tonnes of flower garlands and paper shredding had been strewn, and packets of milk drained (a culture that few diehard fans refuse to give up).
This #FDFS mania is no longer organic. Kollywood insiders admit that the #FDFS of any major film is no longer just about the fans and movie lovers getting to watch the movie before others. It is now a measure of the star’s popularity as well as the movie producer’s ability to build up hype for the film which eventually translates into good business as within hours of the release of the film, movie pundits begin their speculation on the first day’s collections.
A huge cutout of Vijay at Rohini Silver Screens, Chennai
Fans celebrate as they enter respective screens
While this first-show craze is now common for all major releases, ‘Super Star’ Rajinikanth, ‘Thalapathy’ Vijay and ‘Thala’ Ajith are among the top stars whose movies have had unprecedented buildup to the first shows. In 2016, when Rajinikanth-starrer Kabali was released, the movie producer V Creations tied with budget airliner Air Asia India to promote the film. AirAsia India even prepared a special livery and unveiled it in the form of an all-new rebranded aircraft, with the look dedicated to the movie. Bearing the image of Superstar Rajinikanth from the Kabali movie, parts of the aircraft were painted with the livery. The aircraft flew across the AirAsia India network of destinations spanning Bengaluru, New Delhi, Goa, Pune etc.
It’s the first time in the history of Indian cinema that an airline has dedicated an aircraft to a movie.
Kalaipuli S Thanu, Proprietor, V Creations
In 2019, when Rajinikanth’s Petta was released, a couple decided to tie the knot outside a city theatre ahead of the #FDFS of the film and were facilitated by the actor’s political outfit Rajini Makkal Mandram, South Chennai (East) unit. A stage was erected outside the theatre and the wedding took place just ahead of the 8 am screening of the show.
This craze for first shows is nothing new to Tamil Nadu even though they were not as tightly knit with the business a movie made. In the absence of multiplexes, just a few rolls of print were developed and the audience had to wait for months to watch their favourite films. The commercial success of a cinema could be determined only by how long a theatre could profitably screen the film and often, movies of top stars ran for a year or more. Even until the late 90s and early 2000s, a movie’s success was determined by the number of days it remained on-screen when only four shows a day was the norm, unlike now when a movie releases in hundreds of theatres for continuous shows and the producer makes his money within a week or two. And word-of-mouth was the best form of marketing for any movie.
Even fifty years ago, fans of late Chief Minister and Makkal Thilagam M G Ramachandran and Nadigar Thilagam Sivaji Ganesan fondly recall their experience of watching the first day first shows of their favourite matinee idols so many years later.
Sexagenarian assistant director-turned actor Kalaiselvan was just a child when MGR-starrer Kudiyirintha Kovil was released at the Sinthamani Talkies in Madurai in the year 1968. “The hype began at least one month before the movie release when a 60-feet cut out of MGR was erected outside the theatre announcing the film. Since then, fans from across Madurai and surrounding districts began preparations for watching the film. Unlike now, MGR and Sivaji movies, which were most popular then, were released in stages. First, they would be released in big cities like Madras and Madurai which were ‘A’ centres. It would reach smaller towns and villages months later. So, villagers would pack food, clothing and even vessels for cooking days before the movie’s release and come to Madurai. They would stay here, watch the movie at least a few times and only then return to their villages. Such was the craze that only fans could watch the movie for the first month. The regular audience could get tickets only after they left. Movie releases were like festivals,” he recalled. Even back then, as soon as the matinee idols graced the screen, at least a dozen fans would rush to the front and take arathi to ward off evil. Crackers were burst whenever Sivaji Ganesan delivered a punch dialogue or MGR fought with his antagonists.
Decades passed by and the Tamil cinema lover’s fascination for his or her favourite stars continued to grow. From movie releases turning into festivals, the late 80s and early 90s saw prominent releases timed festivals and Deepavali was a favourite of the stars Rajinikanth and Kamal Hassan, who ruled Kollywood.
The year was 1991. The biggest movies of the year, Rajinikanth-starrer Thalapathi directed by Mani Ratnam and Kamal Hassan’s Gunaa directed by Santhana Bharathi, were stated for a Deepavali release. Even weeks before the festival of lights, the only debate when teenage boys or young men got together inside or outside schools and colleges was whether Thalapathi would be a bigger hit or Gunaa. The debate seldom ended peacefully as neither fan group could accept defeat. The movie posters came out, and postcard-sized stills from the movie were sold in petty shops to the delight of the fans, which young fans grabbed by the dozens before they were out of stock.
On the day before Deepavali, a special Oliyum Oliyum programme featuring songs from the films slated for release the next day was a tradition and served the purpose of a teaser. Incidentally that year, songs screened from both the films were a huge hit and the clamour in both camps reached a peak. Two theatres in the city – Albert theatre in Egmore and Sri Brinda theatre in Perambur — were traditionally known as bastions of Rajinikanth fans and this scribe got lucky with a ticket at Sri Brinda, thanks to a sick friend. It was an #FDFS; a special screening for fans at 9 am before the traditional noon show began.
Fans jump in joy as they watch Rajini on screen
A man dances at a theatre moments before the release
Fans wash the poster of his film with milk
Drums being played with fans dancing all around
Fans of Rajinikanth celebrate the release of his film Darbar in Mumbai
Gigantic cutouts of Rajinikanth adorned the Madhavaram High Road to which fans were busy pouring milk and even beer just minutes before the release. Inside the theatre, the screaming and crooning began the moment the curtains lifted. Firecrackers exploded, cigarette butts flew over the heads like missiles, and hundred-rupee notes were torn into pieces and thrown before the screen through the two hours and thirty-six minutes of the movie. None had come to the theatre just to watch the film. After all, it was Deepavali, celebrated in the celluloid presence of Superstar.
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