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Ajith’s ‘Vivegam’ breaks Tamil Nadu box office’s bad spell

LiveMint logoLiveMint 29-08-2017 Lata Jha

New Delhi: After almost two months of struggle with higher entertainment tax rates by the central and state governments, post the implementation of goods and services tax (GST), as well as price caps on film tickets, the Tamil Nadu box office can finally breathe easy. Ajith’s spy thriller Vivegam, which has crossed the Rs100 crore mark worldwide, has emerged as the highest opening weekend grosser of the year in Chennai. It has minted Rs5.75 crore over three days, higher than the Rs3.24 crore Chennai weekend earnings of blockbuster war epic Baahubali 2: The Conclusion. The opening day collection for Vivegam was a record Rs1.22 crore.

The Siva-directed film has collected Rs88.16 lakh in the United Kingdom and Rs93.77 lakh in Australia, continuing the newly discovered trend of overseas territories emerging as a gold mine for Indian films.

“The film opened to a partial release early on Thursday itself probably because the makers were expecting a big start,” said film trade and business expert Girish Johar.

Cashing in on a massive screen count, including 800 in Tamil Nadu, 300 in Kerala, 200 in Karnataka and 450 in the Telangana-Hyderabad belt, the Ajith-starrer also benefited from an extended holiday weekend, thanks to Vinayaka Chaturthi across south India.

“Ajith himself is not on any social platform but his fans have made sure that is no deterrent,” said Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema. “In Tamil Nadu, he has a fan base as loyal and massive as Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. The fan clubs have been promoting the film far more than the producers ever could, especially considering this is Ajith’s first release since Vedalam in 2015.”

Vivegam has ended a long spell of slow film business in Tamil Nadu. Soon after the imposition of GST, the Edappadi K. Palaniswami government had introduced a 30% corporation tax on entertainment in addition to the 28% GST rate. The move effectively took entertainment tax in the state to about 58% from the tax-free status previously accorded, at least to local Tamil films, while retaining the price caps on tickets that all of south India works with. The move spelt doom for distributors and exhibitors who stood in vehement opposition. The Tamil Nadu Film Exhibitors’ Association had suspended shows for close to a week, shrouding the future of nearly 1,060 cinema halls in uncertainty.

Movie shows may have resumed but there is still no clarity on new taxes, as a result of which the producer-distributor revenue ratio for movies remains undecided. Meanwhile ticket rates have been arbitrarily hiked by theatre owners since there is no clarity from the government on whether the caps will stay despite increased taxes. A host of films, including gangster thriller Vikram Vedha; Taramani, starring Andrea Jeremiah and Vasanth Ravi; and crime thriller Nibunan suffered because of ticket rate hikes. In such a scenario, advance booking and early morning shows for Ajith’s film came as a pleasant surprise.

“You can imagine how bad the phase is considering for the first time in three or four years, there was no Tamil film release last week. So yes, Vivegam has been a much-needed relief,” Mohan said.

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