‘Thalapathy’ Vijay, who is celebrating his 48th birthday today, is a superstar of a dying breed. It’s unclear whether any other actor, in the oversaturated media landscape we are living in now, can attain such stardom in the future. It seems people now turn up at theatres only for blockbusters. Anything less than a big-scale spectacle rarely makes a mark at the box office. Say, for example, an intimate human drama about a protagonist suffering from an emotional conflict, torn between two choices, pondering over vital existential questions might be considered well suited for release on a streaming platform. Nowadays, such a film might rarely result in big profits like before when going to the movies meant something sacred, big and exciting. That novelty of cinemas has been marred by the age of endless scrolling.
Vijay, however, is unperturbed. The actor, who is perhaps the last OG of Tamil box office, still commands a huge market that responds to all kinds of movies he does. His stardom has reached a point, where even his most unimaginative, unoriginal and unamusing movie could bring in global box office receipts of upwards of Rs 200 crore. Case in point, his last film Beast. Written and directed by Nelson, the movie was panned by critics and it even received bad word of mouth. But, that didn’t stop it from churning profits for its financiers. Only a real OG can pull off such a feat amid an unresolved pandemic, onslaught of streaming services and skyrocketing inflation.
Vijay’s superstardom also comes with certain unpleasant trappings that he seemingly can’t outmanoeuvre. His movies are expected to follow a template: a set of dance numbers and fight sequences amid a handful of quotable punchlines. Filmmakers have to bob and weave an interesting story around these narrative obligations. Vijay’s stardom disallows him from fitting into the world of an engrossing story. Instead, filmmakers have to write a story around the onscreen image of Vijay. And that limits the options when it comes to the kind of movies that Vijay’s market can accommodate. Anything maverick, new, unsentimental or unconventional is unlikely to even make it to his reading table.
But, when Vijay could gamble on something unoriginal and dull as Beast, why can’t he take a risk, perhaps, once a year on a movie that falls outside his comfort zone? That way, he can also ensure he’s not losing out on his hard-earned market and at the same time expand his audience base further. And not to mention, it would be such a great service in expanding the definition of mainstream cinema, which has such a narrow meaning in our film industry.