Vikram’s box office success proves Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth are unbeatable

Kamal Haasan’s first release in four years, Vikram has become one of the most successful Tamil films of all time. The film has already grossed 364 crore worldwide and is the highest-grossing Tamil film of the year. Delivering another number one movie of the year in Tamil cinema, Kamal Haasan now owns an unusual and impressive record. He is only the second actor from the Tamil film industry to deliver the highest-grossing film of the year in five different decades. The only other person who does this in Tamil cinema is also a famous name – Rajinikanth. Also read: Vikram box office: Kamal Haasan film ready to cross 400 crore, is the highest-grossing film in an actor’s career

In seven of the last ten years, a film featuring one of the two has been the biggest hit of the year in Tamil cinema. And interestingly, in the other three years, bilingual films – the two Baahubali films and Saaho – took credit. In short, in the last ten years no Tamil star or movie has been able to beat Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan at the box office; and that’s when both these men are in their sixties and seventies. This absolute dominance proves that these two names remain at the top of Kollywood despite an aging population. The younger generation – I use the term generously as most of them have been around for 20 years themselves – just don’t have an answer to their stardom.

Rajinikanth saw his first major success in the 1980 film Billa.
Rajinikanth saw his first major success in the 1980 film Billa.

It was in 1980 that Rajinikanth delivered his first solo blockbuster hit Billa. The remake of Amitabh Bachchan’s Don, Billa established Rajini as an affordable solo hero. Two years later, Kamal Haasan joined the ranks with his biggest hit yet – Sakalakala Vallavan. Both films were the top grossing Tamil films in the year of their release. Since then, both these actors have had this honor several times. As these actors got older and their blockbusters dwindled, other Tamil stars took their place. Names like Ajith, Vikram, Vijay and Suriya started to dominate the box office.

But to Kamal and Rajini’s credit, it was only a short phase. After 2005, both actors saw a second wind in their careers. In the next few years Kamal gave blockbusters like Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu, Dasavathaaram and Viswaroopam. On the other hand, Rajini played in big hits like Chandramukhi, Sivaji and Enthiran. After 2013, dominance was absolute.

After 2005, both Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth got a second wind in their careers with hits like Viswaroopam and Enthiran.
After 2005, both Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth got a second wind in their careers with hits like Viswaroopam and Enthiran.

Interestingly, the so-called “new blood” of Tamil cinema hasn’t fared badly either. They are all in their 40s and 50s now. Ajith’s Valimai was a mediocre hit, while Vijay’s Beast more than deserved it 250 crore a few months ago. Suriya has done critically acclaimed work in films like Jai Bhim and Soorarai Pottru, but success at the box office has not been consistent. On the other hand, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan have given huge hits like 2.0 ( 653 crore) and Vikram (approaching 400 million euros). The numbers eclipse all others.

This second inning of the two actors is certainly promising as their contemporaries and even juniors in other sectors have not been able to reaffirm their dominance in a similar way. In Telugu cinema, the triumvirate of Chiranjeevi, Nagarjuna and Venkatesh is respected, but not quite the box office. They have been overtaken by Prabhas, Ram Charan, Allu Arjun, Mahesh Babu and NT Rama Rao Jr. The last time one of the seniors had the biggest hit of the year was way back in 2005. Likewise in Hindi movies, the Khans are no longer in control. The last time one of them delivered the biggest movie of the year was in 2016. Shah Rukh Khan hasn’t been the market leader since 2007 when Om Shanti Om was the biggest hit of the year.

The last time a Tamil film without Kamal Haasan or Rajinikanth was the best film of the year was Vijay's Thuppakki, in 2012.
The last time a Tamil film without Kamal Haasan or Rajinikanth was the best film of the year was Vijay’s Thuppakki, in 2012.

Then what is so different in the Tamil film industry. The answer lies in the demigod status enjoyed by Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth. Their film releases are festivals, even today. Cities are virtually closed, queues start as early as the previous nights for the morning show and processions are shut down. That’s publicity that no promotional campaign can buy. It elevates the scale of their film far beyond what other stars can handle. That is why even if Ajith – one of the biggest actors in the country – delivers the biggest hit of his career, the earnings are lower than that of several films of Rajini and Kamal. Also read: Rajinikanth’s Next Titled Jailer, Creators Share First Poster; fans ask ‘will it be filmed in jail’

Whether this unfettered dominance is good for Tamil cinema or not is something the public and the market will decide. But what is certain is that these two actors will continue to rule at the box office until they want to. Their market pull and mass appeal dictates that even today Vijay Sethupathi and Suriya have to play second fiddle to them. Simply put, these two are Tamil cinema’s Rocky Marciano – the undisputed heavyweight champion, who has never been felled, let alone defeated.

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