With Kamal’s Lexus for Lokesh and Rolex for Suriya, a Tamil cinema tradition lives on

It is not a new tradition for elated producers to give gifts to artistes of their hit films. It has been happening since MGR and Sivaji Ganesan's time, but Kamal Haasan ostensibly went that extra mile setting a new benchmark with his gifts after 'Vikram's success

Contrary to popular perception, this gifting convention in Tamil cinema as an expression of gratitude and recognition of talent is not a recent phenomenon. This tradition dates back to the time of yesteryear matinee idols MGR and Sivaji Ganesan.

The blockbuster success of Tamil movie Vikram has become the talk of the town. But, what set social media on fire was how the film’s producer, Kamal Haasan, generously bestowed gifts to all the technicians who had worked on the film.

On June 7, the actor gifted a Lexus ES 300h car to Lokesh Kanagaraj who had helmed the film. The next day, he presented a Rolex watch from his personal collection to actor Suriya, who did a cameo in the film as Rolex. It is claimed that Suriya, who calls Kamal as ‘Anna’ (elder brother), did not take any monetary compensation for his brief appearance in the film.

While an elated producer gifting a car to the film’s director after a film’s success is not unusual, (Shah Rukh Khan famously gave his Main Hoon Na director, Farah Khan, a Mercedes Benz) Kamal Haasan went the extra mile by gifting motorcycles to 13 assistant directors who had worked in the film. That unique gesture has touched many hearts considering that assistant directors are not usually properly paid by most production houses.

Contrary to popular perception, this gifting convention in Tamil cinema as an expression of gratitude and recognition of talent is not a recent phenomenon. This tradition dates back to the time of yesteryear matinee idols MGR and Sivaji Ganesan.

Gold plate and Gold medal

Aroor Das is probably the only screenwriter to write for both MGR and Sivaji Ganesan films at the same time. In a television show a couple of years ago, he narrated the story of how in 1962, the MGR-starrer Thaayai Kaatha Thanaiyan and Sivaji’s Padithal Mattum Podhuma were released the same day. While the former was produced by Thevar Films and distributed by MGR Pictures, the latter was financed by Ranganathan Pictures and distributed by Sivaji Films. Both the films turned out to be blockbusters.

“A couple of days later, MGR called me and gifted me a gold plate with inscriptions of appreciation. The very next day, Sivaji gifted me a gold medal with the congratulatory note inscribed on it,” added Das, the first recipient of Kalaignar Kalaithurai Vithagar Award instituted by the DMK government in memory of the former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, which was awarded on June 3.

Also read: Kamal Haasan-Lokesh’s ‘Vikram’ opens doors to Marvel-like cinematic universe

The producers not only awarded technicians post a film’s success but if they believe a film will be a hit for sure, they tend to be magnanimous and give generous hand-outs on the spot.

For instance, in 1966, MGR played the lead role in Thanippiravi produced by Thevar Films of Sandow Chinnappa Thevar, one of the most successful film producers of all time in Tamil cinema. The film had a dream song sequence, Ethir Paaraamal, in which MGR and Jayalalithaa portray Lord Murugan and Valli respectively.

At that time, DMK’s power was at its height on the political front in Tamil Nadu and MGR was one of its brand leaders. When Thevar explained the scene to MGR, the matinee idol hesitated since he was a member of a party which supported atheism. However, in private life, MGR was an ardent devotee of Lord Murugan. Hence, Thevar cajoled him to play Lord Murugan and MGR eventually accepted it.

For that song, the producer ordered a silver life-size spear (the weapon of Lord Murugan). After appreciating MGR’s acting prowess in that song, Thevar presented the spear as a gift to the actor. The film became a huge success after its release.

This ‘gifting’ tradition thrived in the Tamil industry, and whenever the films witnessed a theatrical release of more than 100 or 150 days, the production houses used to arrange success functions and award the technicians who worked in the film. It continued till the end of the 1990s.

The changes in the Tamil film industry 

With the arrival of new technologies in film-making and exhibiting, budgets of films went through the roof. The salaries of technicians increased and that resulted in the spike in ticket prices. Many single-screen movie halls which were unable to cope with these changes were converted into marriage halls or sold to realtors.

This situation also affected how a film was seen as a success or a failure. For a film to be considered a box-office hit, it should have a good opening in the first three days of the film’s release and garner a good collection in its first week. Because of these changes in the film industry, the tradition of having an award function following a film’s success started to vanish. Today, the 100 or 150-day theatrical run is a rare occurrence and a phenomenon of the past.

It is against this backdrop, that the industry observers say that Vikram has renewed the industry’s hopes in a big way.

Also read: Vikram review: Fanboy Lokesh brings back Kamal Haasan of yore

From medals to cars

In this new scenario, the traditional style of gifting cast and crew too has undergone a sea-change. Producers have progressed from giving away rings, chains, medals, and shields to bikes and cars.

After the success of Ka Pe Ranasingam (2020), which was released on OTT, producer Kotapadi J Rajesh gifted a car to the director P Virumandi. Similarly, producer Isari K Ganesh gave the director Pradeep Ranganathan of the 2019 Comali and KR Prabhu, director of 2019 LKG, cars. So, did actor Suriya gift cars to Vignesh Shivan, director of the 2018 Thaana Serndha Koottam and director Hari, who fronted the Singam franchise.

In 2021, Rajinikanth gifted gold chains to the technicians of the film Annatthe.

It’s not only the established directors, but debut directors like SJ Suriya received a bike by actor Ajithkumar for his work in the film Vaalee in 1999. Raju Murugan was given a car by the producers, Fox Star Studios and The Next Big Film Productions, for the 2014 Cuckoo as a recognition of their good work.

‘Not publicity, but goodwill’

Yuvakrishna, a journalist-turned-author on film history, hails Kamal Haasan’s move as setting a new benchmark.

“It is true that in the past, the producers have gifted technicians. But it is the heavy price tag behind the gifts which Kamal Haasan handed over that has set a new benchmark. As he always says, Kamal gives whatever money he earns through his films back again to the film industry. That’s how this gesture should be seen. It will encourage young filmmakers,” he said.

Moreover, he said that since Kamal Haasan is gifting such costly products, it definitely means that the film should have earned at least ₹200 or ₹300 crore. With this victory, it is possible he can make his dream expensive project Marudhanayagam in the near future,” he added.

Cable Sankar, a film critic and the director of the 2015 Tamil film Thottal Thodarum, said that such gestures by producers would amplify the box-office collections.

“It is wrong to see the gesture as publicity for the film. Instead, the gesture will bring more goodwill to the producers and thereby pull even larger crowds to the theatres,” he said.

CATCH US ON: