Rs 400 cr and counting: How Vikram got mega show, megabucks for Kamal Haasan

Rs 400 cr and counting: How Vikram got mega show, megabucks for Kamal Haasan

With mysteries of a spy film sprinkled with some thrill of an action flick, weaved around a series of murders of police officials, after which a black ops cop goes after a mysterious gang of masked men, which has declared war on the system that is protecting a fearsome drug lord, Vikram has entered the Rs 400 crore club. Kamal Haasan-starrer Vikram, which released on June 3, has proved to be...

With mysteries of a spy film sprinkled with some thrill of an action flick, weaved around a series of murders of police officials, after which a black ops cop goes after a mysterious gang of masked men, which has declared war on the system that is protecting a fearsome drug lord, Vikram has entered the Rs 400 crore club.

Kamal Haasan-starrer Vikram, which released on June 3, has proved to be the proverbial ‘manna from heaven’ as it is doing wonders not just in Tamil Nadu and across India, but also globally, especially in Arab countries, Malaysia, Singapore and North America.

“In revenue terms, the benchmark set by the film is mind-blowing. It is the first Kollywood film to collect Rs 75 crore in Tamil Nadu alone,” says actor and politician Udhayanidhi Stalin, who distributed Vikram through his production house Red Giant Movies. Directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj, the film’s box-office success has taken over Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, which was the first Tamil-dubbed film to cross over Rs 146 crore in the state.

The film with stars like Vijay Sethupathi and Fahadh Faasil in lead roles, apart from Haasan, is the first Kollywood hit in Kerala, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. It is 2022’s biggest hit in France, all-time No 2 in Australia and No 3 in the US and Malaysia.

Above all, it is the first Tamil film which has become a massive hit in India, post-pandemic after the films like RRR and KGF: Chapter 2.

But not everybody is ready to see Vikram as a Tamil film and assess its success from the point of view of Kollywood movies alone.

Kamal Haasan in Vikram
Kamal Haasan-starrer Vikram has entered the Rs 400-crore club.

“Only trade analysts make a differentiation based on languages. Theatre owners and the general audience don’t make any such distinction. If a film has a good story, it does well and becomes a hit. In Vikram’s case, not only the making, but the story was also good and that is why the film was received well in other states also,” says Tirupur Subramaniam, president of the Tamil Nadu Theatre and Multiplex Owners Association.

Analysts believe many factors contributed to the success of the film including the title to an ensemble cast, to creating a director’s cinematic universe, to aggressive pre-release promotions, to continuous brand building post the film’s release.

Sequel, no sequel

When the film’s title was announced speculations were rife that it would be the sequel of the 1986 film Vikram, which was directed by Rajashekar and had Haasan in the lead. The film revolved around a cop who is on a mission to find a stolen missile and disarm it. The film too had many firsts and achievements. It was the second film produced by Kamal Haasan’s production house Raaj Kamal Films International (RKFI). The story was written by popular novelist Sujatha aka Rangarajan and the screenplay was penned jointly by Kamal Haasan and Sujatha.

The story was serialised in the then leading Tamil weekly Kumudham alongside the working stills of the movie, which were subsequently shot. This constituted a first-of-its-kind pre-release promotion in the 1980s. It was the first Tamil film which was shot on a budget of Rs 1 crore and the first in which songs were recorded using a computer. All the hype created by the film fulfilled the audience’s expectations. While it became a commercial hit, the film received mixed reviews.

Kamal Haasan
Kamal Haasan in Vikram (1986).

The film, like any other Kamal Haasan film, was way ahead of its times. It had shades of James Bond films and the plot is set in an imaginative country called Salamiya where people speak an imaginative language called Salamiya, which was created by Kamal himself. Many believe this could have been an inspiration for Baahubali, where director SS Rajamouli used an imaginative language called Kalakeya Kiliki. Years later, the film has attained a cult status and by retaining the same title without suffixing any numbers like Vikram-II or Vikram-2.O, Kanagaraj had set the expectations high.

While the new film capitalised on the speculations of being a sequel, it turned out to be a completely different film at the end sans the title.

Scene stealers versus fair space givers

Vikram is certainly not the first film to have an ensemble cast, but it succeeded at bringing together current leading stars who have their own fan followings. Be it Fahadh Faasil or Vijay Sethupathi or Naren or Suriya, who has a cameo in the film, everyone has got a fair screen share, which is not seen in most multi-star films.

It is claimed that Kamal Haasan alone dominates the screen in his films, claiming the lion’s share. But the truth is that the veteran actor has always ensured that his co-stars get a fair share on the screen.

“I always think of any talent as competition, across genders. For me, the winner should be the film. So it doesn’t matter who gets that topical high at that moment. I have been taught by my guru K Balachander that don’t steal a scene. You will get your chance.” said Kamal Haasan in a recent interview with Film Companion. He has, in fact, reiterated this point in several of his interviews.

In Vikram, Kamal Haasan actually appears only around the interval, with his first dialogue being “Aarambikkalangala” (shall we start?). However, a careful movie enthusiast would sense Kamal’s presence from the first frame of the film to the end.

Suriya in Vikram
Suriya has a cameo in Vikram.

Another magic Lokesh Kanagaraj has created with the multi-star casting is that he has written the screenplay in way that each and every character of the film like Amar (played by Fahad), Rolex (Suriya), Bejoy (Naren), Agent Tina (Vasanthi) has his own backstory that can be turned into a separate film, should the need for it is felt ever.

An Escobarian universe in Tamil

It would not be an exaggeration to say that with Vikram, South Indian cinema, if not Indian cinema, has entered a new ‘cinematic universe’. The term came into common parlance, following the Marvel comics’ introduction of an imaginative universe called ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’, where many superheroes join forces for a common cause.

For Indian cinema, which has a continuing obsession with drugs and underworld gangster themes, Lokesh Kanagaraj has proved that Tamil cinema has the ability to construct a cinematic universe using the mafia world as a canvas. The universe created by Lokesh, who is now fondly referred to as Loki, can be termed in one way as the ‘Escobarian universe in Tamil’. People, who are familiar with the tales related to Colombian drug don Pablo Escobar, can easily connect with Lokesh’s universe.

Interestingly, even before Vikram, another Tamil film Kolamavu Kokila (2018) directed by Nelson Dilipkumar, had references to the Colombian drug icon. The Netflix series Narcos too kindled the interest of a small section of Tamil audience in Pablo.

“For people who have seen Narcos, the universe created in Vikram could appear inferior. However, for a large section of audience like ardent fans of Kamal Haasan who step into theatres only when his films are released and the family audience who are carried away by Tamil Bigg Boss hosted by Kamal and the 2K kids, who got familiar with Kamal’s films only through YouTube channels, this cinematic universe is appealing.

The appeal may not exist in perpetuity.

“This trend would not continue for long. In another two or three films, this ‘universe’ experience will start to lose its sheen,” said Muralikannan, a film scholar.

He added that the long gap taken by Kamal Haasan due to his political commitments has also played a role in drawing huge crowds to the theatres for ardent fans who can never get enough of their star.

“His last film Vishwaroopam 2 released in 2018. So after four years, when his new film hit the screens, it became a kind of festival for his fans. Also, even non-fans are watching the film over and over and that is the beauty of the situation,” Muralikannan said.

The treatment implemented by the filmmaker in the script, such as detail about the various kinds of drugs, the methods used to smuggle the drugs, the weapons used by the people, the space and time the story happens, are completely new to an average film connoisseur.

The king who reclaimed his crown

Film promotions are no longer limited to giving out interviews to magazines or television channels, or organising the audio release functions. Release of eye-grabbing first look, teaser and trailer cuts released on actors’ birthdays are part of efforts to grab audience attention.

While South Indian cinema is way ahead of the Hindi film industry in terms of themes, cinematography, action, cast and budgets, it has not taken on the latter in terms of a film’s promotions.

Vikram at Times Square
Vikram found a place at the iconic Times Square.

What RKFI did for the promotion of Vikram heralds a new beginning, at least for Tamil cinema. The production house on its social media pages has released a minute-long video that showcased the date-wise pre-release promotional events of the film. The actor and producer kick-started the promotional events from Delhi on May 26, followed by Cochin on May 27, promoting the film on Bigg Boss (Malayalam) on May 28 and scheduling an event on the same day at Mumbai, then in Kuala Lumpur on May 29, at Hyderabad on May 31, at Burj Khalifa on June 1 and a fist day first show on June 3.

Besides, a Southern Railway locomotive in Erode was fully wrapped with Vikram posters. The film also entered into Metaverse with Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT) being released at the Cannes Film Festival. It also got a place at the iconic Times Square. Interestingly, Haasan actively participated in the promotional events, something Kollywood actors shy away from.
Script writer GR Surendranath feels that Haasan’s promotional activities went to the extent that it appeared like the actor was everywhere.

“Kamal met every other leading star including Rajinikanth. He ensured that he was in news round the clock. On social media too he was the talk. It’s a lesson for young actors on how to promote your work,” Surendranath said.

Ramesh Bala, a trade analyst, tweeted that through these promotional activities alone, the film had recorded a pre-release business worth Rs 200 crore.

The eagle is coming

It seems, for now, in terms of brand building for Vikram, Haasan considers only the sky to be the limit. The roaring success has pushed the actor to express his gratitude towards the film crew and the media in style. Following the film’s performance, Kamal gifted a luxury Lexus car to Lokesh Kanagaraj, 13 motorbikes to his assistants and a Rolex watch from his personal collection to Suriya.

A success meet was organised for the media where the distributors openly shared their revenue collection from this film and the attendees were served with a sumptuous feast. In the interviews post the release of the film, both Lokesh and Kamal, hinted that a sequel is in the offing. Going an extra mile, Kamal even said that he is ready to join hands with leading actor Vijay in the future.

“For the millions of Kamal Haasan fans and film enthusiasts like me, it is very satisfying to see Kamal setting new benchmarks. Because there are technicians who don’t understand the film medium but their works are commercial successes and they got recognition in excess of their due. On the other hand, Kamal’s films, which are always ahead of time are let down by the people during their release and attain cult status many years after the film’s release. From that angle, Vikram is now recognised both in terms of revenue and in terms of critical acclaim. This needs to be celebrated,” said Surendranath.


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