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First day, first show

CINEMA What happens when Kollywood's mega stars come up with simultaneous releases? PRINCE FREDERICK and ROHINI MOHAN do the theatre rounds



Star-struck: a fan kisses a cut-out of Rajni

First day first show = Fan clubs, whistles, crackers, kooth on the roads, elation.

Our grandpas have impressive stories of whole truckloads of pencil-moustached people being brought to an MGR FDFS. Uncles tell us how coins and notes would be flung on Rajni's face on the screen, and aartis taken. You didn't have to actually attend a FDFS; you could tell stories of it anyway. Because it's a formula, we think. It's all for one type of people, it's all blind madness, we shrug.

As we went making rounds of theatres in the city on April 14, seeing three big star releases, we found the formula had changed. Ask that uncle who says "Adhellaam therinja vishayam" to read this.

Looking at towering cut-outs, paal abishegam and congregation of fans, one might assume that the fan clubs foot it all — so anybody ready for full-throated yelling in exchange for free meals and a ticket can hop in? Not anymore. It turns out that it is the monthly fee (Rs.30- Rs.100) paid by fan club members, not sponsors, that funds the advance bookings. Also, theatres got smarter and restricted the number of bulk bookings to curb black selling. Still, there were people who'd bought tickets for Rs. 250- Rs. 300, even in small cinema halls on the city outskirts. "It's not a big deal," said Ilangovan, a carpenter, queuing up for "Chandramukhi" at Sri Devi Karumari Amman, Virugambakkam, "Nothing is too much for Thalaivar."

Of course, you could say his family wouldn't join too eagerly in his excitement. This popular impression that families, especially women, do not attend FDFS is, as we found out, a gross generalisation. College girls and working women were there, in smaller numbers, but equally vociferous. Shruti, a BPO employee, said she did feel a bit awkward among the majority of men, but, "If I'm with a big group of girls, or with at least one guy, then it's all fine. I'm not scared, but I just choose the theatre that's more secure."

And what is security in a theatre? The ability to keep your head when others are losing theirs, and yes, knowing that there's a cop a scream away. Since the 1995 incident of fan clubs turning on each other at Udayam during the simultaneous release of Rajni and Kamal-starrers, people expect violence and rowdiness in every theatre, every time. But with time, fan clubs have come to realise that they can block more tickets if they cooperate. Automan Girishan, for example, got "Chandramukhi" tickets for his whole family, from a Vijay fan! Sundar Rajan (28), employed at the Education Department, was once a card-carrying fan of Rajni: "I'm happy that there has been no unpleasantness between Rajni and Kamal fans — they know that the actors are friends."

In addition, every theatre has a posse of policemen walking about the crowd, giving a stern warning here, and a threatening glare there. Keeping fans off the closed gate at Kasi, John Clement, inspector, R7, K. K. Nagar police station, told us that everyone was frisked, owing to the controversy around the naming of "Mumbai Xpress". At Satyam, as a nervous voice on the microphone switched the names of the movies ("Mumbai Xpress starring Rajnikant"), some fans went berserk, but R. Gunaseelan, a policeman there took them aside and waved a fist at them. "Nowadays, they warn us, that's all. Since they're not violent with us, we don't feel like taking advantage of them," said Krishna, a Rajni fan who works in a bakery in Royapettah.

So an FDFS is mayhem, but the fans are not blind to the faults of their heroes anymore. Chandrashekar, a moderator of rajnifanclubs.com, lists the pluses and minuses in "Chandramukhi" like a pro. Minish, a Kamal fan, also hoped aloud that there wouldn't be the "usual vulgar jokes" in "Mumbai Xpress".

One might think them rowdy and even silly, but as Shruti puts it, "They only scream the name of their screen god as some others chant the name of a rock star."

* * * Fanfare

Theatre hopping goes with big releases. Fans do it for two reasons. One, first day shows are great to watch. Two, first day shows are not so easy to watch. Most fans aim at the first day first show (FDFS). Joseph from Mahabalipuram, working as welder at Diamond Engineering, Sholinganallur, took an early morning bus to Tambaram to watch "Mumbai Xpress" at Vidya. A `Houseful' scrawl stared him in the face. A disappointed Joseph settled for the second best — any first day show anywhere. So we saw him waiting at Kasi theatre with fingers crossed. "If I don't watch a Kamal film on the first day, it hurts."

A string of disappointments — to Udayam, Brinda, Santham — only seemed to have hardened assistant director Babu's resolve to watch Thalaivar's film on April 14. When we left him, he was planning his next move: to the Rohini Complex in Koyambedu.

Some hop from one theatre to another, because watching first day shows in different theatres gives an indescribable high. Ilangovan and Naveen Kumar travelled to three corners of the city to watch "Chandramukhi". At Thyagaraja in Thiruvanmiyur, Sri Karumari Amman (theatre, not temple) in Virugambakkam and Bharat in Mint.

To these diehards, it was like watching three different movies!

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