The Pongal holiday is kicking off in southern India with the release of Lokesh Kanagaraj’s Master, the first major local picture to hit cinemas since the Covid crisis began. The Tamil action thriller stars Vijay (who’s also referred to at home as “Thalapathy” or “Commander”) and Vijay Sethupathi, and hopes are being pinned on it to jumpstart the Indian box office. (Check out the trailer below.)
The industry has rallied around Master, seeing it as having the potential to revive box office and spur the release of tentpoles throughout the country. One person on the ground tells me the film could help producers make future decisions, calling it “a very important release.” That’s particularly true in a market that typically leans about 90% towards local movies.
Screenings began in the wee hours of this morning in the south, with the Hindi version (titled Vijay, The Master) set for Thursday in the north which also celebrates the harvest festival (aka Makar Sankranti).
In total, Master will be released locally in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi. It also debuted Wednesday in Australia and New Zealand. The first numbers are strong everywhere, according to reports which also indicate sold-out screenings (capacity is limited to 50% in India). Concrete figures should be available tomorrow.
Originally scheduled for last April, the movie was postponed amid the coronavirus spread. Rather than go the OTT route as many movies did during the lockdown period, producers XB Film Creators and Seven Screen Studios preferred to hold out for a theatrical run.
Exhibitor Vishek Chauhan tweeted his thanks to Vijay for supporting the theatrical business:
I take this opportunity to thank #ThalapathyVijay @actorvijay.Your conviction in theatrical business gives us hope..thousands of cinemas will come back to life from tomm because of you..you r a true leader sir 🙏 #Master will always be remembered for reviving cinemas post #Covid
— Vishek Chauhan (@VishekC) January 12, 2021
Distributor Raj Bansal wrote that early morning shows were “jam packed”:
— RAJ BANSAL (@rajbansal9) January 13, 2021
The film has gotten some mixed to positive reviews so far, but local media has been closely covering the release with images and video of moviegoers flocking to cinemas. In some instances, they’re also performing paal abhishekam, a practice of pouring milk over posters of the stars in hopes a film will be a hit.
Crowds may be a concern, however, as some images show a lack of social distancing. The Indian Express tweeted video of Kanagaraj being mobbed as he left a screening:
— Indian Express Entertainment (@ieEntertainment) January 13, 2021
— Lokesh (@LokeshJey) January 10, 2021
In recent years, Vijay has become one of the biggest stars of Tamil cinema (aka Kollywood). He’s also reportedly its highest-paid actor. In Master, he plays a hard-drinking Chennai college professor who takes a teaching post at a correctional facility and faces off there with Sethupathi’s villain. Also starring in Master are Malavika Mohanan, Arjun Das, Andrea Jeremiah and Shanthanu Bhagyaraj.
Here’s the Master subtitled teaser: