It’s the evening show at a Chennai multiplex. The theatre is packed, the audience is waiting with bated breath. And the moment finally arrives. When Rajinikanth leans across the table of a college chairman and says, “Ayya en peru Manickam… Enakku innoru peru irukku.” The next one minute is drowned in whistles, claps and the euphoria that grips the theatre. The audience is celebrating something they have seen a zillion times over but are willing to watch again. It is a part of their lives and perhaps this is the kind of dedication that led to the revival of several old classics in the last few years.
G Chockalingam, MD, Divya Films, grew up watching the Sivaji Ganesan-starrer Karnan several times on the big screen in morning shows of some single screens. But post 2000, the multiplex boom led to the fall of many single screens and later the cube and digital format took over celluloid. Chockalingam wanted the new generation to enjoy a classic like Karnan on the big screen. But times had changed and the movie also had to change to suit the changing times.
“The only way to take the classics to youngsters was to take it to the big screen again. But this was a Herculean task. First, the picture had to be converted from the 35mm format to the cinemascope format. Second, the audio had to be upgraded from mono to Dolby Digital. I went to the office of Raj TV, who held the rights of Karnan but they didn’t have its negatives. When I finally tracked it down, the picture and sound negatives were all damaged. Also, the sound effects, background and the dialogues were all recorded in a single track and upgrading it seemed impossible,” he says.
In 2004, K Asif’s Mughal-e-azam was released in colour to great fanfare after being digitally re-mastered. “At the Famous Studio in Mumbai, they guided me back to Sangeetha Studio in Chennai and H M Subramanya, an authority on sound, agreed to take up the project for free. Y Gee Mahendran was a huge source of support in this project and music director M S Vishwanathan was highly impressed with the work. At first, we did a pilot testing on the song Kannukku kulamenna and the result was met with applause. The project had found direction,” says Chockalingam. Karnan was released in March 2012 in 72 theatres here and was a grand success. On the opening day, it ran to a full house in Shanthi, Sathyam and gave the new releases a run for their money.
Following the success of Karnan, yet another Sivaji classic Vasantha Maligai was re-released by Sai Ganesh Films and K Vishwananth’s blockbuster Sankarabharanam was also brought to the theatres in Tamil. On the request of several MGR fans, Chockalingam also undertook the re-release of the MGR blockbuster Aayirathil Oruvan in 2014. Ramya Natarajan, manager, branding and marketing, SPI Cinemas, says that Karnan garnered both commercial and critical acclaim and eventually established a trend of re-releasing digitised versions of old Tamil films. “It ran for 175 days in Sathyam and 100 days in Escape cinema. A remastered version of the1965 hit Aayirathil Oruvan was released in 2014 and ran for more than 175 days at Sathyam. Rajnikanth’s landmark movie Baasha is the most recent addition to this list. It was screened for a month at Sathyam,” she says.
Ramya believes that such cult movies run on a sense of nostalgia and transcend generations. “It also proves that yesteryear actors like MGR and Sivaji Ganesan still have a massive following among the older generation or youngsters, who have only heard about them.” But these movies cannot run by bringing back the old audience alone. As Chockalingam puts it, you need youngsters to watch them. “These are monuments of cinema that need to be preserved. If we don’t do it, who will? In Mumbai, K Asif’s family took complete charge of Mughal-e-azam’s digitisation. The successors of great artistes here need to be more proactive. I am not related to these greats but still did it because I felt the need to. Also, acquiring rights for these films is a huge process. We need to streamline the process to preserve them for posterity,” he says.
(This story was published in the supplement Rendezvous, to mark the ninth anniversary of The Times of India, Chennai)