Kalaippuli S. Thanu unhurriedly recites Thirukkural 517 that emphasises the importance of assigning work to the right people (“Ithanai ithanaal ivan mudikkum enraaynthu athanai avankan vidal”). He cites that as the single answer to several questions: Why has Kabali’s teaser been received so well? What caused Lingaa’s failure? What incited the spat between the Chengalpet exhibitors and the Film Producers’ Council headed by him?
He explains, “The Superstar offered me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of producing his film while I was making Theri. He chose me. We, in turn, chose Ranjith; and now, the result is there for people to see.” As for Lingaa, Thanu quite interestingly throws the blame not on the quality of the film, but instead on the distributors who went public with their criticism of the film. “They weren’t the right people to distribute Lingaa. One owned a jewellery store, another a spare parts factory, and yet another, a college. These people didn’t understand how the industry works. Good distributors would have kept their mouth shut till they collected enough money during the opening weekend.” Make of this what you will.
On the Chengalpet issue, he says that the problems weren’t really between the exhibitors and the producers, “but the middle-men chosen by the theatre owners for negotiations. These five brokers, who control about five theatres each, thought they could get away with threatening us. The exhibitors should do away with these intermediaries. It’s all about picking the right men for the job.”
You’d expect Thanu to paint a portrait of joy, following the record-breaking reception to Kabali’s teaser, but he betrays no emotion. “Over the years, I’ve had great days and terrible ones. My first film as a producer, Yaar?, was supposed to be made at nine lakh, but ended up costing 36 lakh. Years later, Aalavandhaan caused me financial ruin. But I’ve sprung back each time.” But even Thanu, who simultaneously produced three star-driven films in 2005—Maayavi, Thotti Jaya, and Sachein—admits that this year is special in a way that no other has been. “I have always wanted to work with Rajinikanth. I have also wanted to make a movie with Vijay in his prime. Both have been realised this year.” Though Thanu has been a good friend of Rajinikanth for many years, he says he never really forced the matter. “But he approached me, and I’m grateful he took the risk.”
He attributes the teaser’s success to how it has fascinated Rajini fans across age groups. “But it wasn’t tailored to do that. These are among many other such moments in the film.” The film has many other aces, he says. “I know that people are raving about ‘magizhchi’ and ‘Kabali da’. But there’s another line in the film—another bigger, better line that will drive his fans wild with excitement. I wanted Ranjith to use it in this teaser, but he suggested that we save it for the audio launch.” Thanu is also happy that Ranjith was chosen to direct Kabali. “We chose Ranjith from among four directors who approached us with scripts, as we liked his way of narration, and how his story seemed tailored to the Superstar’s image. Mark my words, once Kabali releases, Ranjith will instantly be known as one of Tamil cinema’s best directors.”
The teaser has also, according to Thanu, reaffirmed the status of Rajinikanth. “No star here can compare with him. Even today, the rights of his films sell for astronomical prices in Andhra Pradesh and North India. TV channels vie with each other to buy the satellite rights. He is an invaluable asset to our cinema, and only he can break his records.” Thanu, who believes that it is possible for Kabali to collect more than 300 crore, refuses to get drawn into a debate over Rajinikanth’s possible successors. “What’s the point? There just aren’t any.”