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Pongal 2018: Ahead of five film clash in TN, a look at how the festival has made superstars over the years

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It is almost time for Pongal, Tamil Nadu’s biggest festival, and a celebration that was once primarily focused on farmers, farming, livestock and family, has gradually factored in a new addition — films.

Like every year, 2018 also sees quite a few releases lined up for the festive season. It is a heady mix of movies ranging from ones headlined by big names to ones who believe this year’s Pongal will propel them into the big league.

Gone are the days when Pongal was only seen as a village-centric festival celebrating the farmers who toil hard to get food on our tables. Pongal has now become synonymous with Tamil pride cutting across the urban-rural divide and a box-office winner during these times guarantees the longevity of the stars and technicians involved.

Among the five movies scheduled for release, the two biggies are Thaanaa Serndha Kootam and Sketch.

pongal (2)

Chiyaan‘ Vikram, who sees his Vijay Chander-directed Sketch release this Friday, has seen a couple of his big ticket releases including Shankar’s magnum opus I and Lingusamy-directed Bheema being a part of the Pongal releases in 2015 and 2008 with mixed fortunes at the box office.

Thaana Serndha Kootam, directed by Vignesh Shivan and starring a bevy of stars led by Suriya, is the other biggie that will hit the screens on 12 January.

In his 21-year-old career, this will be only his second Pongal release and his first one since he established himself as a major star in Tamil Cinema. This comes as a surprise considering how some of the biggest names of Kodambakkam have had their marquee films release in the long Pongal holidays.

Let us have a look at the various Pongals from across the years that helped this five-day holiday develop an aura that sees actors clamouring for a release during the all-important season that has seen actors become stars, stars become matinee idols and matinee idols become demi-gods.

Pongal 1995

Rajinikanth has transcended the known boundaries of superstardom and is now on the cusp of venturing into his long-awaited stint in politics. This entry into the political fray stemmed from the fact that in 1995, he starred in a blockbuster that not only cemented his status as demi-god in the eyes of his ardent fans but also created a political stir that has kept him in good stead to date.

There are many people including the superstar himself who said, “I said no to the seat of power when I was 45 years old. Do you think I’ll want it when I am 68?” referring to 1995 as the watershed year for his political career that was in hibernation since 1995 till 31 December, 2017.

The movie that not just changed the career graph of Rajinikanth but is also on the verge of altering the political climate of Tamil Nadu.

The movie, that made the superstar a demi-god, released on 14 January, 1995.

The Suresh Krissna directed 1995 blockbuster — Baassha.

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Pongal 2001

Every male actor in Tamil cinema wanting to announce his entry into superstardom chooses an action movie to do so.

After a string of successes that established him as the boy-next-door and an actor who was more often than not cast in the stereotypical “chocolate boy” role, Ajith Kumar needed a movie that worked with the masses and was less of a movie and more of a star vehicle.

It was then that Ajith decided to do a movie with a debutant director, AR Murugadoss, who would then go on to become a household name across the country.

The movie not just skyrocketed Ajith into superstardom, but also gave him a moniker that has been a major factor in making him the humongous star that he is today.

The movie that transformed the “Ultimate Star” Ajith into “Thala” Ajith released on 14 January, 2001.

The AR Murugadoss-directed 2001 blockbuster — Dheena.

Pongal 2004

For years, most of the Pongal releases headlined by big stars of that time were not set in a rural milieu. The movies never quite captured the essence of the festival. The releases still raked in the money but the ‘Tamilness’ was missing.

It all changed when Kamal Haasan decided to make a certain movie that he first titled Sandiyar. The movie then ran into hot water when certain politically charged protests were held against the movie’s title accusing it of having the possibility to stoke caste-based issues in the state.

The film, that dealt with capital punishment, also had scenes that depicted and even celebrated the sport of Jallikattu, a sport that was central to any Pongal celebration and came into national prominence following the state-wide protests in Tamil Nadu last year.

The rural backdrop in the movie connected with audiences across the state making it the first Kamal Haasan directorial venture in Tamil to be a box-office success. The rustic and earthy approach in the movie, with one of the biggest stars of Tamil or rather Indian cinema, sowed the seeds for the belief that rural-centric subjects, when dealt with integrity and sound film-making, will get enough eyeballs from the urban audience too.

The movie, to an extent, started the trend of Kamal Haasan movies running into some sort of controversy before their release. The movie showed to the world the kind of publicity gained when there is curbing of the freedom of expression of a filmmaker.

The movie that established the credentials of a director in Kamal Haasan released on 14 January, 2004.

The Kamal Haasan-directed 2004 blockbuster — Virumaandi.

Image Courtesy: Twitter @KTVTamil

Image Courtesy: Twitter @KTVTamil

Pongal 2007

When an actor is oscillating between delivering hits and flops, there comes a movie that decides the direction of his career graph.

While a blockbuster success ensures the cushioning for forthcoming flops, a disastrous showing at the box-office leaves the forthcoming successes with the overarching burden of shaking off the above mentioned flop.

From 2007 to 2011, Vijay’s movies mostly received a cold shoulder from the masses and critics. The trend did change but it was only in 2012 that he managed to give the all-encompassing blockbuster, the type that spawns remakes across languages.

Vijay, who probably now commands a fan following second only to Rajinikanth, managed to sail through that tumultuous period from 2007-12 riding on his 2007 Pongal release.

This torrid run not only saw his movies failing to set the cash registers ringing but also running into problems with certain political circles who hoped to counteract a then widespread idea of Vijay joining politics.

The 2007 Pongal movie guaranteed Vijay an evergrowing and unwavering fan following. A following that gave him the cushioning he needed to withstand those heavy blows.

The movie that gave rise to fans who saw Vijay as a messiah.

The movie that kept Vijay afloat during his most trying times as an actor in Tamil Cinema released on 12 January, 2007.

The Prabhu Deva-directed blockbuster — Pokkiri.

Pongal 2011

Dhanush is one of the very few actors from the South who has captured the attention and adulation of fans from across the country. Fighting criticism about his physical appearance right through his career, the lanky actor relied on his acting chops to slowly carve a niche for himself.

After his initial couple of movies, Dhanush was typecast into playing the different variations of the same role across various genres — a wastrel either in a town or a city.

Gradually, he began to establish his acting credentials in movies that were off the beaten track and were also becoming commercial successes. However, Dhanush, who looked like a quintessential Tamil guy from the hinterland, never quite made a completely earthy movie devoid of an inkling of grandeur or over-the-top moments in an unrealistic set-up.

All that changed with his 2011 Pongal release, that went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed movies of Dhanush.

The movie, about rooster fights prevalent in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu and the intricacies of human emotions, won six National Awards.

The movie that gave credibility to the actor in Dhanush as he won his first National Award for the Best Actor and become just the fifth actor to do so for a Tamil movie.

The movie that paved way for his pan-Indian and even his Hollywood sojourn.

The movie, that made Dhanush carve a niche for himself and pulled him away from the crowd to give him the most sought after tag of ‘a star who also acts’, released on 14 January, 2011.

The Vetrimaaran-directed hit — Aadukalam.

Still from Aadukalam. YouTube Screengrab from SonyMusicSouthVevo

Still from Aadukalam. YouTube Screengrab from SonyMusicSouthVevo

Other stars who have had their careers take a major turnaround during the festive season of Pongal include Sathyaraj whose 1994 release Amaidhipadai is widely considered to be one of the best political satires to have been ever made in Tamil Cinema. Even actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth reaped rich rewards with his various Pongal releases across the years and his son Shanmugapandian would hope to emulate his father’s success in his first festive release, Madura Veeran, releasing this Friday.

Gulebagavali, one other movie releasing this week, stars Prabhu Deva who has had a mixed bag with his share of Pongal releases.  The dancing star has seen both dizzying heights of success and extremely steep downslides both as an actor and a director.

Arvind Swamy, who plays the solo lead in a movie after close to 18 years in Bhaskar Oru Rascal, will hope his Pongal stars continue to shine as bright as they did in his 1997 blockbuster Minsara Kanavu.

It is a five-horse race on Friday and all eyes will be trained to see who emerges as the winner of Pongal 2018 and continue the famed legacy associated with its releases.

Published Date: Jan 09, 2018 12:42 PM | Updated Date: Jan 09, 2018 12:42 PM


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Suriya at Thaanaa Serndha Koottam success meet: ‘The film has shattered a lot of stereotypes’

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The success meet of Suriya’s Thaanaa Serndha Koottam was held in Chennai on 18 January. Suriya, who was conspicuous by his absence during the beginning of the event due to food poisoning problems, made a sudden entry towards the fag end of the function to the surprise of everyone.

“I haven’t missed any event for Thaanaa Serndha Koottam. That’s why I decided to come down despite asking for an excuse. The road trip in Andhra Pradesh took a toll on me, especially the spicy food (laughs). We traveled nearly 1000 KMs covering Rajahmundry Vijayawada, Bhimavaram, Guntur and visited some 10 to 15 theatres. It’s my first multi-city theater tour in Andhra Pradesh although my films have been regularly getting a Telugu release in the past twelve years,” said Suriya.

Suriya in Thaanaa Serndha Koottam.

Thaanaa Serndha Koottam has become an important film in my career,” says Suriya

Talking about the extremely encouraging positive feedback from across the board, Suriya said, “TSK has become an important film in my career. Although it’s my 35th film, I’ve received a lot of responses that it’s a completely different movie in my career. The unanimous feedback, from audiences to the media, is that TSK is quite unique from my previous outings. Everyone opines that a lot of stereotypes concerning my makeover have been shattered in this film. The entire credit goes to director Vignesh Shivan. He meticulously took care of all the minute details.  He kept exploring various options, which made me convinced.”

Suriya said he’s happy with the film’s performance at the box-office although he doesn’t delve into exact numbers. “I usually don’t go into box-office collections. But somehow the information reaches my ears. The Sunday figures are higher than the opening day (Friday). And the Monday numbers are said to be higher than Sunday. It’s mainly because of the family audiences who watched the film, after the opening,” he said.

“Anirudh’s songs have taken this film beyond borders,” says Suriya

Suriya showered praise on composer Anirudh Ravichander for delivering a great album and excellent background score for the film. “Anirudh’s songs have taken this film beyond borders. Every technician has played some crucial role in the movie’s success. Everyone was lifting the whole experience by contributing something. We all had a lot of positive vibes while shooting the film. We were very sure that the film should be a celebration because it’s been eight years since my last festival release. And, I witnessed all the celebration in theatres firsthand by visiting screens like Kasi and Brinda, where people were enjoying everything on screen. For every film, there will be an inevitable difference between how the media and public respond. But, for Thaanaa Serndha Koottam, there was a unanimous opinion,” stated Suriya.

“There was a lot of pressure on Vignesh Shivan to deliver an entertaining film,” says Anirudh Ravichander

Composer Anirudh Ravichander talked about his magical working experience with Vignesh Shivan and reasoned why their combo clicks. “When Vignesh Shivan decided to do a film with Suriya sir after Naanum Rowdy Thaan, there was a lot of pressure. NRD was a small-scale film, and it opened up the opportunity to bag Thaanaa Serndha Koottam. So, the fate of Thaanaa Serndha Koottam would decide his future since it’s a big-star film on a big canvas. Despite the considerable pressure, Vignesh utilized the offer correctly and delivered an entertaining movie, which didn’t receive any negative reviews at all. I don’t know how our combination works. He extracts the best of out of me very casually. We used to keep chatting something, and in between, he will take the right scores from me. Our sessions have always been candid and very nonchalant.”

“Though the music was a hit, we wouldn’t remember the experience fondly if the end product is not good. It’s what I’ve learned in my small career. If the film doesn’t work well, we won’t have any pleasant memories associated with it even if the album was a chartbuster. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the movie with audiences in theaters,” added Anirudh.

“Suriya sir gives his 100% to the script, and that’s his biggest strength,” says Vignesh Shivan

Vignesh Shivan said Suriya’s absolute commitment to the character he plays was one of the reasons for producing the output he had desired.  “When I received this offer, I was a little hesitant about the ‘remake’ part. But, it’s a precious opportunity to direct a big hero. So, I did my best to make the film more interesting. Suriya sir gives his 100% to the script, and that’s his biggest strength. He understands the role thoroughly and gets into the skin of the character with utmost commitment,” said Vignesh.

Published Date: Jan 19, 2018 12:16 PM | Updated Date: Jan 19, 2018 12:16 PM


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Supreme Court upholds acquittal of Peepli Live co-director Mahmood Farooqui by Delhi HC in rape case

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The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the acquittal of Peepli Live co-director Mahmood Farooqui in a rape case by the Delhi High Court, after hearing a plea by an American woman challenging the high court verdict.

During the hearing before the apex court, the woman’s counsel told the bench that a new argument of alleged consensual relation was advanced by Farooqui’s lawyer before the high court and claimed that this issue was not raised before the lower court during the trial.

The bench, however, observed that it was not a case where strangers came, met and did something as both Farooqui and the woman were known to each other.

File image of Mahmood Farooqui. GettyImages

File image of Mahmood Farooqui. GettyImages

“This is a very hard case. We would like to say that it has been decided extremely well (by the high court),” the top court said.

When the woman’s counsel said the issue was whether there was any consent, the bench observed that there appeared to be a “positive response” which, according to her, was faked by her. “People give false smiles. How would the other person know that it’s a false response? This is very difficult to understand,” the bench said, adding, “she appeared to have responded in a positive manner”.

When the petitioner’s counsel referred to the email conversation between the woman and Farooqui, the apex court said the record reflects that they were good friends. The bench also referred to one of the communications between them and asked whether she had said “I love you” to Farooqui in one of the emails after the alleged incident.

“How many rape cases you have gone through where the prosecutrix (woman) has said I love you to the alleged accused much after the alleged incident,” the bench asked the counsel and also posed several other queries including how many times the woman had visited Farooqui and had drinks together.

The bench was not satisfied with the answers given by the counsel and dismissed the plea, saying no question of law was involved in the matter.

“We will not interfere with the high court verdict. It is a well-written judgment,” PTI quoted the Supreme Court as saying.

In September 2017, the Delhi High Court had acquitted Farooqui, saying he was entitled to benefit of the doubt as the testimony of the victim was not reliable.

Justice Ashutosh Kumar had set aside the trial court order which had awarded a seven-year jail term to Farooqui after convicting him for the alleged rape of a 30-year-old American researcher at his south Delhi residence in March 2015.

The high court, in its 85-page judgment, had directed that Farooqui be released forthwith.

It had held that the woman’s testimony was not reliable and the accused can be given the benefit of doubt. “Whether such an incident happened, if it has happened, it did happen with the consent of the prosecutrix. This remains in doubt,” the court had said.

Farooqui had challenged his conviction and the sentence given by the trial court.

During arguments, Farooqui’s lawyer had denied the allegation of rape levelled by the woman and had said, “no such incident took place on that day”.

His counsel had referred to messages exchanged between his client and the woman before the case was lodged and contended that the two were in a “relationship” since January 2015.

The argument was opposed by Delhi Police’s counsel, who had said that rape had taken place and the trial court had given reasons while convicting and sentencing 45-year-old Farooqui.

A trial court on 4 August last year had sent him to jail for seven years, observing that he had taken advantage of the situation when the victim was alone in his house.

The court, which on 30 July, 2016, had held Farooqui guilty of raping the American woman in 2015 in a drunken state, had also imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on him.

The police had on 19 June, 2015, lodged an FIR against Farooqui on the woman’s complaint after which he was arrested.

On 29 July, 2015, the police had filed its chargesheet against Farooqui, alleging he had raped the research scholar from Columbia University at his Sukhdev Vihar house in South Delhi on 28 March, 2015.

With inputs from PTI

Published Date: Jan 19, 2018 12:46 PM | Updated Date: Jan 19, 2018 13:48 PM


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Naya Rivera’s estranged husband Ryan Dorsey drops charges of domestic violence against Glee actress

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The charges of domestic violence against Glee star Naya Rivera by her estranged husband, actor Ryan Dorsey, have been dropped after he decided not to press charges, as reported by Daily News.

Naya Rivera and Ryan Dorsey. Facebook

Naya Rivera and Ryan Dorsey. Facebook

Rivera had been arrested and charged with domestic battery last year following a complaint by Dorsey when she had struck him on the head and the bottom lip while on a stroll with their two year old son. The charges have been dropped by Kanawha County Magistrate Court’s office, as reported by Daily News.

The incident had occurred on 25 November, 2017 and the actress was believed to be intoxicated at the time. The fight between the couple had erupted over an argument over their son. At the time the actor known for his role on Pitch had tweeted a statement, “This is a difficult time for everyone in the family especially for Naya and I. This isn’t some reality show, this is our life, and I ask that everyone especially ‘the media’ please respect our privacy and treat us/this situation how you would want a loved one to be treated. Perhaps with kindness, respect, without judgement, and as negative a situation like this is, with positivity and love. Thanks,” as reported by US Weekly.

After her arrest, Rivera had filed for divorce a second time, from Dorsey since November 2016, which she had dismissed, as reported by Daily News.

Published Date: Jan 19, 2018 12:48 PM | Updated Date: Jan 19, 2018 12:48 PM

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