Rajinikanth- The Mount Road Maharaja

Superstar Rajinikanth has been given a new title by the Tamil film trade in Chennai. After the release of Enthiran, he will be known as the “Mount Road Maharaja”.
Why? Mount Road in Madras now Anna Salai in Chennai has been traditionally known as the seat of power and “Collections King Theatres” from early 60’s. The most prestigious theatre for early MGR movies used to be Chitra (now defunct) and later Devi when it opened in the early 70’s. Remember MGR’s Ullagam Sutrum Valiban ran continuously for 25 weeks at Devi.

The other legend of Tamil cinema Sivaji Ganesan, built a theatre Shanthi in Mount Road and made it an institution. Sivaji’s evergreen hits like Thangapathakam and so many others were screened at Shanthi, which has now become a twin theatre.

In MGR- Sivaji days, their films used to release in only one Mount Road theatre. From 2000 onwards for big hero’s (read Rajini and Kamal) it became two and for Sivaji (2007), there was five screens. Now Rajinikanth’s Enthiran will release in a record 15 screens in Mount Road area- Sathyam, Santham, Seasons, Escape Spot, Escape Streak, Escape Plush, Inox-1, Inox-2, Devi, Devi Paradise, Anna, Woodlands, Melody, Albert and Baby Albert. All of them will screen five shows per day, atleast in the first week.

As per trade estimates Enthiran can be seen by 49565 audiences per day in 15 Mount Road screens, if they have daily 5 shows. Says Kannan, a Rajini fan club member: “ Rajini sir is the definitely the Mount Road Maharaja. No other actor in Tamil film history can get so many screens in Mount Road area, where officially the ticket cost, cola, puff; car parking is the highest in the state. It proves Rajini sir is the real superstar.” The grapevine has it that Enthiran may get a distributors share of Rs 8 to Rs 10 Crore from Mount Road theatres alone.

The star ratings in late 70’s and 80’s depended on where your film was screened in Mount Road, as Rajini and Kamal were given preference over others. Then came Albert in Egmore area in mid- 80’s. In trade circuit Albert became a Mount Road theatre, and they started wooing Rajinikanth in a very big way.

The late G Venketaswaran (Mani Ratnam’s elder brother), then leading producer, distributor and a pioneer in marketing fell out with Devi. The dynamic GV who was extremely close to Rajinikanth, took his Thalapathy and screened it at Albert whose Manager, Mariappan a crazy Rajini fan kept the biggest ever cut-out of the star outside his theatre.

Since then Albert became Rajinikanth’s “official” Mount Road theatre, and even today “first day first show” of a Rajini film will be seen by Latha Rajinikanth and the rest of the family only at Albert. There is no better theatre to gauge the mass audience’s reaction and pulse than Albert.

All that changed in the late 90’s when young and dynamic Kiran Reddy changed the movie business in South India. Kiran took over the loss making family business, the three screen Sathyam Cinemas and rebuilt it as a six-screen luxury multiplex. Kiran and his cousin Swaroop Reddy made Sathyam Cinemas, the pride of not only Mount Road but India.

Rajinikanth and Kamal Hassan reinvented their box-office hold and charisma with Sathyam, which slowly has now become a territory by itself. Says Swaroop Reddy of Sathyam Cinemas: “ Rajinikanth is truly a phenomenon. Among the Tamil actors he is the collection king. Enthiran is a special case, as it is the costliest film ever and it needs a wide release. Sun Pictures have done the smart thing by releasing big and their promotions have also helped in getting this kind of unprecedented opening through advance booking alone.”

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