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Tamil film Master, the first big-budget local offering in Indian theatres after the covid-19 lockdown, is set to record the highest opening week receipts since cinemas reopened in October, setting the stage for box office recovery this Pongal.

Ticketing site BookMyShow has notched up a million advance ticket sales for the film starring Vijay. That is 80% of total ticket sales of his previous film Bigil. Master, which is dubbed in Hindi, Telugu and Kannada, is likely to get opening weekend collections of around 20 crore, according to trade experts, beating Hollywood offerings Tenet and Wonder Woman 1984.

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Bollywood is caught in a bind with theatre chains seeking blockbuster titles to fill seats but studios unwilling to risk releasing their titles fearing there won’t be enough filmgoers to watch their movies during the pandemic. Master’s success will encourage producers to start releasing their films after almost a year-long pause.

Given that theatre viewing is yet to fully return to normalcy, it is hard to predict lifetime collections of the film, but it is sure to surpass the earnings of the two Hollywood films that have made 12.43 crore and 15.54 crore, respectively so far, experts said.

Though orders of the Tamil Nadu government to extend theatre occupancy to 100% have been revoked, Vijay’s fans have been breaking all social distancing norms, queuing up outside theatres, with many cities in Tamil Nadu reporting houseful boards on the first day, and most shows sold out until Sunday. Master, the most tweeted-about film on India Twitter in 2020, has declined plum offers from video-streaming platforms, preferring to wait for a theatrical release.

Master is undoubtedly the first big-ticket Indian release post lockdown, with exceptional advance ticket sales trends on BookMyShow so far. Starring one of the most popular actors in the south, Vijay, as the lead, along with the mass appeal of the film, Master is sure to draw audiences in huge numbers across South India," Ashish Saksena, chief operating officer, cinemas, BookMyShow, said.

Chennai, home to Vijay’s most ardent fans, is leading the way in terms of audience interest, Saksena added. Other towns in Tamil Nadu like Coimbatore, Madurai, Tiruchirappalli and Tiruppur are not far behind, but given that it has been dubbed in other languages, Master has also been receiving a positive response from Hyderabad, Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and even Mumbai.

Master also stars Vijay Sethupathi as the antagonist, with the collaboration of both superstars being seen as a big draw. Sethupathi is often seen playing characters with grey shades, including alongside Rajinikanth in Darbar.

Kapil Agarwal, joint managing director of UFO Moviez, which is distributing the Hindi version of the film, said big-budget movies like Master will help pandemic-hit theatres get back on their feet. “Master has the potential to revive the fortunes of the ailing cinema industry and prompt the release of big-budget films across India. We intend to aggressively cross-promote stars of one region in other regions with a vision of one nation one film," Agarwal said in a statement.

Film trade expert Girish Johar said Vijay’s popularity and the absence of any new Hindi movies have ensured a positive buzz for the film even in north India. “Though some of Rajinikanth’s films have managed the biggest openings as far as south Indian offerings in the north go, Master could beat those," Johar added. He pointed out that Pongal is a huge opportunity for south Indian films overseas.

That business is likely to be muted given the political unrest in the US and the fact that the UK is currently witnessing its third and worst wave of the virus.

BookMyShow’s Saksena said while Tenet set the ball rolling in early December, driving the initial set of movie-lovers to theatres after a long pause, it was Wonder Woman 1984’s release in the final week of the year that accelerated the revival cycle significantly.

“With the rollout of the covid vaccine, we foresee a sea change in audience consumption patterns for theatrical films. The past few weeks have been witness to a compelling audience response where new content has been released, reaffirming the potential that new films hold," Saksena said.

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