The 2010s saw another laudable decade for Kollywood, commercially speaking. The top stars firmed up their position, more content-oriented blockbusters were produced and inevitably new stars were born. There were others whose crowd-pulling abilities witnessed a sharp decline. The start of a new decade is the perfect time to analyze the form guide for the top stars in the industry—how they fared in the previous decade. Worldwide all-version collections are considered, although the Tamil version and TN BO does get extra weightage.
Rajnikanth continues to hang on to the Numero Uno spot but that is largely due to his pull outside India and his influence in Karnataka, Andhra, Telangana and the northern belts. Post-Kabali, the Thalaivar has seen his films underperforming in Tamil Nadu, both in terms of initial and lifetime collections. So much so that his Pongal release in 2019, Petta, ended up falling well short of Ajith’s Viswasam in the state. To an extent, Rajni’s film choices in the last decade have been questionable, probably taking the audience for granted. Darbar will be a crucial film for Rajni, especially in Tamil Nadu.
Rajni’s downward slide has coincided with Vijay’s rise and the latter has been dominating the Tamil Nadu box-office in recent years. Thalapathy’s last three releases all grossed above 125 crores in the State, with the most recent flick Bigil emerging as the highest grossing Tamil film in the State. It is also the top-collecting Kollywood film (Tamil version) worldwide. Vijay is at the peak of his stardom and the incredible thing is that he continues to get sharper with every passing film. Overseas, he is a strong competitor for Rajni although the latter is still ahead currently.
The other major Tamil star who has gained significantly during the 2010s is Ajith. In Tamil Nadu, he is potentially as huge as his peer Vijay but hasn’t had his consistency. However, Thala’s signature ability is to rack up massive opening day numbers in Tamil Nadu and this is testimony to the humungous fan base across the State. There was a period where he did films that ignored the all-important family audiences and that dragged him back a bit. Since 2014 though, Ajith has been consciously working on it and the results have shown.
The drawback for Thala is the lack of buzz outside Tamil Nadu, although things are improving. There is tremendous potential in Andhra and Telangana but the absence of simultaneous Telugu dubbed releases for his film has slowed things. At the same time, it’s safe to say that he has worked his way to a decent market in AP/TG. He does have a good base in Karnataka though.
In Tamil Nadu, Ajith is a dominant force and has an enviable achievement of having won box-office clashes against Vijay (2014 Pongal), Kamal Haasan (Diwali 2015) and Rajnikanth (Pongal 2019) in the state. Beyond the borders, it’s currently a two-horse race with Rajni and Vijay continuing to reign.
At the start of the decade, Suriya was in invincible form but much like Vikram in the 2000s, he has slipped drastically. He still is the darling of the neutral audiences but the fanbase that he had acquired during his peak has nosedived. Two big-ticket films, Maatraan and Anjaan, that were supposed to start an era of Suriya dominance both tanked at the box office. He still managed a solid blockbuster in the Singam sequel but the failure of the third installment proves that Suriya needs a rethink and he needs it quickly.
The one plus for Suriya is that his films still get reasonable openings and that shows that it’s only a matter of pulling the right strings together. He may not have as much pull as Vijay or Ajith in Tamil Nadu but his global appeal is consistent, and also has a strong base in AP/TG. The latter half of the 2010s is a phase that Suriya would want to forget and the quicker he gets his script-selection on point, the better it will be for him.
Siva Karthikeyan and Vijay Sethupathi were the rising stars of the last decade, with the former showing potential to be a supreme entertainer. His peer took an unconventional route to fame by sticking to quality cinemas. Sethupathi did do the occasional masala film albeit with little success. He isn’t someone who has the boundless energy needed to be a potboiler hero but can be an actor pan-excellence. It seems like the audience didn’t like him in the larger-than-life avatar.
Siva, meanwhile, relishes doing comedy entertainers, but like Sethupathi, he too hasn’t really aced the action role. That’s a work-in-progress for him, serious roles, and the coming decade will tell if he belongs to the top tier or not. There was a time when the trade even put Siva above Suriya in the stardom meter but given how poorly the former’s film Hero opened, it’s clear that the youngster still has work to do.
Another actor who has roared back comprehensively is Karthi. Like his elder brother Suriya, Karthi also had a dream phase where he could do no wrong but like his sibling, he too lost the plot briefly. Thozha was the kind of redemption Karthi needed and he hasn’t looked back since then. His films may not have been massive money-spinners but have delivered in terms of content and also succeeded at the ticket windows. Add to this the fact that Karthi is a versatile actor who can also be a commercial performer and things look big.
In fact, don’t be surprised if Karthi leaps ahead of his brother in the years to come. It may sound far-fetched but certainly isn’t an improbable event. The other impressive thing about the 2010s was the steep rise of content films in various genres, most of which also became box office successes. The Tamil audience may still love action potboilers but even those can’t be made taking them for granted, like it used to be earlier. The wide access to content across the globe has made them smarter and that has forced film-makers to be smarter too.