Vijay’s Star Is Rising Fast In America With ‘Mersal’
As a rule, Tamil-language movies don’t often do much business in North America. It’s not that they’re not well-liked or well-received, it’s just that the United States doesn’t have many native Tamil speakers. Not compared to those who speak Hindi, which is by far the market’s dominant Indian language.
So when a Tamil movie breaks out in the U.S. market, it’s a big deal. And Mersal, the Atlee-directed thriller, has broken out big. As of Sunday it had collected $1.29 million, a very big number for a Tamil-language film. Add that to the $373,000 the picture has collected in Canada and its North American box office totals $1.66 million, or 10.8 crore rupees, so far.
That’s more than double Vijay’s previous personal best of $729,000, which Theri, also a thriller directed by Atlee, earned in the territory in 2016. And if Mersal surpasses the $2 million (Rs. 13 crore) threshold, which it looks likely to do, it will become only the third Kollywood film to do so.
Tamil is one of the more widely-spoken Indian languages, with around 68 million speakers around the world, according to Encarta estimates. But those speakers are concentrated mainly in the state of Tamil Nadu—which has a population of more than 60 million—with additional concentrations in Sri Lanka, which has 3.1 million Tamil speakers, according to a 2012 census, and Malaysia, which has nearly 2 million.
The U.S. has a relatively tiny population of 300,000 who speak the language, and Canada has around 200,000 more. So, assuming that most of the ticket buyers for Tamil-language movies are Tamil speakers, that means that a huge percentage of them, some 30 to 40 percent, have bought tickets to see Mersal. If that were to happen in Tamil Nadu, the picture would gross over $60 million / 400 crore rupees, which would make it by far the biggest Kollywood movie in history.
In fact only two Kollywood movies have earned more money than Mersal in North America, Kabali (2016) and Enthiran (2010), both of which feature the Tamil-speaking superstar Rajinikanth, and both of which earned more than $4 million in North America, according to figures from boxofficemojo.com.
Mersal is still a long way from those numbers, and Vijay is still a long way from eclipsing Rajinikanth’s box office supremacy, both back at home and in North America. But he’s a far younger actor, and if the trend of Vijay’s recent pictures continues, he may soon give Rajini a serious run for his money.