MUMBAI • The first show in Chennai in India started at 4am. Cinema operators wanted an early headstart, knowing there would be a rush to catch Kaala, starring Tamil-cinema superstar Rajinikanth.
The movie has gone on to become a blockbuster since its June 7 opening, with its stirring tale of residents of Mumbai's sprawling Dharavi slum facing off against a politician eyeing their neighbourhood for a real-estate development.
Audiences have been applauding when the character played by Rajinikanth tells the politician: "To you, land is power. To us, it means life."
Director Pa Ranjith said his movie, which is showing in Singapore, was inspired by a visit to Mumbai, home to Bollywood as well as more than 18 million slum dwellers, or 60 per cent of the city's population, according to government data.
"I was in Mumbai and saw the city as vertical highrises and horizontal slums. You can easily see that divide," he added.
"That is why I wanted to make this film. Bollywood is completely different and makes fantasy films.
"Even in (Tamil movies from) Chennai, they don't want to discuss these issues."
It is not the film-maker's first take on social issues. His previous 2016 release, Kabali, which also starred Rajinikanth, was about exploited tea plantation workers.
In Kaala, the plot probes India's entrenched caste system, as people fighting for land rights are often from the lower end of the strict system of social hierarchy.
In one scene, the upper-caste politician refuses a drink of water at the home of the central character, who comes from a lower caste.
Said Ranjith: "Caste is everywhere. It is at the root of this divide. We need to cut the root."