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Rise Of Pan-Indian Films Is A Good Omen

By Vanita Kohli-Khandekar
April 26, 2022 10:16 IST
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It means more tickets sold and therefore more revenues and hastens the recovery of the devastated-by-the-pandemic film business.

S S Rajamouli's RRR, above, has hit over Rs 1,000 crore (Rs 10 billion) at the box office.

The fictional story of two freedom fighters, played by N T Rama Rao junior and Ram Charan, is being hailed as the third largest box office hit after Aamir Khan's Dangal (2016, Hindi) and Rajamouli's own Baahubali 2 (2017, Telugu, Tamil).

It may cross Dangal's total estimated box office gross of Rs 2,200 crore (Rs 22 billion), reckon analysts.

There may be older films that made more money, but there is no comparable revenue data available.

RRR is, along with B Sukumar's Pushpa (Telugu), a glowing illustration of the single biggest shift in the business of cinema -- the rise of the domestic crossover or the pan-Indian film. A film that creates one market for India's many languages.

Of the Rs 800 crore (Rs 8 billion) worth of tickets RRR has sold so far in India, about Rs 230 crore (Rs 2.3 billion) was sold in, primarily, the Hindi markets of Mumbai, Delhi and other parts of the North and West. The rest came from the four South-Indian languages.

Minnal Murali and Joji (both Malayalam) crossed over online while Pushpa and RRR are straddling both the offline and online worlds.

 

In the last one year, there have been 10-12 bilingual films with South and Hindi stars. And every month of this year a film from the South will get a national release, according to data from Ormax Media. Two of them -- Beast (Tamil) and KGF 2 (Kannada) released last fortnight.

The rise of pan-Indian films is a good omen.

It means more tickets sold and therefore more revenues.

And depending on the costs, it may mean better profits.

It hastens the recovery of the devastated-by-the-pandemic film business. It crashed from Rs 19,100 crore (Rs 191 billion) in revenues in 2019 to Rs 7,200 crore (Rs 72 billion) in 2020.

Last year, it rose a bit to Rs 9,300 crore (Rs 93 billion), largely on the back of the large, spectacle, massy or 'Pan-Indian' films such as Pushpa, Spiderman -- No Way Home, Sooryavanshi (Hindi) and Master (Tamil).

For years, the Hindi film has tried to be pan-Indian and several South Indian ones tried the same but both the storytellers and the audience were not ready.

Films such as Andha Kanoon (1983, Rajinikanth and Amitabh Bachchan) or Sadma (1983, Kamal Haasan and Sridevi) were exceptions.

Largely, Hindi and South Indian films never crossed over to each other's markets. All through the 1980s and 1990s, anyone wanting to watch a good Malayalam, Tamil or Marathi film had to resort to a tape or DVD, in the original, without subtitles or dubbing.

By the turn of the millennium, Hindi general entertainment channels bridged the gap with dubbed versions of Tamil and Telugu films.

When OTT took off in 2016, the possibilities for films to cross over domestically went through the roof.

Not just Hindi and South Indian languages, some of India's best films come from Marathi, Bengali and Assamese languages.

These have found an audience too. For example, over half the viewership of Indian language films on Amazon Prime Video comes from outside their home state.

After over a decade of dubbed films on television and five years of OTT, there is now an audience that has long been familiar with and ready for stories from across India, even though the business wasn't.

That is because of the multiplex skew.

For long, film-makers across India have catered to 1,000-seater single screens that demanded massy, big spectacle, films. These filled up the theatre and ensured profits at very low ticket prices.

However, when corporatisation took off in the early part of the millennium, multiplex screens grew. It allowed for experimentation, variety and higher prices, changing the nature of the game.

As a result, Hindi became a multiplex-oriented, more realistic cinema. The massy entertainer, a la Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015) became a rarity.

On the other hand, the Southern markets are still largely dependent on single screens and therefore have their finger on the pulse of that audience.

Pushpa or RRR in the theatres and Drishyam 2 (Malayalam) or Jai Bhim (Tamil) online, point to a market that has been left unattended for long.

It is a gap that Hollywood films such as Avengers or Spiderman had been filling with Hindi, Bhojpuri, Tamil and Telugu dubs.

Since it is spoken and watched by roughly 8-10 times more people than any other language, Hindi has always been the biggest chunk of the Indian film business.

However, its inability to fill the gap for the mass film has meant that Telugu cinema has zoomed ahead at the box office in 2020 and 2021, according to The Ormax Box Office Report. As other cinemas play catch up, the balance will keep shifting but the pan-Indian film is here to stay.

It brings the entire Indian market into play, improving the possibilities for revenues and profits.

There couldn't be better news for Indian cinema.

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Vanita Kohli-Khandekar
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