The end of ‘regional’ super-hit cinema – The Economic Times

Clipped from: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/opinion/et-commentary/the-end-of-regional-super-hit-cinema/articleshow/96137062.cms

Synopsis

Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam movies dubbed in Hindi, not Bollywood, are getting people all across India into theatres.

Biswadeep Ghosh

Biswadeep Ghosh

Biswadeep Ghosh has been a journalist for two decades, and is currently the Editor of Pune Times. He has published a volume of poems titled “Trivia” and four unauthorised Hall of Fame biographies of Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan. Biswadeep loves to write on literature, movies and music.

There’s pin-drop silence inside a well-maintained, single-screen theatre in Patna. Viewers are engrossed in Rishab Shetty’s 2022 Kannada action mythological Kantara, following every scene in dubbed Hindi. While most Hindi films have failed to make good sales, this modestly budgeted ‘regional’ film released without hype has been drawing big crowds in this theatre.

Once the film ends, a beaming audience member tells his companion, ‘Picture ekdum alag type ka hai.’ And it’s true. Kantara deals with environmental concerns and feudalism, and introduces Kambala, an annual buffalo race in Karnataka along with a performance of the Kannada ritual dance Bhoota Kola to downtown Patna. Not the usual Bollywood fare at all.

What’s true for movies like Kantara playing to full halls in places like Patna and Lucknow is true for a growing number of South Indian movies across the country. The Hindi film industry, meanwhile, is experiencing one setback after another as it continues to market the same old ideas, come up with the same old formulas to a crowd that’s now more demanding, and willing – even enthusiastic – to stop being held captive audience to language. If non-English movies and shows are being enthusiastically greeted by the usual English language content OTT viewers – the breach arguably made by the worldwide watched 2021 South Korean Netflix series Squid Game – in theatres Indian cinema is now no longer synonymous with Hindi cinema even in Hindi-speaking parts of the country. South Indian films are leading this wolf pack.

Hindi remakes of films in Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Tamil are coming off the conveyer belt with mixed results. Abhishek Pathak’s 2022 Tabu-Ajay Devgn-starring Hindi crime thriller Drishyam 2, a remake of Jeethu Joseph’s 2021 Malayalam film of the same name, has been a critical and commercial success. Gowtam Tinnanuri’s 2022 Jersey, originally a 2019 Telugu film of the same name, and Pushkar-Gayathri’s Saif Ali Khan, Hrithik Roshan-starring Vikram Vedha, based on the 2017 Tamil original of the same name by the same directorial duo, have, however, flopped.

But success – and failure – can’t be measured by numbers alone. Mani Ratnam’s 2022 Tamil historical drama Ponniyin Selvan: I (The Son of Ponni), even when dubbed in Hindi, failed to do good business nationwide. But it has been raved by many for its directorial, cinematographic capabilities as well as for its acting and music.

Then, of course, there’s SS Rajamouli’s two simultaneously filmed in Tamil and Telugu Baahubali films – Baahubali: The Beginning (2015) and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (2017) – followed by his 2022 epic action drama RRR. The brilliant visual effects of the last film have become a talking point, marking a new standard in Indian cinema and enticing viewers to return to cinemas rather than stay home to watch this sensory spectacle on a smaller screen.

It is not as if all South Indian successes have been propelled by grand ideas. Sukumar’s Telugu 2021 action drama Pushpa: The Rise – Part 01 is simply about the eventful life of an ordinary labourer who becomes a power centre in a syndicate that smuggles red sandalwood. Prashanth Neel’s two Kannada films, K.G.F: Chapter 1 (2018) and K.G.F: Chapter 2 (2022) also worked because of the main character played by Yash, an assassin who eventually establishes his power in the Kolar gold fields, who doesn’t flaunt his abs to achieve the impossible. His appeal lies in the fact that he is a remodelled Rajinikanth character from his action films – on steroids.

The success of South Indian films with originality as their USP is a perceptible contrast to a long series of dud from Bollywood, with a few exceptions. In this changed landscape, the best of mainstream Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam movies have become as representative of blockbuster Indian cinema as the biggest Bollywood films of the past. With dubbed versions as keys to unlock their magic, they aren’t ‘regional’ superhits only anymore.

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