The recent Box Office success of Hindi-dubbed South Indian films is well documented by now. But the credit doesn’t belong to the filmmakers and producers from the South alone. It’s been a trend in the making for almost 25 years now. Ironically, some trace it back to the super-hit Hindi movie Dil Chahta Hai (2001). Farhan Akhtar’s directorial debut about the coming-of-age of three friends is one of the first films to be considered an urban or a multiplex hit. “It’s a very cool and truly phenomenal film. It got many people to replicate that urban success. As multiplex penetration grew in urban India, film-making sensibilities changed,” says Nagpur-based exhibitor and distributor Akshaye Rathi, Director of Aashirwad Theatres Pvt. Ltd. Film-makers in the North began catering to the NRI and metro audiences. The glitz and pomp of multiplexes meant that tickets were priced at 3x of single-screen rates. The logic was that one multiplex viewer equals three single-screen viewers.
As it is, India is under-screened with about 8,000 movie screens compared to China’s 80,000. Dhishoom Cinemas’ CEO Tushar Dhingra estimates that 5,000 of the 5,564 sub-districts in the country don’t have a cinema theatre. “That’s one structural gap we have as a country that needs to be filled,” he says. The South alone accounts for nearly half the country’s screens, with its propensity for single-screens mostly intact. Says filmmaker SS Rajamouli: “In Telugu, Tamil or Kannada, we kept on making films catering to single-screen audiences as well because we’re making films only for one state and we have to get all the audiences to the theatre.”
On the other hand, Rathi says, Bollywood ignored 75 per cent of the population with multiplex content and ticket pricing. They forgot that urban audiences have many avenues for recreation, but the choice for smaller cities is usually between watching a movie and eating out. “That has become the undoing of the Hindi film industry in some sense, where a bulk of the population looking for escapist viewing has been alienated. They found their entertainment in SET Max and Star Gold through Allu Arjun, Junior NTR and Ram Charan.”
Delhi-based distributor and Proprietor of Bobby Enterprises, Sanjay Mehta, picks Pushpa: The Rise and KGF2, particularly as saviours for single-screen theatres in the Delhi-UP belt. “When the Omicron restrictions stopped the flow of Hindi films again, Pushpa saw exhibitors sail through a tough time.” “Initially, I had seven shows of 83 and two to three shows of Pushpa. Within three to four days, it was the other way around. This was the general trend in other theatres, too,” says Pratapgarh-based Pavan Agarwal, who owns DD Cinemas, a chain of 20 cinema screens in 11 UP districts. To cash in on the extraordinary demand for KGF2, he raised his ticket rates from `150 and `200 to `200 and `250, without seeing any decline in footfalls. Sounding like a true showbiz man, he says: “Shauk ki keemat nahi hoti!” Translated, that would be “Passion is priceless!”
Applause Entertainment CEO Sameer Nair, said, “We used to play Indra: The Tiger (Hindi dub of Telugu film Indra) and our ratings were sorted for two weeks.” Telugu films and their stars—be they Chiranjeevi, Nagarjuna, Mahesh Babu or Allu Arjun—gradually cultivated a big fan base among Hindi-speaking audiences through satellite TV and, recently, YouTube. Meanwhile, their storytelling style was also getting accepted theatrically. “The biggest Hindi blockbusters of Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan from 2007-12 were remakes of south Indian films,” says Amit Sharma, MD of Miraj Cinemas. When Pushpa, RRR and KGF2 burst onto the screens in quick succession with substantial marketing and heroes who had been accepted by the masses, the parched audiences found an oasis in the desert. “Until now, we had some misconceptions that these kinds of films don’t do well in multiplexes. Classy films may not be liked by the mass audience. But massy films will be liked by the class audience,” says Co-founder Y. Ravi Shankar of Mythri Movie Makers, which produced Allu Arjun-starrer Pushpa: The Rise.
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