“Language is not a barrier,” says filmmaker SS Rajamouli. “It’s a medium.” Yet, he finds it easiest to make films in Telugu, a language he thinks in. “How do I make my story understood by more number of people? The automatic decision is to dub it into a language that other people understand. But that is not as simple as it sounds. I dubbed RRR into five languages. So, why didn’t I go into Gujarati? Rajasthani? Bengali? Punjabi?”
Simply put, a market has to be created. RRR worked in Hindi because the Baahubali team had already laid the groundwork. “Our main challenge was in the first part itself. How do we get the message across?” The second part, in comparison, was a cakewalk, says producer Shobu Yarlagadda, CEO & Co-founder of Arka Mediaworks, which produced the Baahubali films. From getting a Facebook page up and running from day one of the shoots, releasing behind-the-scenes videos on Facebook and YouTube even as filming progressed, using Google Trends and other social media analytics to monitor traction, sending actors to colleges in Punjab and Kolkata to promote the film and boost viewership, presenting it at the Delhi Comic Con, and tying up with the Indian Railways to give out Baahubali teacups on select intercity routes, they went all out to engage with north Indian audiences. “Maharashtra and Mumbai and all are easier to penetrate. But as you go North to Punjab and the Hindi heartland, it takes a little longer,” says Yarlagadda, adding that at the peak, 20 people worked in-house directly on marketing.
When the efforts paid off, it showed other filmmakers what was possible. “It’s all thanks to Rajamouli and Yarlagadda for making pan-India films and giving us the confidence,” says Vijay Kiragandur, Co-founder of Hombale Group, which produced the KGF movies. It was a meeting with Rajamouli in Bengaluru two months before KGF1’s release that set the ball rolling. They showed him an 8-10-minute show-reel cut of the film on an iPad, and he asked them to go pan-India. “People in Karnataka were saying we are spending more on marketing than production in KGF1. [His words] gave us the confidence to spend that much. Otherwise, also we would have gone all out, but would not have taken that much of a risk unless we heard it from the horse’s mouth,” says Kiragandur.
Unlike the other films whose national success came about intentionally, Allu Arjun-starrer Pushpa: The Rise was different. Again, it was Rajamouli who encouraged the makers to consider Hindi markets. But left with hardly any time for marketing, the makers relied entirely on TV promotions and Thadani’s distribution might carry the film. “We were clear that with our budgets, we would be able to recover the money in our core markets. Hindi was just a trial and error,” says Mythri Movie Makers Co-founder Y. Ravi Shankar. But the tale of Pushpa Raj, a coolie with a stumble mouthing the catchphrase Thaggede Le/Main Jhukega Nahi (I will not bow down), and his rise among the red sandalwood mafia, caught the imagination of the masses, spawning countless Instagram Reels and memes. “We were definitely surprised by the success outside south India. We never thought it will be so massive because we didn’t give much time for promotions,” says Shankar.
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