Business Today

The regional rush

The regional film industry is set to get a corporate makeover with the entry of big production houses.

Anusha Subramanian        Print Edition: May 3, 2009

Impressed by the likes of the Marathi film Shwaas, which was nominated for the Oscars or the global success of the Tamil film Sivaji: the Boss or Bhojpuri films routinely eclipsing Bollywood, many Bollywood barons are looking to hit pay dirt in the bigger and diversified regional film space. Soaring star prices and film budgets and poor return on investment back home have only strengthened their resolve to seek greener pastures.

Already, big Bollywood players like Anil Ambani’s BIG Pictures, UTV Motion Pictures, Mumbai Mantra Media, the entertainment arm of the Mahindra & Mahindra Group, Ultra Distributors, leaders in home video and content aggregation, have either forayed into regional film production or are toying with the idea.

Broadcasters such as Sun TV and NDTV Imagine are following suit. Mumbai Mantra Media, for instance, is doing only Bhojpuri and Bengali cinema—it has so far released Hum Bahubali (Bhojpuri) and Antaheen (Bengali) and has another couple lined up this year. Ultra Group, besides producing Marathi and Gujarati films, is also buying Marathi films with an overall investment of Rs 25 crore. UTV, one of the oldest regional players, has already produced three Telugu and Tamil films.

But what’s all the rush about? Rajesh Jain, Head of Information, Communication and Entertainment at KPMG, says these players are typically looking to spread risk and expand into regional markets where the audience is huge. A recent FICCI-KPMG report on the Indian film industry put total revenues at Rs 10,930 crore last year, of which regional cinema’s share was Rs 6,011 crore or 55 per cent. South Indian cinema accounted for two-thirds of the regional pie. Besides, there are clear time and cost advantages. It takes 6-9 months to make a regional film against 12-15 months in Bollywood. Also, it costs up to Rs 25 crore to make a big-budget film in Tamil or Telugu or up to Rs 10 crore in Bengali or Marathi. In Bollywood, it’s Rs 50 crore and above.

The entry of corporate houses with fat purse-strings is expected to unshackle regional cinema, long hamstrung by lack of proper marketing and overdependence on box office revenues. Says Mahesh Ramanathan, COO, BIG Pictures, which plans to produce 50 per cent of its films in regional languages: “The risk-reward ratio is skewed towards box office revenues. Other revenue streams such as satellite and DVD rights are minimal as of now.” Then, there are issues of ticket pricing and screening. In Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, tickets cannot be priced above Rs 100 and only four shows are allowed per screen.

But change is underway. Regional cinema has begun boosting its marketing spends, polishing production techniques, bringing in professionalism, going for higher print runs and, of course, tapping into the large Indian diaspora. A case in point is Sivaji: the Boss. And, with large corporate houses entering the fray, this is expected to deepen and become the norm across the regional space.

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