If Malayalam films were the toast of the OTT town during the pandemic for their strong content, it was Telugu films which drew audiences back to the theatres in 2021. The regional language made a staggering 80 per cent pre-pandemic recovery in gross box office (BO) collections in India.
Telugu audiences shelled out Rs 1,126 crore in 2021 to watch films in theatres compared to Rs 1,404 crore in 2019. They paid more than a quarter of that sum (Rs 304 crore) just for the Allu Arjun-starrer Pushpa: The Rise - Part 1.
Meanwhile, in comparison, Bollywood managed a 13.7 per cent recovery – at just Rs 665 crore in 2021 compared to Rs 4,831 crore in 2019, according to the media consultancy firm Ormax Media’s Box Office Report 2020-21 released recently.
“In the last 12 months, south Indian films did well primarily because of big-budget films getting released in theatres because a majority of these states were open with a 50 per cent or even 100 per cent occupancy. But Hindi films’ release had been delayed significantly due to uncertainty in the Delhi and Maharashtra circuits,” said Elara Capital’s senior vice president & research analyst Karan Taurani.
Bollywood was betting on two big ticket films in 2021 to revive its fortunes – Sooryanvanshi (Rs 227 crore) and the long-delayed and heavily anticipated cricket saga 83 (Rs 126 crore). But they were no match for the Pushpa juggernaut.
“83 was very classy, while Pushpa was mass,” said trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai. He says bad timing (Delhi theatres shut down days after its release due to the Omicron threat) and poor marketing (a cricket film could have done better had it tied up with a T20 World Cup or ODI matches) did the film in. “Today, to be honest, former India skipper Virat Kohli’s life will sell better than yesteryear sporting hero Kapil Dev’s.”
As a result, Telugu films dethroned Bollywood to become the top grosser in terms of box office collections in the two pandemic years of 2020-2021 cumulatively. Telugu films’ share zoomed from 13 per cent in 2019 to 29 per cent in 2020-2021, while Bollywood’s share shrank from 44 per cent to 27 per cent during the period. Tamil came in next at 17 per cent, Hollywood at 11 per cent, and the remaining languages contributed 16 per cent, Ormax data showed.
Four Telugu films (Pushpa: The Rise - Part 1, Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo, Sarileru Neekevvaru and Vakeel Saab) made it to the list of top 10 grossers in the country. Three Hindi films (Tanhaji 3D - The Unsung Warrior, Sooryavanshi, 83), two Tamil films (Master, Darbar) and one Hollywood film (Spider-Man: No Way Home) rounded off the list.
With six out of the top 10 films by gross box office in the list (and Tamil film Annaatthe starring Rajinikanth at no. 11 by a narrow margin), the pandemic period marked the dominance of south Indian cinema at the Indian box office, the Ormax report pointed out.
“The cumulative share of the four South languages went up from 36 per cent in 2019 to 59 per cent in 2020 & 2021, highlighting how these industries managed to navigate through the pandemic with more relative success than Hindi films. While we can expect Hindi cinema to stage a recovery in 2022, the rise of southern cinema is a story to watch out for,” Ormax Media partner Gautam Jain had said.
But Taurani sees the trend reversing again with Hindi having a longer content pipeline of 12-15 films, including the likes of Aamir Khan-starrer Lal Singh Chaddha and Akshay Kumar’s Bachchan Pandey, compared to regional films.
“If there are no further theatre restrictions in Maharashtra or Delhi, you will even see large budget Hindi films release on back-to-back weekends compared to earlier when they used to come only at a gap of 3-4 weeks.” The April-June quarter is going to a big one and will reverse the trend in favour of Hindi films, he added.
Pillai points out that Telugu films have already captured the US – Hindi films’ biggest overseas market – over the past 2-3 years. “Hindi films will have to reinvent themselves and come up with more aggressive marketing strategies and movies with a big star cast like the Khans.”
They also need to differentiate between content for the OTT platforms and theatres, he added.
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