The last year and a half have seen Bollywood films not working that well at the ticket windows whereas South Indian films have become the toast of the season. Whether it’s ‘Pushpa: The Rise’ or ‘RRR’ or ‘KGF: Chapter 2’ or ‘Kantara’ – all have been loved and adored by audiences pan-India.
To add to that the success of ‘RRR’ in the western world with it leaving a mark at popular award shows like the Oscars and Golden Globes, it’s evident that there’s something that the southern filmmakers are getting right which Bollywood is slightly missing out on. Is it the story? Is it stardom? Is it the outlandish nature of mainstream Hindi cinema? Or is it the rooted attitude of south Indian films?
It’s not that south Indian films have not done great business across the country before. They have. Films like ‘Nayakan’, ‘Roja’, ‘Bombay’, ‘Hey Ram’, ‘Shivaji’, ‘Robot’, ‘Vishwaroopam’, etc have been hits all over the country in the past three or four decades. But in the last five or seven years, south Indian films are absolutely taking the competition to the next level leaving everyone else behind. Films like ‘Baahubali: The Beginning’, ‘Baahubali: The Conclusion’, ‘Robot 2.0’, ‘KGF: Chapter 1’, ‘Saaho’ and now, ‘Pushpa: The Rise’, ‘RRR’, ‘KGF: Chapter 2’ and ‘Kantara’ have broken box-office records not just in their respective film industries but even in the pan-India market. So, what has actually brought this about change?
Trade Analyst Taran Adarsh says, “I think the non-response to Hindi films and the superb opening to the films like ‘Pushpa’, ‘RRR’, and ‘KGF’ has triggered this talk and discussion. I think this is a temporary phase, and Bollywood will bounce back. The south films aren’t doing anything different. They have been doing the same thing. They have been loyal to their audience. They are giving them larger-than-life entertainment-driven films. Bollywood is making films for Versova to Bandra's audiences. So, what will the remaining audience do? Bollywood is making films to please critics. Who cares for the critics? Who is interested in them? We need commercial success. We need box-office success. The stakes are so high today.”
Adding to the same, south film distributor and exhibitor, Vijay Dingari, COO, Oracle Movies, says, “What I see is that the movies that come from Bollywood are multiplex centric. The story, the concept, the plot etc go well with the city audiences. But, when it comes to the smaller towns, I feel that most of the films are not catering to these B and C centres. The major revenue comes from these smaller centres. Karan Johar and others have started making films for multiplexes. It’s a very small example, let’s see a movie like Taapsee Pannu’s ‘Thappad’. It’s a perfect example of a multiplex film or an A-centre film. People coming to watch this in the cities would understand the sophisticated family life that we are looking at. But will the B and C centres connect to that film? I am not saying that every film should cater to the B and C centres, but it looks like slowly all films have started moving towards catering to just the A centres.”
“Another thing is that what the audiences look for is an attitude in the hero. A hero should carry an attitude. Why so? For example, I don’t like a traffic constable stopping me at the signal and talking harshly to me. But I can’t hit him. But when I see a hero onscreen hitting him, my ego gets satisfied. I am talking about the B and C centre audiences. So that sort of attitude is going missing (in Bollywood films). Why do you think Salman Khan’s movies become such hits? Because he carries an attitude around. That’s why he has a long fan base. This (attitude) is slowly and steadily that is moving away from Bollywood films, and that has been the core of south Indian films for ages. Here it is a hero-worshipping sort of a thing. So, they like their hero to have an attitude and that’s where they connect properly. But only attitude will also not work. You have to have a proper balance of a good story and attitude. That’s what works,” adds Dingari.
Salman Khan said last year once while talking to the media that heroism always works, as there is a kind of connection with the audiences and that’s very important for moviegoers.
On the same note, Film Distributor Sameer Dixit from Pickle Entertainment says, “What has changed is that Bollywood films are moving away from showing off the attitude. The audience is looking out for entertainment and they want their heroes to have a certain attitude. But slowly that is going missing from Bollywood films. South films still have that and that’s why audiences are not bothered whether there is a big star attached to the film or not. The story is decent enough and they are getting to see some attitude in that character. They instantly connect to that, and that’s why these films are working so well.”
Not just south films, but even other regional films have started doing better business than a lot of Hindi films. Films like ‘Sairat’, ‘Chandramukhi’ and ‘Har Har Mahadev’ in Marathi are also doing great business.
Akshay Bardapurkar, Founder, Planet Marathi, adds to this from a business perspective. He says, “The success of these regional films is not based on ‘what Bollywood is doing wrong’. The success of regional films is due to the regional film industries themselves realising their potential and betting big on their own value. In the past, regional content storylines and movies inspired remakes in Bollywood, with better production value on a larger scale. Now the difference is regional films are not only focusing on quality talent and content, they are shifting focus on size and scale both in production and promotions. This is where the success factor lies. Regional films are stealing the limelight with great marketing, and viewer experience and also by releasing the film in various other languages; things which were rarely done in the past. It is also largely due to the shift in the audience's psyche. Today the viewer will focus on ‘Quality’ rather than ‘Loyalty’. They are cinema agnostic and open to watching movies from anywhere as long as it has managed to catch their attention, engage and surpass expectations. A great example has been the Marathi film ‘Chandramukhi’ which got more shows than other Bollywood superstar releases ‘Runway 34’ and ‘Heropanti 2’ after the first day, due to the tremendous positive response audiences showered on the film.”
Writer and Director, Sanjiv Jaiswal, known for his films on social-political topics, says, “The basic problem with Bollywood is that nowadays no one is making films. They are all making projects. Previously in the 1970s-80s there was a lot of creative work done with writers, directors, producers, music directors, etc all seated together and discussing a story. There was confidence among each other for each other’s work. But now that's lost. They had been coping stories and ideas from all over the world. This has been happening for a long time now. It worked till before the era of OTT. But now audiences have access to world-class cinema with Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. Bollywood films have become like a Chinese product – it may work, it may not work. What has happened with regional films is that they have grown themselves systematically and with a pattern. They have maintained that systematic approach like it is done in Hollywood. The south films work on their intrinsic story. They pick local talent bring in a local feel and get that local attitude into their storylines. That works. Also, now the dubbing industry has become big. If you can see the original film dubbed so well in your preferred language, why would you want to watch a remake of that same thing in Bollywood? You would much rather watch the original only. And Bollywood is relying entirely on remakes whether it’s from foreign films or south or any other regional films. The creativity of movie-making is completely lost. But it’s there in the smaller regional film industries, and that’s why they’re working well.”
The recent successes of ‘Pathaan’ and ‘Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar’ is definitely a great silver lining for the Hindi film industry. Will the other upcoming films be able to capture this and ride on this tide? Well, time will only tell.