From Tamil filmmaker Pa. Ranjith’s Rajinikanth blockbuster Kaala (Black) to Malayalam star Tovino Thomas’ Kala (The Unwanted), South Indian filmmakers are experimenting in myriad ways. Ambedkarite Ranjith speaks out for the slum dwellers in the first and Tovino’s macho image is completely inverted in the second, where a poor farmhand gets his revenge against the callous landowner. There are many films in between, from big commercial monsters like KGF: Chapter 2, Pushpa: The Rise, RRR (these three films together are estimated to have made a whopping Rs 2,500 crore at the box office) to small slice-of-life gems like Kumbalangi Nights, most of Fahadh Faasil’s films, and quiet but powerful feminist takes like The Great Indian Kitchen, about the casual patriarchy in most Indian middle-class homes, the Southern cinema ecosystem is taking on interesting subjects and putting them out in new, creative ways.
Is this making Bollywood feel insecure, which has had a mediocre run recently both at content and commerce? Is that why there are Twitter spats against regional films? Pitted against the multi-crore extravaganzas of the South, much-hyped Hindi films like 83, Gangubai Kathiawadi, Gehraiyaan, Jersey, and Jayeshbhai Jordaar have been lacklustre. Most of the articles in this issue argue that Hindi films have to get their mojo back, wake up to the fact that subtitles have dissolved boundaries and a discerning audience won’t lap up any stale tale.
(This appeared in the print edition as "The Irresistible Rise of the South")