Small is big in the Tamil film industry

Written by S Saroj Kumar | Updated: Dec 24 2009, 03:39am hrs
Kollywood is celebrating small-budget films this year. Of 53 releases in the first six months of 2009, the nine films that gave returns on investments were in the budget range of Rs 3-Rs 5 crore, except for the Suriya-starrer, Ayan.

The unprecedented success of small films, including Siva Manasulla Sakthi, Yaavarum Nalam, Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu, Pasanga and Nadodigal, has broadened the playfield with the encouraging entry of first-time producers in the industry. The trend started in 2008, when of the 61 releases during the first six months, ten outshone big films.

Ramanujam, editor of entertainment webzine, tamilnaduentertainment.com, says around 60 to 70 motley producers have been making films in Kollywood for the past two years.

Unrated artistes, unsung technicians and greenhorn producers are re-writing the success mantra of the industry. The exemplary success of this curious mix proves the fact that film buffs yearn for storylines that touch their lives, he adds.

As per a SWOT analysis (Strength, Weakness Opportunities and Threat) on the sustainability of low-cost films in the long run, he affirms that just like big projects, small projects would eventually suffer the cost overrun syndrome, when small-time artistes resort to arbitrary hikes in rates, pushing the producer to cut other production costs.

He says the biggest risk for big projects is the inability to recover the investment cost by distributors, theatre owners and producers.

The industry is clamouring for rationalising the artistes fee, as that alone comprises 60% of the project cost, leaving the producers to complete their films with the leftover 40%. I strongly advocate Bollywoods methodology of artiste pay, where big names like Shah Rukh and Salman Khan are paid a token initial advance and the remaining fee is paid in tranches based on the success of the movie profit lifecycle, Ramanujam points out.

More money is at stake for the Tamil film industry in 2010, when several big films are due for release. In 2008, Kollywood generated a total business of Rs 460 crore against the expected Rs 510 crore in 2009. In 2010, the total turnover of the Tamil movie world is expected to shoot up to Rs 800 crore, with a slew of mega-budget releases in the pipeline, he says.

Rajnikanth starrer Enthiran, with a budget of over Rs 100 crore, is a much-awaited release.

Sivasakthi Pandian of Tamil Nadu Film Producers Council (TNFPC) says producers are now looking at foreign markets as well to increase revenue. Earlier, our foreign market was limited to Malaysia and Singapore, with a small presence in the US and the UK, but the success of Rajnikanth in Japan has opened up new markets.

As per Ernst & Young, the south Indian cinema industry, comprising Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam films, together account for 60% of the total 1,300 movies produced in India.

Today, the southern industry is estimated at Rs 17,300 crore, 75% of which is contributed by theatre revenues. In the Hindi film industry, 60% revenue comes from collections. Typically, south Indians are avid cinema-goers and it is no surprise that Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka house almost 5,000 theatre screens, which is about 50% of the total number of operational movie screens in India.

But analysts say it is time to break the mould. To achieve robust growth, south Indian cinema has to tap the non-theatre, vibrant revenue streams of radio, TV and mobile, says Farokh T Balsara, media and entertainment expert, E&Y.

The film content, when sliced and diced to suit the non-theatrical content market like music and comedy clips on mobile, radio and television market, will open new revenue vistas for the south Indian cinema industry, he says.