By Anand Pandit
When Satyajit Ray’s ‘Pather Panchali’ won the ‘Best Human Document’ award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, Indians all over the world celebrated. A small-budget Bengali film that Ray had completed against all odds in 1955 instantly catapulted him and Indian cinema to global fame and established the primacy of a powerful, universal story. Director Ramu Kariat’s 1965 Malayalam film ‘Chemmeen’ won the Certificate of Merit at the Chicago Film Festival and the Best Cinematography Award at the Cannes Film Festival. Raj Kapoor’s ‘Awara’ became a huge hit in South Asia and in the Soviet Union, East Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East. In recent times, films like ‘Lagaan’, ‘Dangal’ and ‘RRR’ among others, have attracted a global audience.
The point I am trying to make is that multilingual Indian stories have been winning global attention for a very long time. However, at home, even though regional and Hindi film industries synergised once in a while to make films or to share talent and stories, a language barrier did exist which kept audiences in linguistic silos. With the advent of OTT platforms, however, the language barriers have melted, and Indian audiences are relishing good stories from different milieus.
In recent times, regional cinema has grown dramatically in terms of pan-India reach and box-office numbers. Films like ‘RRR’, the ‘KGF’ franchise, ‘Pushpa: The Rise’, ‘Kantara’, ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ (1 & 2) and the ‘Drishyam’ franchise have broken box-office records in theatres. Online as well, the nationwide success of films like ‘C U Soon’, ‘The Great Indian Kitchen’ and shows like ‘Suzhal: The Vortex’ have shown how diverse entertainment has become today.
In recent times, dubbed and subtitled films have helped regional filmmakers penetrate new demographics. What is interesting is that the stories that resonate with audiences are rooted in local milieus but steeped in universal emotions. And the technical proficiency of these directors is without question, of an international standard, as ‘RRR’ very well demonstrated.
It is clear as daylight now that even formulaic cinema must have something exceptional for it to succeed, and established production houses too must brainstorm about how they can exceed the expectations of the audience. And it is fantastic to see Indian cinema becoming truly cohesive as writers, directors, and actors from different industries come together to collaborate more frequently than ever before.
The exchange between Hindi and regional cinema, however, dates back to the 40s and the 50s, when regional studios like Gemini Pictures, AVM, and Prasad Productions remade their films in Hindi. ‘Azaad’ which established Dilip Kumar as a comic genius was made in 1955 and was a remake of the Tamil film ‘Malaikkallan.’ In fact, Dilip Saab starred in many South-Indian remakes like ‘Ram Our Shyam’ and ‘Aadmi.’ In the eighties too, Jeetendra ji starred in many hit South Indian remakes like ‘Himmatwala’, ‘Mawaali,’ ‘Tohfa,’ ‘Justice Chaudhury’ and more.
And the trend continues today, though remakes will become obsolete as Hindi-speaking audiences increasingly begin to watch the dubbed or subtitled versions of Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Gujarati, Marathi, and Punjabi films. Bollywood has always been a soft power globally, but now we will see the advent of Indian cinema as a synergetic creative powerhouse where multiple languages and variegated narratives will be consumed not just across India but all over the world.
Anand Pandit is a seasoned producer who is well-known for movies like Section 375, Bazaar, Sarkar 3, Thank God, Total Dhamaal, Big Bull, and Chehre, among others. His upcoming movies are Swatantra Veer Savarkar, Desi Boyz sequel, Tron Ekka (Gujarati), and Baap Manus (Marathi).