Sairat to Baahubali: The coming of age of regional cinema in India

September 27, 2019 2:19 PM

It is indeed interesting that Bollywood’s top mainline studios now have their eyes on the lucrative regional cinema market for production and distribution of films.

Sairat, Baahubali, Bahubali, Baahubali 2, Marathi films, Telugu Cinema, Nagraj, Rajamouli, regional Indian films, BollywoodRegional cinema, unlike Bollywood, is not entirely star-driven and is often made with limited resources.

By Abhayanand Singh

India’s relationship with films goes back almost a century, with the total number of films ranging around 2,000, India produces the greatest number of films in the world. Now, Bollywood may be topping the Indian film industry, but regional cinema too is now thriving at its creative peak, all thanks to the new-age audience which welcomes strong content and sharp messaging. With India being a multilingual country, most of the larger languages support their own film industry such as Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Punjabi, etc.

To take for instance, Marathi films have created believable stories on-screen with a dash of humour and drama. The biggest example of this is the 2016 blockbuster Sairat—made on a budget of Rs 4 crore that became the highest-grossing Marathi film till date with box office collections of Rs 110 crore. Director Nagraj’s masterpiece premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2016 and is currently being remade in Kannada, Telugu, Punjabi, Malayalam and Tamil. Filmmaker Karan Johar brought the rights for its Hindi remake Dhadak which was also a big box hit with the collection of over Rs 110 crore.

It’s not just the western part of the country where cinema is flourishing but even the south is gaining exceptional recognition all over. The spectacular success of the S.S. Rajoumouli’s war epic Bahubali 2, at the end of its 100-day theatre-run collected over 600 crores in India and had a worldwide box office collection that stood a little under the Rs 1,700-crore mark. It wouldn’t be a hyperbole to say that the Indian film business will henceforth be divided into the pre- and post-Baahubali 2 era.

As per the recent FICCI-EY report, despite comprising only 17 per cent of the films made in the country, Bollywood contributes almost 40 per cent to the net box office collections annually. Films made in almost 29 other Indian languages contribute approximately 50 per cent to the annual domestic box office collections. The balance is constituted from Hollywood and international films.

There were more than nine regional films that joined the 100-crore club in the year 2017 and 2018 had more than 12 and film industries such as Telugu crossed over 47.5 per cent growth with a net domestic collection at around Rs 15.30 billion compared to Rs 10.50 billion in 2016. Other regional movie industries such as Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Bengali etc have also shown healthy growth figures.

Today, cinema plays a formative role in developing a culture or addressing a contemporary issue, not just in India but also across the globe. While Hollywood is a favoured genre in tier two and three cities, audiences in metros have shown an increased preference for regional cinema. Content-driven regional films are no longer isolated by language. The involvement of established Bollywood names and top studios has even taken them overseas.

A combination of good storytelling, a receptive audience and strong backing from established names such as Priyanka Chopra, Madhuri Dixit, Amitabh Bachchan, etc. has seen regional cinema flourish in recent times and made an impact on the world stage. The freedom to tell real stories that may be local in nature, but their reach is beyond boundaries and has helped regional cinema grab eyeballs at the international level.

It is indeed interesting that Bollywood’s top mainline studios now have their eyes on the lucrative regional cinema market for production and distribution of films. Regional cinema, unlike Bollywood, is not entirely star-driven and is often made with limited resources. Usually, a Rs 5-6 crore budget is good for a decent-sized regional film banking on strong ideas or great content but with this current success, budgets have gone up. This has changed the way how regional movies are being marketed and promoted across various regions. No longer only the Bollywood films succumb to huge expectations, but it is also the regional cinema that is now expected to generate the same sort of euphoria for the trade.

(The author is CEO, Golden Ratio Films and Chairperson, Singapore South Asian International Film Festival – Sg SAIFF)

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