Why the South cinema roars

Kamal Haasan’s Vikram has bene the fourth highest South grosser this year. Photo: Universal Communication.

Much has been made about the South in cinema last year. While that was largely hype in the context of the pan-Indian cinema in 2022 (as we saw in Countdown 2022—Part 6: Hits and Flops) was concerned, there is no doubt that by themselves, the South roared much louder than Hindi films and is likely do so in 2023 as well.

KGF Chapter 2, which also had Hindi stars Sanjay Dutt (as villain) and Raveena Tandon, made Rs. 1250 crore overall (including the Hindi version collecting Rs. 434.62 cr.). RRR, which also featured Ajay Devgn and Alia Bhatt in cameos, netted Rs. 1200 crore (Hindi Rs. 274.31 cr.). Neither, of course, could near the highest-grossing film ever—RRR filmmaker S.S. Rajamouli’s Bahubali 2—The Conclusion’s tally of Rs. 1810 cr. in 2017 (of which the Hindi version had made Rs. 510 cr.).

Mani Rathnam’s Ponniyin Selvan—Part 1 netted Rs. 480 crore, Rs. 60 crore more than Kamal Haasan’s Vikram (Rs. 420 crore). Kantara ranked next with Rs. 400 crore, while Pushpa—The Rise: Part 1, which had the major part of its run in 2022, netted Rs. 360 crore (the Hindi version crossing Rs. 100 crore).

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About Rs. 4000 crore, thus, has been netted by just six films. According to some trade sources, the origins of this is said to be a post-Bahubali phenomenon after which Prabhas became a sensation nationwide. Then came the post-OTT increase in content consumption across the nation. And director S.S. Rajamouli, in a way, nailed it when he said that Hindi films had stopped catering to the masses that had now started watching dubbed South films. And after his Bahubali franchise, there was an explosion.

However, Rajamouli did not consider one aspect: that it was not the so-called masses alone that wanted the South brand of innovative entertainment with emotions and also music. Note the fact that most of the spectacular business has come from multiplexes that are patronized by the people termed “classes” earlier! And it is they who also visit most of the OTT platforms. Like Soorarai Potturu or Jai Bhim, which released on OTT and were both watched across the country!

By contrast, Hindi cinema went the realistic / midstream way and alienated most audiences. Social media raves by interested people made a fig of a difference to hyped fare like Gehraiyaan and Badhaai Do, for example, and today, film lovers across the nation know of Prabhas, Rishabh Shetty, NTR Jr. or Dulquer Salmaan and they attract the audiences more than several Hindi heroes. Add the recent dismal track-record of all the superstars (but for Ranbir Kapoor’s Brahmastra and Ajay Devgn’s Drishyam 2) and we know where we are going!

Ironically, even the biggest USP of Hindi films—Music—has been sidelined in this mess. While even today, films from the South are advertised as a ‘Thaman musical’ or a ‘DSP Rockstar musical’, Hindi films thrive on poor Punjabi-ized (lyrics and music) fare and multiple music makers for a single film. As top composer Pritam says, “The composer is no longer a part of the film’s story. Many come in to just make one generic song.”

Tailpiece:

That said, DSP Rockstar even contributed the best song in Cirkus and composed the entire (three good songs) album for Drishyam 2 in Hindi. And it is interesting to know that, apart from the above examples and Salman Khan making a cameo in Rajkumar, multiple South Indians, many based in Mumbai, have been involved in the cast and crew of Mumbai-made Hindi films, and we don’t mean just remakes (Good Luck Jerry, Operation Romeo, Jersey, Cuttputlli, Nikamma, Vikram Vedha, Mili, HIT—The First Case and Drishyam 2). And here’s the list: Brahmastra (Nagarjuna Akkineni), Heropanti 2 (A.R. Rahman), Laal Singh Chaddha (Naga Chaitanya) and Tadka (director Prakash Raj and music composer Anup Reubens).

The Southern impact is clearly back to where it used to be for decades from Gemini’s Chitralekha (1948) that was the first Hindi film from Chennai. And unless the Hindi films move from projects to passionate movie fare, the South and it stars will continue their sway pan-India.

 

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