New Delhi: Earlier this month, Telugu romantic comedy Nenu Local opened to $160,716 (Rs1.08 crore) in the US. Starring Nani and Keerthy Suresh, the multiplex film that is not high on star value, as independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai puts it, may have packed in $ 828,204 (Rs5.55 crore) within five days, showing 130% growth on weekdays. However, it is not the first Telugu offering to have stormed the US market.
Last month during Pongal, family drama Sathamanam Bhavati, Chiranjeevi-starrer Khaidi No.150 and epic historical action film Gautamiputra Satakarni earned $653,664 (Rs4.45 crore), $2,361,969 (Rs16.08 crore) and $1,571,487 (Rs10.70 crore), respectively, within two weeks in the US.
The trend, however, started nearly two years ago with the phenomenal success of S.S Rajamouli’s Baahubali: The Beginning (2015) that made around $7 million in the US. Allu Arjun’s action film Sarrainodu (2016) that made $678,519 at the US box office in its first weekend is another success story.
“Telugu films have consistently dominated the US market and have emerged as a major source of international revenue. They have even managed to eclipse Hindi films in some cases,” said trade analyst Taran Adarsh. “The three major Sankranti releases especially did phenomenally well.”
Ok Jaanu, the Hindi release during the Sankranti period, opened at $211,660 in comparison.
What has contributed to the numbers is the sizeable number of Telugu-speaking people in the US, mainly in the 35-40 age group, from various parts of Andhra Pradesh, including Vijayawada and Hyderabad.
“These are immigrants, both male and female, who work in the information technology sector mainly in the West Coast and are settled there with family,” said Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema. “They watch these films avidly.”
As with many Hindi films, the success of Telugu cinema in the US is driven by mainstream family entertainers and star-driven commercial potboilers. Actors like Mahesh Babu, Nithiin, Ram Charan, Pawan Kalyan and Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao Jr. tend to be most popular and often notch up hits even with films that are commercial failures in India. For example, Kalyan’s tepidly received action film Sardaar Gabbar Singh (2016) made $1,058,000 in the US within 10 days.
Pillai said a big-ticket Telugu film can notch up the same screen count as a Hindi release—300-400 cinemas.
“The advantage with Telugu films is that they always have a premiere show on Thursday in the US. Given the time difference, that makes it early Friday morning in India which is when the film opens. For some reason, Bollywood decides to skip that, open on a Friday and lose on one day,” Pillai said.