Home >Industry >Hindi movie channels push dubbed regional fare

New Delhi: As an Essel Vision and Zee Studios production, Marathi blockbuster Sairat will obviously find its way to the small screen through Zee’s own television network. Under ordinary circumstances, however, the satellite rights of the film would have sold for a minimum of 1-2 crore, say trade sources.

For an industry that began its journey on television with initial acquisitions valued at barely 9 lakh a decade ago, regional cinema has come a long way on the small screen. Data from the Broadcast Audience Research Council India (BARC) for June across top movie channels like Sony Max, Star Gold and Zee Cinema shows at least one regional film among the top five programmes in the Hindi movies category every week. This includes films like Baahubali with 5.29 million impressions, Ravi Teja-starrer Bengal Tiger with 4.07 million impressions, Prabhas’ Telugu action film The Return Of Rebel with 3.7 million impressions and Tamil horror comedy Kanchana: Muni 2 with 3.58 million impressions.

Baahubali on Sony Max ranks first in the third week, while Kanchana and Ram Charan’s action film Yevadu stand second and third in week four whose highest ranked film is Salman Khan-starrer Bajrangi Bhaijaan with 3.79 million impressions on Star Gold. Impressions refer to the number of individuals in thousands of a target audience who viewed an event, averaged across minutes.

While regional cinema itself picked up steam on the ratings front, beginning 2011, it is now in a position where the satellite rights of a decent-size film are sold at around 5 crore.

“Regional or dubbed south Indian films, which essentially include more of Telugu and a little bit of Tamil cinema, started appearing on Hindi movie channels back in 2009-2010," said Neeraj Vyas, executive vice-president and business head, Sony Max.

About a year on the Hindi movie network scene and regional cinema picked up.

“A big reason for this to happen is that Bollywood will only give you so many films in a year and that content is obviously distributed between several movie channels. If one has to sustain variety and freshness on the channel, then one has to look for an alternative," he added.

Besides the fact that dubbed films stay with a particular channel longer than Hindi films that move on after the completion of contracts, these regional films come with an inherent appeal of their own.

“I think all of us must come to respect the fact that most of this cinema is extremely enjoyable and well-crafted," Vyas emphasized. “If you were to look at the cinematic values, the locales are great, the action scenes are terrific, the stunts are superb, so it’s cinema that’s made well. From the content point of view, the themes are pretty generic—so there is vendetta, revenge, injustice, a downtrodden who’s fighting back—all pretty close to the viewing heart of an Indian."

Also, this is content that evolving Bollywood is increasingly losing touch with. “Hindi content is pretty skewed towards metros and urban centres," said Ruchir Tiwari, business head, Zee Hindi Movies Cluster (Zee Cinema, &pictures, Zee Classic, Zee Action, Zee Cinema HD and &pictures HD), citing the example of top Hindi movies of the year so far—Airlift, Neerja and Udta Punjab.

“We don’t make stories about the common man or front-end entertainment and escapism anymore. Even visually, we only have about three to four action movies a year. Somehow, regional cinema, especially Tamil and Telugu films, overlap those sentiments and know how to take everybody along; they are expanding to city audiences but have their roots intact," Tiwari said.

In Bollywood, universally-centric cinema happens only on major festivals, a maximum of three to four times a year, Tiwari said.

While the only aspect about such cinema that doesn’t resonate with wider audiences is the music, there are some films that do better than others.

“It’s mostly the action flicks that run," said Jayantilal Gada, chairman of film-producing and presenting company Pen India, which acquires worldwide rights to Hindi films and supplies them to channels such as Zee, Sony, Sahara One and Star. He cited the example of hits like Rajinikanth-starrer Sivaji, Suriya’s Singam and last year’s monster hit Baahubali . “The comedies don’t run, because nobody gets the humour or comic timing," Gada added.

Also, they don’t work equally well in all markets. While north India and Uttar Pradesh are still struggling to connect with these films, central and western India, including states like Maharashtra, Gujarat and, to an extent, West Bengal, have lapped it up.

The crucial difference, however, lies in how much longer the regional films are able to sustain themselves.

“One fundamental that seems to be working in favour of these dubbed films is that large Hindi films with big stars get fairly large numbers on the day of the premiere or two or three viewings afterwards but beyond that, they don’t sustain," Vyas said. “These regional films may not get great openings, like a large Hindi blockbuster would. But if you were to take one big Hindi film and compare the viewing impression chart to any of these popular south Indian films, you would see that after the fifth run, the south Indian films tend to do better."

While experts like Vyas feel that Hindi movie content is not the best at the moment, there is more to the dominance of regional cinema than just the threat it poses to Bollywood. It’s about the affinity Indian audiences have begun to show towards good content, language notwithstanding—be it Baahubali or Sairat.

As Gada said, “There is no competition or threat. Ratings tell us those who aren’t watching these films in theatres are watching them on television. Had ticket prices been low, they might have watched them in theatres too. They can’t afford that; so they’re watching them for free. And basically, these are engaging films. Ultimately, good content runs in any language."

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