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New Delhi: Last week, Tamil action thriller Mersal crossed the $10 million mark at the overseas box office, with the overall foreign earning at $11.1 million (Rs71.8 crore) in 12 days. The Vijay-starrer, which has already joined the list of all-time highest south Indian grossers worldwide, had, at last count, made Rs2.42 crore in Australia, Rs4.51 crore in the UK, Rs4.26 crore in Malaysia and Rs16.88 lakh in New Zealand.

In comparison, the other Diwali release, Aamir Khan’s production, Secret Superstar, earned about Rs32 crore overall overseas at last count, according to movie website Box Office India. The film managed $814,817 (Rs5.2 crore) in the US, £503,053 (Rs4.2 crore) in the UK and AUS$237,436 (Rs1.1 crore) in Australia.

Mersal isn’t the only regional film to outdo its Bollywood counterpart overseas. Last month, Telugu action drama Jai Lava Kusa had collected close to $1.39 million (Rs9.08 crore) over a five-day opening weekend in the US, compared to Sanjay Dutt-starrer Bhoomi, which managed $200,000 (Rs1.3 crore). Over the same period, Punjabi film Nikka Zaildar 2 topped the box office charts in Canada, the UK and Ireland with weekend earnings of $2,50,447 (Rs1.64 crore) and £63, 097 (Rs55.37 lakh), ahead of all Hindi releases.

“Big-hero Tamil and Telugu films are definitely doing better than Bollywood, at least in the US," confirmed independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai. “Hindi films started to gain ground in countries like Canada that had a massive Punjabi population in the 1970s and 80s when stars like Rajesh Khannna were around, a trend further cemented by Shah Rukh Khan in the 90s. But of late, it is the south Indian population in places like the Silicon Valley that has taken over."

Pillai added that Tamil cinema has achieved about 50% of the kind of market Bollywood can currently boast of in the United Arab Emirates, while in Malaysia, it is ahead of Hindi cinema. Regional language films are also very popular in countries like Australia, Netherlands, Singapore and increasingly, South America. And often, like the Bollywood offerings, get prime-time festival releases and a local distribution network.

“Next generation regional superstars like say, Mahesh Babu or Vijay, can today command substantial screen counts in foreign countries," said Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema.

For the longest time, Mohan added, the only name that came to mind when one thought of Indian films on foreign shores, was Shah Rukh Khan. But things have changed in the last four to five years. Today, a big-ticket Hindi movie gets 250-300 screens in the US, about 100 in the UK and 40-50 in Australia. A big regional film, in comparison, gets about half, but the footfall is much higher, a regional film can make $8,000-9,000 on an average, per week per screen abroad, as compared to $5,000-6,000 for a Bollywood release.

“Of course Bollywood has reason to feel threatened," Mohan said. “Its biggest movies may be getting wider releases than the regional films but the deliverables are not at par. There is more focus on content in regional cinema and that is what seems to be making a difference in the long run."

All figures have been sourced from movie website Bollywood Hungama

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