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South Indian cinema is fast rolling out money-spinners as big films stick to their release dates in contrast with the Mumbai film industry which has been deferring releases as covid cases rise and restrictions are imposed in the Hindi speaking markers, adding to its losses.

While Tamil films Master and Sulthan and Telugu offerings such as Uppena and Jathi Ratnalu set the cash registers ringing soon after theatres were permitted to reopen, the coming weekend will see big films such as Dhanush’s Karnan and Pawan Kalyan’s Vakeel Saab hit the screens even as the north Indian film industry battles crises caused by delays.

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The strong theatre-going audiences and fan culture in the south have aided better recovery for its film industry. With big films maintaining schedules, viewers have been able to keep up their consumption habits.

The industry that has taken only a handful of films directly to digital platforms which has helped preserve its theatres, particularly the single screen business. Consequently, far fewer cinemas have shut down in the south as compared with the north.

Not just local offerings, south India has also demonstrated much love for recent Hollywood films such as Godzilla vs Kong, which made more than 60% of its revenue from the region.

“Movie going turns into a weekly habit when there is fresh and continuous flow of content," Devang Sampat, chief executive officer, Cinepolis India explained. In pre-covid times, theatres could see more than 20 new titles every week, Sampat added and while the south has not gone back to those levels, it is still bringing out four times the amount of content that the rest of India is.

It helps that southern cinema is less dependent on international markets, many of which are yet to reopen, than Bollywood and can bring content out, banking on loyal audiences in its home state alone, he said.

Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema said big stars in the south enjoy a unique relationship with audiences who are crazy about them enough to worship them, which perhaps explains why Vijay’s covid release Master ranks among his highest grossers. The same kind of pull doesn’t exist in the north.

“The south also has more number of cinema screens which haven’t been affected as much as those in the north as they enjoy a healthier relationship with producers and distributors who don’t exploit them to pay up hefty MGs (minimum guarantees) to play films," Mohan said.

For Master or Ravi Teja’s Telugu movie Krack, both of which released on Pongal, all single screens and multiplexes in their respective states were open. A lot of theatres in the north, on the other hand, had not restarted operations even before the recent curbs in Maharashtra kicked in, for fear of not being able to sustain daily operations thanks to little new content.

The restricted flow of fresh content from Bollywood also stemmed from constant murmurs around possible shutdown of theatres, even when curbs were officially not in place, leaving producers spooked.

“In the north, theatres are the first to shut. Their governments see that cinemas are safe spaces and there is no reason to not open them up, especially after nine months of people staying locked up at home and wanting to enjoy themselves," Rahul Puri, managing director, Mukta Arts and Mukta A2 Cinemas said, referring to the southern states.

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