Manjummel Boys sets a new trend for southern films: mega success at home

Manjummel Boys, a low-budget Malayalam thriller, has become the first film in the language to cross  ₹200 crore in earnings, and is now the highest-grossing film produced by the industry. (X)
Manjummel Boys, a low-budget Malayalam thriller, has become the first film in the language to cross 200 crore in earnings, and is now the highest-grossing film produced by the industry. (X)


Small-budget Malayalam and Tamil movies such as Manjummel Boys and Lover are finding mega box-office success in their home states, without having to resort to dubbed versions that would take them to wider audiences

NEW DELHI : BaahubaliKGFKantara and RRR set a trend of audiences across India flocking to southern movies not minding the evident lipsyncing mismatches because of the dubbing. Now the Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu film industries are discovering they can achieve similar box office success right at home.

Makers of the Malayalam movie Manjummel Boys, which was released in February, didn’t dub it in any other language, but still found enough audiences in Kerala and Tamil Nadu to become the first film in the language to cross the 200-crore mark. 

Manjummel Boys, a low-budget thriller about a group of boys trying to rescue their friend from a cave in Kodaikanal, is now the highest-grossing movie produced by the Malayalam film industry, where breaching 40 crore makes for a major milestone. 

The highest grossing Malayalam movie before this was 2018, released last year and based on the floods that devastated Kerala a few years ago. It grossed over 175 crore in box office collections. 

While the success of movies like Baahubali and RRR widened the audience for southern movies, opportunities for similar success are few, making the achievements of Manjummel Boys and 2018 remarkable for their ability to earn big. 

Tamil movie Lover, produced at a budget of 5 crore and not featuring any stars, has found similar success, raking in 4 crore in its first weekMore impressive that the collections have come from Tamil Nadu alone. 

Malayalam star Mammootty’s horror thriller Bramayugam has grossed 85 crore. The movie was dubbed in Telugu, Tamil and Kannada, but not in Hindi.

Another Malayalam film Premalu has fetched 76 crore since its release in early February, with no dubbed versions. And Telugu movie Tillu Square has earned nearly 80 crore. These are all small-budget films produced under 30 crore.

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Southern language movies, unless featuring top stars such as Rajinikanth, are released in metro cities such as Mumbai and Delhi—if at all—in dubbed versions and often screened at odd timings. Most of their business comes from their home or neighbouring states, limiting their earnings.

Southern filmmakers are now finding ways to draw in audiences at home without having to seek bigger markets, insisting that they won’t spread themselves thin given that their content and sensibilities are unique to a specific region.

“A lot of films that rely on niche subjects and smart storytelling instead of top stars and popular filmmakers are relevant to audiences in their home market alone. The makers realise that the jokes, dialogues or nuances may not make the same impact when dubbed in another language," said film producer Girish Johar.

To be sure, trade experts point out it is important to recognise whether a film merits a multi-lingual release in the first place. 

With action movies such as Kantara and KGF, it is expected that the films will transcend geographical and linguistic barriers and audiences would take to them even as dubbed versions. But for “films that do not belong to that category, it is wiser to maintain a solid hold in one’s turf and wait for exploitation of other rights," Johar explained.

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A southern film industry producer said makers are aware that not all south Indian stars command a draw in the northern markets to the extent of stars such as Allu Arjun or Ram Charan. 

“Marketing and release costs for these films in the north would be quite high, with returns hardly manageable. Also, ticket rates are not as reasonable in the north as they are in states like Tamil Nadu, which ensure even the common man can invest in a movie that seems interesting but does not feature big stars," this producer said, declining to be identified.

Independent exhibitor Vishek Chauhan pointed out that movies like Manjummel Boys and Lover cater to palettes and sensibilities that do not belong to the category of popular cinema, making it infeasible to seek a wider theatre audience for these.

“These movies are unlikely to resonate in other parts of the country and will not break out (in theatres in, say, the Hindi-speaking belt) even though they may find a following on OTT among varied audiences," Chauhan said.

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