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Home / Industry / Media /  Is the southern sweep of the box-office only about big budgets?

Is the southern sweep of the box-office only about big budgets?

The spectacular success of K.G.F: Chapter 2 and RRR has brought the share of non-Hindi films among the top 10 grossers of all time on par with Hindi ones.

The theatrical success of southern films is leading to their greater acquisition on OTT platforms and a rise in dubbed versions and multilingual films. Like the past, it may also lead to an adoption of the ‘hit’ formula—big budgets, grand scale

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North India’s first major tryst with southern cinema came only during the pandemic. Malayalam films and actor and producer Fahadh Faasil got Hindi speakers hooked in hordes; so did Jai Bhim, a Tamil drama that showed that caste and police brutality can also lend to a popular mainstream movie, and even find a pan-India audience. The Suriya starrer was the top Indian movie of 2021 on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).

North India’s first major tryst with southern cinema came only during the pandemic. Malayalam films and actor and producer Fahadh Faasil got Hindi speakers hooked in hordes; so did Jai Bhim, a Tamil drama that showed that caste and police brutality can also lend to a popular mainstream movie, and even find a pan-India audience. The Suriya starrer was the top Indian movie of 2021 on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).

Southern movies did not earn just accolades. They also earned money when theatres reopened. So much so that they left Hindi cinema behind—and how. Four of the five biggest worldwide grossers among Indian movies since 2021 have been southern films—two Telugu and one Kannada and Tamil each.

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Southern movies did not earn just accolades. They also earned money when theatres reopened. So much so that they left Hindi cinema behind—and how. Four of the five biggest worldwide grossers among Indian movies since 2021 have been southern films—two Telugu and one Kannada and Tamil each.

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Top 10 grossers since 2021
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The spectacular success of K.G.F: Chapter 2 and RRR has brought the share of non-Hindi films among the top 10 grossers of all time on par with Hindi ones. Even then, 17 of the top 25 in this list are still Hindi movies, which shows their traditional dominance at the box office. That dominance, however, is waning.

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In 2021, southern titles made 2,400 crore at the domestic box office, three times as much as Bollywood films, show EY estimates. This was a sharp turnaround from 2019, when Hindi movies‘ box office collection, at 5,200 crore, was 1.3 times that of southern films.

So far, 2022 has not been any different for Hindi movies. Revenue has, in fact, sharply declined, with major films like Samrat Prithviraj, Jersey, Jayeshbhai Jordaar, Bachchhan Paandey, Attack, Runway 34, and Heropanti 2 bombing at the box office.

OTT effects

Southern films continue to fare well on Netflix even after the lockdown. Of 29 Indian films that made it to Netflix’s Global Top 10 between July 2021 and June 2022, 13 were southern films. Ranking or viewing data for other streaming platforms is not available.

Amazon has so far been more proactive in acquiring and releasing regional titles. Last year, it had six of IMDb’s top 10 Best of 2021, and four of them were non-Hindi. The trend has continued this year with the acquisition of KGF 2 and Pushpa: The Rise - Part 1. Netflix also seems to have upped its regional game, and has bought rights for RRR, Jana Gana Mana, Don, Beast and CBI 5: The Brain, among others.

OTT platforms, during the pandemic, introduced north Indian audiences to non-Hindi cinema. This change in viewing preferences has paid off in theatres as well. Now theatrical success means more acquisitions by streaming platforms—a virtuous cycle.

Budget no guarantee

The over-the-top action and grand scale of recent successes from the south may have seeded the idea of what constitutes success in producers’ heads. Today, when a viewer can watch “content" (independent films and TV series) even on streaming platforms, they turn to cinema halls for a “cinematic" experience, for a spectacle. However, special effects and budget alone may not be sufficient.

The glaring examples of big budgets tanking at the box office are present not just among Hindi movies but among southern films as well. The action thriller Acharya, for all its VFX and star-power of Chiranjeevi and Ram Charan (RRR fame), made a loss of 48%, data compiled by IMDb user Samrudh_David shows. Radhe Shyam, a period romance drama, was another big failure.

Rather, several small-budget southern films like Bheeshma Parvam, 777 Charlie, Jana Gana Mana and Hridayam generated a profit of over 200%. In Hindi, The Kashmir Files made over 300 crore against a meagre budget of 20 crore.

Copycat formula

But if past habits are anything to go by, Bollywood is quick to adopt any “hit" formula. The success of RRR, KGF 2 and Pushpa means an increasing focus on special effects and action sequences in Bollywood, too, as the line-up of major upcoming movies suggests.

While Jersey and Bachchhan Paandey—both Hindi remakes of southern films—were massive failures, the trend may only double down, even though remakes are generating less interest since originals are readily available online. The stakes are high for the upcoming Vikram Vedha, a remake of its Tamil namesake, or other planned remakes such as The Great Indian Kitchen, Anniyan, or Driving Licence.

Regional is the new universal. To cater to a larger market, more films are being released in multiple languages. Tamil film Beast, for instance, is currently streaming on Netflix in four other Indian languages, while upcoming films such as Liger and Adipurush are being simultaneously shot in Telugu and Hindi.

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