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New Delhi: Theatre owners across India are pinning hopes on films in south Indian languages to kickstart 2021 and build on the process of recovery started by Hollywood titles Tenet and Wonder Woman.

Beginning with Tamil superstar Vijay’s action film Master, also being dubbed in Hindi and all set for a Pongal release, there are three Telugu films-- Krack starring Ravi Teja, Ram Pothineni’s Red and AlluduAdhurs, starring B Sai Sreenivas, Nabha Natesh and Anu Emmanuel.

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Exhibitors point to the mass appeal of these commercially entertaining films that they hope will reach out to audiences across geographies, including the north Indian belt. These films are generating buzz across the country is evident in the fact that the 10 most tweeted about movies in 2020, according to data from Twitter, are movies in south Indian languages, including some upcoming titles for 2021 such as Master. Tamil film Soorarai Pottru was also the second most trending film on Google in India in 2020.

“As we have clear visibility of the release announcements of some major south Indian titles, the performance of these films will not only help us resume the (recovery) cycle, but would also generate confidence in the industry for other content producers to plan their releases," said Rajender Singh Jyala, chief programming officer at INOX Leisure Ltd.

“South Indian movies have an aura of their own, and therefore will definitely have a role to play in the overall recovery process of the industry," Jyala added.

Trade experts point to the massive popularity of the dubbed Hindi versions of these films on satellite television channels and familiarity that audiences have built with top actors on TV and social media.

Kunal Sawhney, senior vice-president at Carnival Cinemas added that big-ticket titles such as Master are likely to get great traction in north Indian states such as Indore, Ahmedabad, Jalandhar and Mumbai that plenty of students and professionals have migrated to from southern India. Further, the Pongal and Baisakhi weekend is celebrated with fervour across the country and has added to opening weekend festivities of films such as Rajinikanth’s Darbar (Tamil), Ajay Devgn’s Tanhaji- The Unsung Warrior (Hindi), Mahesh Babu's Sarileru Neekevvaru (Telugu) and Allu Arjun's Ala Vaikunthapurramloo (Telugu) as recently as January 2020.

“Tamil and Telugu producers and stars have a smaller but stronger in-built fan base (within their home states) that assures them of certain box office returns within the first three days of release," Kamal Gianchandani, CEO, PVR Pictures Ltd. and chief business planning and strategy PVR Ltd said.

Carnival’s Sawhney added that 90% of the box office earnings of a Tamil or Telugu film come from the home state whereas Bollywood has to depend on pan-India earnings, which are still clouded under much uncertainty given that states like Rajasthan and Jharkhand are yet to reopen cinemas.

To be sure, with Bollywood unwilling to schedule big-ticket offerings that are ready such as Sooryavanshi, Radhe and ‘83 before March or until pan-India reception is guaranteed, filmmakers, particularly the Tamil and Telugu industries, have taken the onus to rescue the exhibition sector.

“The film exhibition sector is yet to find its mojo but the ball will be set to motion with these south Indian films by February and the momentum will peak by March and then it will be only be a matter of time before big Hindi films also release in big numbers," Gianchandani said.

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