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New Delhi: Bollywood isn’t the only one affected by the growing penchant for southern cinema across India. Cinemagoers are also giving a tepid response to films in other regional languages such as Marathi, Punjabi, Gujarati and Bengali.

The trade experts said, these smaller regional films have been slow in recovery from the pandemic, garnering less than 40% of pre-covid traffic at the box office. Except for a few hits in Punjabi and Marathi in the first half of this year, the second half has so far been witness to more flops.

Also, just a handful of OTT players such as SonyLIV, ZEE5 and Amazon Prime Video are showing any interest in acquiring streaming rights of these films, which in turn is affecting the ability of producers to invest in new productions. Experts feel that the current scenario is making producers go slow in resuming the flow of regular releases as audiences have become more selective.

“Regional language film hits have been pretty scattered so far and even regular slate of releases haven’t resumed like pre-covid times, at least in languages like Marathi and Bengali," said Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema. The last big Punjabi money-spinner, Saukan Saukne starring Ammy Virk made 22 crore within a fortnight of its release in May in markets like Punjab and Delhi NCR, as per trade website Box Office India.

Marathi cinema too has seen titles like Sher Shivraj, Chandramukhi and Daagdi Chaawl 2 perform decently, but the hits have been few.

“Just like Hindi cinema, viewers of regional language content too have been exposed to programming from across the world and have become selective. Filmmakers are at a complete loss because there is no clarity on what will run and several films are lying unsold to streaming platforms or waiting to take the plunge and go for a theatrical release because the producers are just not sure if they will work," Mohan added.

Trade analyst Shaaminder Malik said regional films used to work as a cushion for single screens in case a big film flopped, taking care of working capital for theatre owners. “Audience taste is changing fast and now even in regional films, they want big, larger-than-life stories. So far, non-south regional cinema’s strength was storyline with a small budget. If these don’t work, many single screens and theatre owners too will feel the heat," Malik said.

Though, there are some silver linings. SonyLIV bought the rights to Ammy Virk and Mandy Takhar’s Punjabi film ‘Chhalle Mundiyan’ this September, making it the first film in the language to go for a direct digital release. But such deals are also few in number.

“It’s an indication that SonyLIV wants to tap into the Punjabi-speaking market. But other than ZEE5 and Prime Video, there are barely any players acquiring films in these regional languages," Mohan said.

Film distributor and exhibitor Akshaye Rathi said film industries like Marathi need to upscale content and production quality in order to create solid theatrical experiences for audiences to be lured to cinemas, a feat managed by Nagraj Manjule’s ‘Sairat’ in 2016. The romantic tragedy was remade in Hindi by Karan Johar as ‘Dhadak’ was the first Marathi film to cross the 100 crore mark at the box office.

“Kantara is a good example of a regional film telling a story in a cinematic fashion," Rathi said referring to the Kannada blockbuster that has clocked close to 80 crore with its dubbed Hindi version alone at last count. “Viewers in states like Gujarat and Maharashtra have high disposable income and their population is pretty high too, it’s just that filmmakers need to make the experience worth their time," Rathi added.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lata Jha

Lata Jha covers media and entertainment for Mint. She focuses on the film, television, video and audio streaming businesses. She is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. She can be found at the movies, when not writing about them.
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