Illustration by Prajna Ghosh

Big hits and bigger numbers – South Indian films have attracted Indian viewers, and for good reason

BOLED may be turning gray under the weight of tired ’90s stars, but South Indian cinema has never been more vibrant. Only in the past few years have representatives from industries in the south consolidated their gold status – Dulker Salman, Nayanthara, Vijay Deverakunda, Sai Pallavi, Samantha Ruth Prabhu – and the list goes on.

It’s not just North India that has finally woken up to South Indian cinema and television – content from the South is officially making a global impact. And the numbers show that.

Tofino Thomas in a still from the movie “Minal Murali” | youtube screen

Minal Murali It was in the Netflix Top 10 list in over 30 countries, from Argentina to Saudi Arabia. Another movie on NetflixAnd the Navarasa, it attracted 40 per cent of its audience from outside India in its first week of release. Amazon Prime told ThePrint that 50 percent of viewers for Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada movies now come from outside South India, while 15-20 percent come from outside the country. They are already taking advantage of this – their new exciting movie Suzal: Vortex It is the first long-form Indian original scripted by Amazon – and it’s in Tamil.

Industry insiders, film critics, and media business analysts all agree on the fact that South Indian content is not only seeing a jump in viewership but is also generating huge profits. Take the blockbuster movies KGF 2 and $$$$—Both released earlier this year, crossing the Rs 1,100 and Rs 1,240 crore mark worldwide respectively. Bollywood groups simply pale in comparison: megabytes this year Bhol Bahliah 2 and Jangpai Kathyawadi It was collected at Rs 262 crore and Rs 209 crore each, says IMDb. India’s biggest commercial success of the year, Kashmir filesgrossed Rs 340 crore globally.

Bollywood has also left a void more than other industries are willing to fill. Bollywood in the ’90s was so bright that new stars had to contend for space – but now, epic star-driven films that attract the most audiences are movies like bahubali And the KGF. Both came from Tollywood, and both were record-breakers, and the Hindi dubbed sequel of both films fetched around Rs 250 crore during its opening week. Obviously, North India is watching.

“The successive successes of films from the South have led to massive traction on every platform,” said Ravi Kotakaraka, Secretary General of the Film Association of India. “Although this is not a new phenomenon, the more I hit the OTT platform, the more films and series I see from the South than others,” he told ThePrint.

The lost search for a Bollywood star – as well as the successes of Tollywood, Kollywood and Mollywood – have helped the South Indian cinema phenomenon.

Move, Bollywood

Junior NTR stuns as Kumaram Bhim, a member of the Gond tribe, in Team Racho Rajamouli |  youtube screen
Junior NTR stuns as Kumaram Bheem in ‘RRR’ by SS Rajamouli | youtube screen

It’s not just that South Indian stars are becoming more mainstream. It is also a fact that the film industries of South India stay abreast of cultural and technological trends.

Social media has become very relevant after the advent of Covid, and industry folks are noticing that the way film is marketed and distributed has fundamentally changed – OTT platforms and theatrical releases are here to coexist.

“South Indian cinema has a wide variety of offerings,” said Muhammad Shafiq Karinkorail, assistant professor who teaches film and cultural studies at the Manipal Center for the Humanities.

“Some of them, like local thrillers or dramas, have international appeal because they really share a Western language of films,” Karenkorail told ThePrint. “Others, like star-driven big budgets, advocate as a continuity of an established style of narrative in mainstream Hindi cinema while being modernized on the technology front. The appeal of these shows is different, but the appeal is there.”

Also, according to Karinkurayil, South Indian cinema has been so prolific that it keeps pace with global developments in real time. Across all four industries, South Indian films seem to offer a wide range of themes and genres.

“Maybe only Malayalam cinema has taken into consideration Covid-19 as a historical period we are going through,” he said. The virus appears as a time indicator in films such as goji And the ArkrimThis must strike a chord with the public.”


Read also: ‘They’re Too Gay’ fans puzzled by Western audiences’ perception of ‘RRR’ as a gay story


Moving Beyond the usual topics

Screenshot from the movie Sarpatta Parambarai by B Ranjith |  youtube screen
Screenshot from the movie Sarpatta Parambarai by B Ranjith | Amazon Prime Video

The Bollywood we are used to telling us big, big, sweeping stories of love and loss that let us escape into worlds we’re not used to. Today’s films take us into more specific contexts – not only because they have to compete with all the other content available, but also because they provide space for the expression of multiple identities.

When ThePrint spoke to a high-profile producer in the Tamil film industry, who did not wish to be identified, the person spoke of content that is “rooted” or “native” to the earth or which discusses a specific context that we will. “Take Pa. Ranjith Sarpata Parambarai released during the pandemic on Amazon Prime. It was really good because it was about Chennai, about boxing, and rooted in a specific time period and culture. People went over it.”

The producer said the big change compared to Bollywood is also looking at issues through women’s eyes. “In Tamil cinema, although we welcome good content, we tend to move towards the stars. The producer said that stars backed with good content are a successful combination.” But people also note that just because you have a star, you can’t make something completely irrational. . The producer added that there is pressure even on stars to choose better content or diversify their choices.

Director and Professor K. Hariharan listed three films-Kadaisi Vivasayi, Saani Kasupport them And the Sethuthumaan—laid in 2021 as ‘fantastic’ examples of Tamil cinema. “All of these films are very interesting because they deal with the Tamil Nadu countryside through completely different lenses,” he told ThePrint. “The fact that these three films were made, the money was raised, the films were released, it all takes courage to do something like that.”

Hariharan distinguishes between violence depicted on screen in films such as $$$$And the KGF And the Vikram With the movies he listed. “In these (smaller) films, there is a greater tangible sense of social malaise, which is clearly defined and articulated. In some of these popular films, it is difficult to fully understand the conflict.

At the end of the day, the producer said, it’s entertainment that sells. “If you think about it, S Shankar was the original person who made movies like bahubali And the KGF with his films.” The person said. “You have to remember that Shankar was the first filmmaker in India to put the Seven Wonders of the World in one song!”


Read also: Bigger and more profitable – how the South Indian film industry took first place from Bollywood


OTT decoding strategy

OTT platforms have not forgotten that entertainment actually sells.

Kannada star Yash in a still from 'KGF 2' |  youtube screen
Kannada star Yash in a still from ‘KGF 2’ | youtube screen

Netflix and Amazon may be the preferred choice for movies and TV shows with serious social themes, but the platforms are also balancing that with movies with high production value. There is not necessarily a dichotomy between socially conscious films and popular South Indian films.

Netflix, for example, has a steady stream of “slang” movies in its top 10 – many of which are blockbusters like $$$$, Minal Murali, Korob, And the Mobilityahead.

With changing viewing patterns and improvement in revenue, platforms are gradually becoming liberal in allocating space for films that guarantee visual success. Sources from one of the major OTT platforms have suggested that the data always points to an upward movement in earnings if “diverse and entertaining films” across “genres and languages” are pushed even further.

However, this strategy is now being used to fill revenue gaps that occurred before and after the pandemic.

In 2021, Netflix’s 28 Hindi original titles were across seven languages, eight formats, and 11 genres across movies, series, comedy, reality, and documentaries. According to Monica Shergill, Vice President of Content at Netflix India, dubbing and subtitles have only helped bring these titles to a much wider audience.

Amazon Prime also follows the same scheme. While the goal is to open a “window on the multiple cultures present inside and outside the country,” Amazon Prime told ThePrint that its content strategy will also hinge on replicating the success of films or series from the southern parts of the country.


Read also: Bollywood stars all angry at Cannes, but why isn’t India having more films competing?


Changing audiences and expectations

OTT platforms have also started collaborating with directors and performers from different backgrounds – especially those of ‘non-Indian’ genres. Amazon plans to release 37 original series and movies across Tamil, Telugu and Hindi over the next two years, and Netflix wants to bring together a “new generation of talent” to roll out content nearly every month.

Part of the numbers game is responding to changing audiences. There seems to be a new formula that represents the big stars from the ’90s – who have retained their fan base – in new experimental films.

The year things changed in Kerala was 2011, according to Karenkorail, because that was the year that “different” films began appearing, such as Traffic, Chapa Koresh, And the Salt and Pepper. He said, “Films moved away from well-known stars and narrative styles, opting for personal relationships in intensity over the broader social canvas.”

Ultimately, this shift led to genres focused on characters, which led to a rise in detective films and domestic dramas.

“Although the new crowd was initially called the ‘new generation,’ it was a dynamic industry,” Karenkorail said. “But sometimes, not always, stars have had to rely on the effect of nostalgia, too.”

The ‘new crowd’ is also the result of the forced introspection that the Kerala film industry is doing.

The industry drew its battle lines after actor Dilip was accused of sexually assaulting an actress in 2017. Those who sided with the actress were practically sidelined and denied roles – the actress herself will only return in Malayalam cinema in 2022, five years after the assault occurred.

The incident also made industry insiders reassess workplace practices that enforce sexism. Women in Kerala Film Industry has formed the Women in Cinema Caucus, which advocates addressing grievances, non-discrimination, and safe and healthy workplaces.


Read also: Films, YouTube, Ambedkar – Pa Ranjith is building a new world that will not be marginalized


The power of a good story

Vijay Sethupati in a screenshot from
Vijay Sethupati in a still from “Super Deluxe” | youtube screen

North India may finally wake up to South Indian cinema, but the industry has always known the power of a good story.

Good stories can be told in any language. Puruhit told ThePrint that local cinema has a lot to offer not only to Indian audiences but also to the rest of the world. “Customer choices are evolving,” she added. “They are open to experimentation, want variety, and are willing to venture out of comfortable familiarity and search for good stories, with compelling and accurate narratives.”

Shergill said Netflix’s main goal will always be to “entertain” members and bring out “worldwide” stories.

“Over the years, we’ve learned that good stories travel, and can transcend barriers of language and geography,” Buruhit added, and rightly so. Clearly, South Indian films have hit her head.

(Editing by Zoya Bhatti)

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