Women-based films have it tough in the South. But why?

Over the last two years, Bollywood has seen the rise of the heroine with No One Killed Jessica, Dirty Picture, Kahaani, and now Aiyyaa and Heroine readying up for release over the next few weeks.

The kahaani down South is a lot dirtier, as filmmakers with women-based subjects have found out the hard way. Very rarely has a heroine-oriented film actually got enough screens and a decent run at the box-office.

All set to change?

But that may all change when the Priyamani-starrer Charulatha releases on September 21 over 1,000 screens around the world. “We are going with 200 screens in Tamil Nadu,” says Hansraj Saxena, producer, Sax Pictures. “It’s how you are able to market the film and that depends on the genre. Vyjayanthi IPS was a refreshing action cop film, and Arundhati, a horror film. Now, Charulatha is a film about conjoined twins, which is the same subject as Suriya’s Maattraan. So there’s a lot of interest from the trade. Besides, it’s an official remake of the Thai film Alone. We bought the rights to remake it so that there are no legal hassles for anyone associated with the film.”

Such a huge release requires a lot of publicity, and the genre makes recovery feasible, he adds. “It’s about how strong your content is. Today, Vidya Balan has joined the Rs. 100-crore club. So there is a market for heroine-centric films if the subject is good. But very few heroines are willing to take on the challenge,” he says.

At the other end of the spectrum is Lakshmy Ramakrishnan’s Aarohanam, whose release has been delayed due to lack of quality screens. Aarohanam is a highly acclaimed ensemble film with a lot of reputed actors led by Viji Chandrasekhar, but no stars. Despite endorsement from K. Balachander himself, the film hasn’t managed to get the right slots because the market is flooded with hero-based films.

“We are looking at a limited release of 45 to 60 screens, and even that seems so difficult. It’s not in our hands anymore,” a technician from the team reveals.

“We do have a culture of hero-worship here,” admits the public relations manager of a popular theatre chain in the city. “But if the content is good, there will be takers. Multiplexes exist so that we can screen as many films as possible. It would be of interest to us to screen different kinds of films to reach different audiences,” she adds.

Filmmaker Madhumita, who dared to produce and direct a heroine-centric film Vallamai Thaaraayo, faced an uphill task getting her film out and ensuring it reached the right audience. “Gone are the days when going to a cinema was a family event. Today, the audience simply consists of men between the ages of 20 and 30. They want to see themselves on screen… Secondly, this audience has access to The Dark Knight, Spiderman and other such spectacles. These kind of films are their first preference, then come the ‘masala’ films with big stars, and then come the smaller films with newcomers, and then finally, women-based films. By the time it trickles down to these films, we barely have time to make it through the weekend. Even if the film is wonderful, it doesn’t have the time to wait for word of mouth to spread.”

Vallamai Thaaraayo was a drama with a female protagonist that did decent business. “But the fact that there were two known male stars did help,” she adds.

While many believe that women are content watching strong women on television, some are sure that it’s just a matter of time before the heroine hits back with a vengeance on the big screen.

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Sudhish KamathMay 11, 2012