Kannada cinema which had suffered a serious setback since 2020 following the outbreak of COVID-19 has started showing signs of recovery since January 2022, with many theatres across the state reopening.
Contrary to assumptions that it would be difficult for the Kannada cinema industry to bounce back, as many as 110 movies have been released in the last six months. “If this trend continues, taking into account films in the post-production stage, the number of releases may cross 300 by December,” says the newly elected President of the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce (KFCC), Ba. Ma. Harish
“Much-awaited movies including Yogaraj Bhat’s Galipata2, Dhiren Ramkumar’s Shiva 123, Ravichandran starrer Ravi Bopanna have been lined up for release in August, with around 200 films lined up for release till December. These films boast of strong content and entertainment quotient. Hopefully, the Kannada film industry will flourish like before,” says R Jagadish, a major Kannada film distributor.
Unfortunately, that is where the good news ends. Of the 110 films released, only three succeeded at the box office.
Debunking the notion that the success rate is disproportionate to the number of releases, Harish says, “There is nothing unusual about this, success rates oscillates between 4 and 5 % even during normal times. The commercial successes of the three films are due to their production values and content.”
James starring the late Puneeth Rajkumar, was released in March and did exceptionally well. “Only a few films have carried the emotional heft of James,” says Dr Sharanu Hulluru, author of Neene Rajakumara, a biography of the late actor. “The film succeeded on a commercial and emotional level due to Appu’s (as Puneeth was fondly called) extensive fan following.”
The success of James was followed by the mega success of KGF: Chapter 2 released in April, establishing Yash as a bankable pan-India star and taking the Kannada film industry to another level. In fact, KGF: Chapter 2 not only created a benchmark for South Indian films, but also for in the Hindi film industry.
However, what took the industry by surprise was the success of 777 Charlie starring Rakshit Shetty. This film which dealt with the relationship between a dog and his master achieved huge success and won the hearts of millions.
Other than these three films, Home Minister starring Upendra wrote the preface for failure of a ‘star’ film at the box office. Though Taledanda, Bodyguard, Instant Karma and other films were released, audience presence at theatres remained negligible. Of the 36 films released between January and March, Ombattane Dikku, Love Mocktail and Old Monk, made little noise and got marginal returns on investment. Though failures at the box office, they succeeded in drawing a small segment of audiences to the theatres.
N. Praveen Kumar, President of the Karnataka Film Producers Association (KFPA) attributes ticket pricing and movies coming on streaming platforms soon after their theatrical release. “Prices are hiked for big-budget movies such as KGF. Besides, the release of films on OTT platforms within days of their arrival in theatres, has become a major issue. Other film industries have already taken up the issue while we are yet to address it. There should be at least a 10-week restriction for the release of films on OTT platforms.”
Films that were released in April received a cold response, despite their content and presence of popular actors. Sakutumba Sameta, Harikathe Alla Girikathe, Window Seat, Tootu Madike, Wheelchair Romeo, Chase, Physics Teacher, Selfie Mummy Google Daddy received appreciation from critics but failed at the box office. “Why will people come to watch a movie unless it is entertaining?” asks K V Chandrashekar, proprietor of Veeresh Theatre in Bengaluru. “People will watch only those films, which will cater to popular tastes. Only a few films that were released in the last six months saw a good collection, the rest were forced to exit to make way for other films”.
Regrettably, some films failed to draw audiences after the first show and were cancelled due to a lack of the required number of bookings to screen a film. “At least five members of an audience are to required to screen a movie in theatres; not even four people turned up to watch a few films that were released recently,” says T. S. Venkatesh, filmmaker and President of Karnataka Film Directors’ Association (KFDA).
The situation is no different in other language film industries in the country. “The Kannada film industry is sympathetic with the Telugu Film Producers Guild (TFPG) which has called for all shooting to cease till problems being faced by producers are sorted out. “We are watching the developments of the Telugu film industry and will take a decision of a similar kind shortly,” says Harish on behalf of the Kannada movie industry. Acknowledging the decision of KFCC, Praveen Kumar of KFPA says; “Issues raised by Telugu film producers are genuine — the Kannada film industry needs to unite in a similar manner.”