Films without borders


Baahubali, Premam and Srimanthudu have hit box-office gold in Chennai. Vishal Menon analyses what their success means for films from other states.

Malayalam film Premam is still running strong in Chennai, now into its 12th week of release. Telugu film Baahubali, which released on July 10, is still holding onto more than 50 shows in both its Tamil and Telugu versions. And Mahesh Babu’s latest release, Srimanthudu, has had a big opening with a wide release across 200 screens in the state (both Telugu and its Tamil-dubbed versions). There clearly is a growing market for films from other states..

“Traditionally, a Malayalam film released only in theatres such as Sapphire or Elphinstone,” says producer/distributor P. L. Thenappan. “Telugu films were also restricted to a few theatres like Casino, where they would release several weeks after their release in Andhra Pradesh. The advent of multiplexes and digital projection have not only given non-Tamil content a wider release, but has also paved way for a simultaneous release here. But it is only recently that we are noticing an increase in people preferring films in languages other than their own.”

The trick, according to experts, has been the change in the approach of producers while releasing their films in other states. “It is not just about great content anymore. Producers should know how to take their films to other regions as well,” says trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai. “A mass entertainer, with a big star, could target B and C centres in Tamil Nadu by dubbing it into Tamil, and being renamed with a title that will appeal to the Tamil audience. Similarly, if you want to attract the A-centre, the producer must opt for subtitles. In fact, subtitling is the main reason why Premam has survived so long in Chennai, making the film accessible to non-Malayalis,” he adds.

Apart from dubbing and subtitling, the participation of a film’s star in its promotion also helps the film do well here. S. B. V. Prasad Rao released the Tamil-dubbed version ( Selvandhan) of Srimanthudu in 111 screens in the state. He feels that Mahesh Babu’s promotion of the film in Chennai played a major role in its success. “Unlike Tamil stars, actors from Andhra, Kerala and Karnataka have traditionally not enjoyed great reception in Tamil Nadu. Therefore, a Telugu star coming to Chennai goes a long way in establishing a strong fan base here. The acceptance of Selvandhan shows that star power can work in other states too,” he says.

Mukesh Mehta of E4 Entertainment, a seasoned distributor of Malayalam films in the state, is gearing up to release Kunjiramayanam in Chennai for Onam. “The overall seating capacity allotted a Malayalam film in the city’s multiplexes is around 1,000 seats per day. So, if 7,000 people watch the film, it will run houseful for a week. If 50,000 people watch it, it gets a 50-day run here. The longer the film runs, the more money the theatres make. This is because from the third week of a film’s release, 75 per cent of the proceeds from ticket sales goes to the exhibitor (40 per cent during the first three weeks), making it a lucrative option for theatres too,” he says.

The resurgence of these films can also be attributed to their quality. Sethu, CEO of Sangam Cinemas says, “From being a regular exhibitor of Malayalam and Telugu films, we had to reduce the number of shows as we found it difficult to schedule these films with so many English and Tamil films releasing. But with films like Premam and Oru Vadakkan Selfie doing so well, we’re adding more shows. To survive, multiplexes need viewers of all types.”

But the catch, distributors claim, is the abysmal performance of a film when it carries mixed reports. Mehta adds, “It’s all fine when the film is good. But mediocre films struggle to survive even the opening weekend. Social media ensures that there is no place for such films anymore. Therefore, there is always an inherent risk in bringing films from other states here, as they don’t enjoy a successful opening like Tamil films,” he adds.

Ramanathan, veteran distributor/producer and owner of Abirami Cinemas, feels this is just a passing phase. “At times, the audience feels like trying something new, but that doesn’t mean they will not return to Tamil cinema, which is their staple diet. I agree that the quality of dubbing has improved drastically, but even now only super hit films from other languages are doing well here. This phase can be cemented only when average films become viable options in Tamil Nadu.”

With Telugu and Malayalam films finding takers here, does it mean that films from languages like Kannada, Marathi and Bengali could find a market here too? Thenappan says, “While Kannada films have so far not worked in Tamil Nadu, a great film distributed smartly could open doors to a new market for them. The same is the case with Marathi and Bengali films. There will always be takers for good cinema in this state.”

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Printable version | Nov 16, 2018 4:17:49 PM |

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