A gold mine around the globe


The overseas market outside of India is emerging as the new El Dorado for Kollywood. In fact, it brings in more revenue than any single territory in India for big-budget Tamil films. A year back, Rajinikanth’s Lingaa fetched Rs. 21 crore in the overseas markets, the highest ever for a Tamil film. Grapevine is abuzz that the overseas rights of the Superstar’s next release, Kabali, may be sold for more than Rs. 30 crore!

Take a look at the way the foreign market has evolved over the years for a Rajinikanth film. In 1988, Guru Sishyan was sold for a paltry Rs. 1 lakh, Thalapathy (1991) fetched Rs. 6 lakh, Ejamaan (1993) went for Rs. 8 lakh and when Chandramukhi released in 2005, this figure had grown to Rs. 4 crore. The key markets for big-budget Tamil films are Malaysia, USA, Singapore, Europe and UK, Middle East, Sri Lanka, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. There are 35 other countries where Tamil films are screened, but all of them are in the Rs. 5-8 lakh range.

The Kollywood overseas market is today worth around Rs. 250 crore, the second biggest after Bollywood.

Unlike other south Indian languages, the market for Tamil films is evenly spread across the globe. In the case of Telugu cinema, for instance, 85 per cent of its total overseas revenue comes from the U.S alone, while Malayalam films make 75 per cent of their overseas revenue from the Middle East. Malaysia, which has traditionally been a popular Tamil film market, controls 35 per cent of the overseas trade and remains the biggest, although USA may overtake it shortly.

The top seven at the overseas box-office market are Rajinikanth, Vijay, Suriya, Kamal Haasan, Ajith, Shankar and Mani Ratnam. Both directors in the list can sell films on their own, regardless of who they work with. Mani Ratnam hasn’t yet officially announced his new film, which, according to rumours, stars Karthi and Sai Pallavi, but its overseas rights have already been grabbed for a whopping amount.

According to a leading London-based overseas buyer, “The market is hot, but needs a correction, as prices have gone through the roof. The return on investment is paltry. New players have come into the business and they’re buying films at unreasonable rates.” The cost of releasing a Tamil film outside India is five times what it was a decade back, due to wide digital release. The cost includes VPF (virtual print fee), freight charges, customs clearance, censor charges at the destination country and subtitling fees. UK censor charges alone amount to 1,800 pounds (around Rs. 1.75 lakhs). In Malaysia, France and the Middle Eastern countries, subtitling in English and the local language—Malay, Arabic or French—is a mandatory requirement.

Even a low-budget film like Madhavan’s Irudhi Suttru grossed 24,000 pounds (Rs. 24 Lakh) at the UK box-office. However, the buyer ended up with just 2,700 pounds (Rs. 3 lakh). Ram Muthu, the managing director of Atmus Entertainment, a leading US-based distributor of Tamil films, says, “Though the overseas market is growing every year, the acquisition cost is also going up alongside.

In the US, only three Tamil films have done business upwards of $1 million (Rs. 6.5 crore)— Enthiran ($2.8 million), Lingaa ($1.6 million) and Vishwaroopam ($1.25 million). A total of 17 Telugu films have crossed the same figure with Baahubali ($8 million) at the top. A film’s success in the overseas market largely depends on the timing of release, positive reviews and word-of-mouth popularity.”

A Malaysian buyer of Tamil films says, “Some people don’t seem to realise that they’re killing business by buying films at exorbitant prices. Piracy, too, is a major issue. Theri’s pirated prints were available even on the day of the release.” In the category of low-budget films, it is those that win awards that do well overseas.

Kaaka Muttai earned over Rs.1 crore in Hong Kong, a non-traditional market. This indicates the existence of a market even among non-Tamils in countries like Hong Kong, Germany and Japan. Chennai-based subtitling specialist Rekhs says, “The second and third-generation Indians and foreigners in the overseas markets depend on subtitles. Also, most English print media in Canada, the US and UK publish reviews of Tamil films.”

A major development is the legal streaming of Tamil movies, that has opened new territories for producers, even while fighting piracy. Players like HeroTalkies, Tent Kottai, Lebara Play, Lyca TV and YuppTV offer packages of six to 10 Tamil films a month, on a monthly subscription of $8 to $10. All Tamil films, except those whose satellite rights are picked up by Sun TV, are now legally available for streaming outside of India, two weeks after their theatrical release. This is a big boon to small Tamil films which do not have overseas theatrical releases. Recently, Sawaari was picked up for Rs. 10 lakh and the yet-to-be-released Ennul Aayiram, Delhi Ganesh’s son Maha’s debut film, has been purchased for Rs. 8 lakh.

But one thing is for sure. The overseas market is definitely booming, as Vijay’s Theri has again showed us by opening on Thursday to a record $251,123 in the North American market.

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 12:49:58 AM |

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