Posters of Pushpa: The Rise (L) and KGF Chapter 2 (R).
When did Salman Khan really become the bhaijaan of Bollywood? Well, it wasn’t Ek Tha Tiger or Dabangg. It was Wanted. The 2009 release, a remake of the Telugu film Pokiri (2006), starring Mahesh Babu, catapulted him to superstardom. For a very long time, Bollywood’s most masaledaar offerings were either straight remakes or inspired by Southern cinema. Think Rohit Shetty and his brand of flying cars, and you’ll know what we mean. Why? Because Southern cinema had a zing that Bollywood wanted to achieve but didn’t know how. But, all that has changed now. For the cinema of the South, it is over to be second after Bollywood. He is here to reclaim his throne.
We have known since the days of William Shakespeare that “imitation is the best form of flattery”. So, for decades now, that’s the path we’ve been on. Vikramarkudu (2006) by Ravi Teja became Rowdy Rathore (2012) by Akshay Kumar, Ram’s Ready (2008) became Ready by Salman Khan (2011), or even the very controversial Arjun Reddy by Vijay Deverakonda becomes Kabir Singh by Shahid Kapoor (2019). But now OTT has exploded into our living rooms. And therefore, we can watch a KGF Chapter 1 here – right where you read this article. And all of a sudden, “remakes” didn’t make sense anymore.
Now, there has always been a market for southern cinema outside of southern India. Growing up, many of us spent our Sundays watching “Madras Cut” movies on Set Max in our living rooms. Dubbed in Hindi, of course. Drawing directly from this market, filmmakers from the South have decided to release their films in several languages, simultaneously. Again, ‘remakes’ no longer made sense. So if Southern cinema does what it does better, and there is no longer a language barrier or Hindi supremacy separating us, what is stopping us from achieving makkhan, d avoid margarine?
Nothing. Really. And the resounding success of Allu Arjun’s Pushpa and Suriya’s Jai Bheem before that – just to name a few – only repeats it. “What happened with Pushpa was long overdue. Phenomenal content is being created in the South when it comes to cutting-edge storytelling coupled with a high degree of technology. [But]many films that deserved to be released in theaters [nationwide] were going straight to satellite, which I think was undermining the North Indian market for these films,” begins film operator Akshaye Rathi.
THE CHANGE OF POWER
“Content is king” is something we’ve heard more often than “Winter is Coming” in all 8 seasons of Game of Thrones. But content doesn’t come on a cart with an increasing background score. He must be identified and adorned appropriately so that the aam janta can see him as king. This is an aspect on which the cinema of the South is miles ahead. “Tamil and Telugu cinemas in particular, do not alienate their audience. They cast a very wide net when it comes to targeting an audience. You will never see a film from the South, starring the superstars, do for a niche audience. Hindi cinema has been doing this for quite some time, which is why the lowest common denominator – the aam aadmi – feels alienated. Whether you watch Telugu movies with the likes of Allu Arjun, Prabhas, Mahesh Babu, Jr NTR or Ram Charan, or Tamil movies with superstar Rajinikanth, Thalapathi Vijay, Ajith or others – they all make movies that cater to everyone,” Akshaye adds. agrees and adds, “Bollywood has made films for multiplex audiences, nothing wrong with that, but we forget the single screens, the mass belt, the heart. Hence, they turn to South Indian films.”
Where does that leave our Bollywood superstar? At the risk of ruffling feathers – play second fiddle to the giants of the south! You see an Alia Bhatt and Ajay Devgn biting a small piece of the RRR cake, or even a Karan Johar, clearly identifying the money-making potential after Baahubali 1, overlapping as one of the producers of Baahubali 2.
It’s not just a one-way street. If our heroes cross in search of greener pastures, the stars of the South, now more popular thanks to social networks and the OTT, become pan-Indian stars. And demand money corresponding to this nickname. After Baahubali, Prabhas raised his price and is now charging Rs 150 crore for his upcoming starring Sandeep Reddy Vanga. This, despite the fact that his last, Saaho, was a dud.
Will Southern cinema overtake Bollywood? Akshaye Rathi both agrees and disagrees, and speaks of a new era of “Indian cinema”, rather than Bollywood or regional. “Audiences are leaning towards paisa wasool entertainment. They are asking to bring people to cinemas, it’s huge because they are spoiled for choice at home, thanks to OTT. We go from Hindi film, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Bhojpuri fraternities to the Indian film fraternity, so while we hope to see more films like Pushpa do well domestically, we also hope films like 83 and Brahmastra do better in the South” , he adds.
Taran Adarsh puts it simply. “Wake up and smell the coffee,” he told Bollywood producers in conclusion. Give them what they want, or they’ll look elsewhere. Seems fair, right?
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