Indian cinema is so much more than Bollywood, the term referring to those Hindi films made in Mumbai, nee Bombay.
But of the 1,255 pics certified by India’s Central Board of Film Certification in 2011, 610 were in the four South Indian languages of Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, making up almost 49% of all production in the country. Meanwhile, 206 Bollywood films were certified, less than 17% of total production in the country.
While the South Indian film biz doesn’t enjoy the national presence of Bollywood, it is a thriving industry. Tamil cinema has been a driver for the southern industries, leading the way with innovative content. Though the star system is well entrenched, Tamil audiences are receptive to films focusing on content rather than stars. “Subramaniapuram” (2008) was made for $400,000 and grossed $3 million. Because of their strong storylines, southern films routinely get picked up for Bollywood remakes, such as 2010’s “Bodyguard,” which was made in Malayalam, remade in Tamil and then in Hindi.
Another busy regional industry is in Marathi, the primary language of Maharashtra, the state that houses the more glamorous Bollywood. Two Marathi pics were even sent as India’s entries in the Oscar foreign-lingo film race. Marathi films achieve that rare feat of being festival faves as well as commercial successes, something more regional-language films can lay claim to than Bollywood.
Multihyphenate Girish Kulkarni, whose “Vihir” and “Deool” have played multiple global fests, attributes this to the stream of bright, young trained talents coming through who are modern yet steeped in tradition. “Their stories are rooted in the local culture,” he says. “They are banking on the finer details of these cultural nuances to connect with the audience. So the fulfilment of promise given by the cinema is creating a loyal audience.”
Though the commercial regional cinemas of India have no need of governmental support, the independent sector does. The National Film Development Corp. m.d. Nina Lath Gupta says, “NFDC by its developmental mandate fills up certain key gaps that exist in the industry and promotes regional/cultural film development and since cinema is the most popular medium of entertainment, it is necessary to encourage a balanced growth of India’s multilingual and diverse cinema industry.”
Kulkarni would like channels to distribute regional films across the country, something the NFDC is working on, setting up theatrical and Internet channels.
Bengali cinema, which had gone into decline following the 1992 death of Satyajit Ray (“Apu Trilogy”) has come back into its own, thanks to companies like Shree Venkatesh Films, which greenlight films with intelligent content married to bankable stars like Prasenjit, the industry’s resident superstar.
“Autograph,” starring Prasenjit, riffed on a Ray theme and achieved international festival kudos and local box office success. Producer Ravi Sharma takes a pragmatic approach.
“Today marketing and branding a film as a product is still missing which in a way handicaps the reach of the film,” he says. “After all it is necessary to present the film before the target audience and at the same time the world needs to know that good cinema is being made here as well.
“The way Bollywood cinema has become the face of Indian entertainment, it is important to present a different culture of films, which needs to be presented and screened across the diaspora of festivals to create that awareness is required.”
The NFDC is trying, via its Incredible India Pavilions at Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, AFM and the Hong Kong Filmart, with their partners, the Indian tourism ministry. “The idea is to successfully promote India as a destination for films and at the same time explore partnerships to bring around more co-productions with the global film fraternity,” says Gupta.
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