The Mumbai-based Indian majors are heading south along with their Hollywood partners, looking to cash in on the lucrative South Indian film market and expanding their reach beyond Hindi-language Bollywood.
In 2012, the Indian film industry was worth $1.8 billion, according to a 2013 report by accounting firm KPMG. A Deloitte report pegged the South Indian industry, comprising films in the Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam languages, at $428 million. That report forecast the South Indian film industry’s 2013-14 growth rate at 12%.
Besides Hindi, Hollywood blockbusters released in the South are routinely dubbed into Tamil and Telugu.
UTV Motion Pictures, the film production arm of Disney UTV, was one of the first majors to produce a Tamil-language film — 2007’s “Kannamoochi yenada,” co-produced with Radaan Mediaworks, a Tamil powerhouse run by multihyphenate Raadhika Sarathkumar.
“The depth and richness of non-Bollywood cinema remains unquestioned,” says G. Dhananjayan, studios chief of south business for Disney UTV Motion Pictures. “Our commitment to making movies in the regional space is a testament of the confidence (we have) in the potential of great movies in languages other than Hindi.”
Dhananjayan notes Disney UTV is excited about the ability of the region to produce films quickly — from script to screen, between six and 12 months — as well as to deliver manageable marketing and distribution costs and remake opportunities in other languages.
Another Indian giant, Reliance Entertainment, partner in DreamWorks, has produced four Tamil pics, six in Telugu and one each in Kannada and Malayalam. Viacom’s Viacom 18 is entering the southern space with Tamil and Telugu remakes of 2012 Hindi hit “Kahaani,” and indie giant Yash Raj Films is readying Tamil and Telugu remakes of Hindi hit “Band baaja baaraat.” Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Star Studios India has three co-productions under way in Tamil, in addition to three already released.
The strategy for all the Mumbai majors is to team with an established local partner with proven expertise and box office success. FSSI, for example, joined with producer-screenwriter-director A.R. Murugadoss for 2011’s “Engaeyum eppothum,” the sixth-biggest pic at the Tamil B.O., at $950,000; and 2013’s “Vathikuchi,” which turned a decent profit. Its next projects, “Mundasupatti” and “V. Chitram,” are being co-produced with C.V. Kumar’s Thirukumaran Entertainment, which made the 2012 low-budget ($250,000), high-return ($3 million gross) “Pizza.” Hindi, Kannada and Telugu remakes are in the works for “Engaeyum eppothum.”
Vijay Singh, FSSI chief exec, says the company can’t afford to miss out on opportunities in the burgeoning south.
“The Tamil industry is the second-largest film industry in India after Bollywood,” he notes. “It is also a fertile creative ground for great storytelling and technical talent — both of which have often traveled successfully to Hindi audiences.”
The Southern film industries, especially Tamil and Telugu, are prolific in their output. And individual filmmakers have certainly made pics in both Tamil and Hindi in the past — from C.V. Sridhar in the ’60s with titles like “Kadalikka neramillai” (Tamil) and “Pyar kiye jaa” (Hindi) to Mani Ratnam’s 2010 “Raavan” (Hindi) and “Raavanan” (Tamil).
Dhananjayan feels that further regional gains are possible.
“There is room for better and more organized industry practices, realistic star costs, etc., that can help the regional movie industry garner an even more significant piece of the cinema that India is known for the world over,” he says.