Tamil and Telugu Cinema Will Soon Be Bigger Than Bollywood

KOLKATA – For the second year in a row India has selected a film not in Hindi as its contender for the foreign-language Oscar. Its 2016 entry is Vetrimaaran’s “Interrogation” (“Visaaranai”,) a tough Tamil- and Telugu- language exploration of police brutality.

If that weren’t enough of a clue to where the rising power is to be found, then box office trends can help. “It is expected that the cinema in Southern India, especially Tamil and Telugu, shall soon surpass Bollywood in terms of the share of box office collections by language,” said a 2016 KPMG industry report.

Bollywood, the Hindi-language industry based in Mumbai, is often used as shorthand for all of Indian cinema. Though India makes films in 42 languages, it is a common misunderstanding.

Of the staggering 1,827 films certified in India in 2015, Bollywood accounted for 297, exactly the same number as the Tamil industry. Close behind was the Telugu language film industry with 284, Malayalam with 195 and Kannada with 159, according to data from India’s Central Board of Film Certification.

The Tamil, Telugu and Hindi industries together account for two thirds of Indian cinema revenue and though currently Bollywood has a larger global footprint, this is changing rapidly.

And within India it is being discovered that the way to reach the widest audience is to go local. Hollywood movies are these days released in India in their original English versions, alongside dubbed Tamil, Hindi, Telugu and Bhojpuri versions. And Indian distributors are increasingly delivering their domestic films in multiple language versions.

The top Hindi language film of 2015 “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” made $97.2 million in India, while South India’s “Baahubali: The Beginning” grossed $95.7 million in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi versions combined.

India has submitted entries to the Academy’s foreign language category since 1957 and for most of that time Hindi has been the dominant vernacular. Other languages have featured only intermittently.

The 2015 entry, however, was “Court,” a fine fact-based drama predominantly in the Marathi-language that also had smatterings of English, Gujarati and Hindi.

In order to give their film the best possible shot, the independent producers of “Interrogation,” Aalif Surti and Guneet Monga, have moved to Los Angeles with Vetrimaaran. They plan to stay for the duration of the Oscar season, and will likely have to explain Indian cinema’s diversity as much as they campaign for their own picture.

Indian awards campaigns are often hamstrung by lack of funds. The actor Dhanush Kasthuri Raja, better known simply as Dhanush also produced “Interrogation” and is currently helping to fund the film’s Oscars effort. In a new development, he may soon get some help.

Venkaiah Naidu, India’s minister for information and broadcasting, has announced a government Oscar campaign fund of up to $150,000 to boost the process. Surti and Monga have applied for the fund and are awaiting confirmation.

“We are up against a record number of 84 other countries,” Vetrimaaran told Variety. “Having financial aid from the Indian government helps us to stand proudly and equally against other films, some of them financed by major Hollywood studios and global distributors,” he said. “And knowing your government is supporting you is so important. Until now, Indian filmmakers have struggled alone.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Quicksand Scandinavian Cinema

    Sweden Is Not on Lockdown Despite Coronavirus Threat

    While most of the world is on lockdown mode, Sweden has taken a different route, with schools, restaurants, some theaters and most public venues still open. The Swedish health minister, Stefan Löfven, has asked people to behave like “adults” and not give in to the panic, and advised them to work from home, as well [...]

  • Extinction

    Coronavirus Causes 85% Crash in Asia Box Office

    Theatrical box office in the Asia-Pacific region tumbled a massive 85% in the first two months of the year. The coronavirus caused cinema closures, audience hesitation, and a halving of the number of film releases. Asia is home to the five of the top ten cinema markets outside North America. According to data from the [...]

  • Lindsay Lindenbaum on 'Tomboy,' Female Drummers,

    How 'Tomboy' Filmmaker Used SXSW Cancellation to Fine-Tune Her Film

    “Tomboy” filmmaker Lindsay Lindenbaum spent five years following four female drummers trying to make it in a male-dominated world. Lindenbaum profiles Bobbye Hall, a drummer who started at Motown Records in the late ’60s and later toured with Bob Dylan. Samantha Maloney, whose obsession with MTV’s “Headbangers Ball” as a teenager led her to fall [...]

  • Wonder Woman 1984

    Will the Coronavirus Pandemic Wipe Out All of Summer Blockbuster Season?

    Say goodbye to blockbuster season — at least for this year. After would-be summer hits from Disney, Warner Bros., and Universal already vacated their release dates, Sony Pictures announced Monday that its comic book adventure “Morbius,” “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” and virtually all of its upcoming tentpoles were being moved into the fall or beyond. It was [...]

  • Dodgers Stadium Empty

    Movie Theaters and Concerts Could See Major Attendance Drop Post-Pandemic (Study)

    After a month of increasing anxiety and self-isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic, audiences in the U.S. are largely not eager to return to public events once the crisis subsides, according to a new study. In a survey of 1,000 consumers in the U.S., 44% of respondents said they would attend fewer large public events, [...]

  • 'Dolphin Reef' Review: A Dazzling Look

    'Dolphin Reef' on Disney Plus: Film Review

    Out of the vast universe of nature documentaries, I don’t think I’m alone in finding films about life under the sea to occupy a special place. The very fact that they exist, of course, is amazing — though when you watch one, part of the wonder is that you’re not thinking about how aquamarine filmmakers [...]

  • CONJURING DAD – In Disney and

    What's Coming to Disney Plus in April 2020

    Disney Plus will continue to expand its library next month, adding older films as well as new episodes of its original programming. Less than a month after its release on March 6, Pixar’s “Onward” is making an early jump to Disney’s streaming platform amid the coronavirus pandemic. With the vast majority of theaters now closed [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content