A trio of world premieres from bankable stars across the Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam languages forms the thrust of streamer Amazon Prime Video India’s push into the country’s lucrative Southern market. It comes at a time when cinemas remain shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Malayalam-language drama “C U Soon,” starring Fahadh Faasil (“Trance”) bows Sept. 1 on the service, while action thriller “V” headlined by Nani (S.S. Rajamouli’s “Eega”) premieres Sept. 5, and aviation biopic “Soorarai Pottru” starring Suriya (“Singam”) is scheduled for Oct. 30.
Of the giant streamers in India, Amazon was the first to seize the opportunity arising from the enforced shutdown of the theatrical business. It announced the world premieres of “Gulabo Sitabo,” starring Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana, and “Shakuntala Devi,” starring Vidya Balan as bypassing cinemas.
Rivals, Disney Plus Hotstar and Netflix followed suit with strong slates of their own, including Sushant Singh Rajput’s “Dil Bechara” and Akshay Kumar’s “Laxmmi Bomb” for the former, and Jahnvi Kapoor’s “Gunjan Saxena,” and Rajkummar Rao and Abhishek Bachchan’s “Ludo” for the latter. These titles hail from the highly visible Hindi-language industry known popularly as Bollywood.
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The lucrative South Indian territory that accounts for 44% of the country’s box office, comprises the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana served by the Telugu-language industry, Tamil Nadu with the Tamil-language industry, Kerala with the Malayalam-language business, and Karnataka with the Kannada-language industry. Of the 2,446 films certified in India in 2018-19, Hindi titles were the majority with 501. But, with 336 Kannada films, 254 Tamil films, 281 Telugu films and 219 Malayalam films, the southern industries combine for a still larger 1,090 titles.
At least for now, Amazon has a clear edge when it comes to new titles from the south. Along with the Bollywood titles, the service also recently premiered “Ponmagal Vandhal,” (Tamil) “Penguin,” (Tamil, Telugu) “Sufiyum Sujatayum,” (Malayalam) “Law” (Kannada) and “French Biriyani” (Kannada, Dakhni).
“We see great merit in opening up opportunities for Indian cinema, content in more languages, newer formats and across genres, and are therefore fully committed to continue our investment in South Indian language content,” Vijay Subramaniam, director and head, content, Amazon Prime Video India, told Variety. “We are also soon going to launch our first Tamil Amazon original series ‘Comicstaan Tamil Semma Comedy Pa.’ You will see a lot more local content on the service. Customers have consistently shown that they love the localized content on our service.”
“C U Soon,” directed by Mahesh Narayan (“Take Off”), is an experimental story shot on an iPhone, told through multiple screen devices. “Having shot the film entirely during the lockdown, we’re immensely glad to be able to continue to entertain and bring exciting content for our audience even at a time like this,” said Faasil, who stars alongside Roshan Mathew (“Choked”) and Darshana Rajendran (“Virus”). Faasil produced via his Fahadh Faasil and Friends outfit.
Directed by Mohana Krishna Ingraganti (“Sammohanam”), Sri Venkateswara Creations’ “V” is a showdown between a celebrated cop and a serial killer, featuring Sudheer Babu along with Nani.
“Soorarai Pottru,” directed by Sudha Kongara (“Irudhi Suttru”) is based on the true story of a retired army captain who founded a low-cost airline. Suriya co-produced via his 2D Entertainment, along with “The Lunchbox” producer Guneet Monga’s Sikhya Entertainment.
Diaspora audiences are important to South Indian films. Outside of India, Telugu films have a huge market in the U.S., Malayalam films appeal across the Middle East, and Tamil films have fan bases in Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the U.K., U.S., Canada and Western Europe.
“By offering global availability with subtitles and dubs, hits are breaking language barriers,” says Subramaniam. “We are able to offer those titles at once in more than 200 countries and territories, which is also a very attractive model for local filmmakers.”
“I am glad that audiences across the world will be able to watch “Soorarai Pottru”, on Amazon Prime Video from their homes in these unprecedented times,” said Suriya.
Eventually, cinemas in India and around the world will reopen and the streamers could lose access to some world premiere titles, as the industry pivots back to a theatrical model.
“We have always maintained that theaters play an important role in film distribution and we aren’t looking to change that,” says Subramaniam. “Given the current scenario, we have made a decision to launch films directly on our service, while ensuring all stakeholders and partners are happy with the decision. Over the past few years we have built strong and strategic relationships with a vast section of producers across the industry and they understand the role we play.”