Is there more to Ajay Devgn’s explosion?

Is language arguing between Bollywood actor Ajay Devgn and Kannada actor Kiccha Sudeep have anything to do with Bollywood’s insecurity over the growing financial muscle of the regional film industry that is reshaping the contours of the Indian film market, both at home and abroad? Perhaps Karnataka’s former Chief Minister, HD Kumaraswamy, while responding to Devgn’s comment “Hindi is our mother tongue and our national language”, expressed this sentiment best. He said that Devgn should realize that Kannada cinema is overtaking Hindi film industry and it is through the encouragement of Kannadigas that Hindi cinema has developed. “Devgn must not forget that his first film Phool Aur Kaante shot for a year in Bengaluru,” he added.

THE NUMBERS GAME

Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only does the southern film industry give the Hindi film industry a run for its money in terms of revenue, but it connects, through its dubbed releases, to a pan-Indian audience. In this direction, Hindi is not the lingua franca of mass entertainment, which feeds more people than politics. There was a time when actors from the southern film industry were like exotic imports to spice up the multi-star formula of the late 80s and early 90s. So we got Rajinikanth, despite his status as a half -god in southern films, playing second fiddle to Amitabh Bachchan in films like Hum, Giraftar and Andha Kanoon. Kamal Hassan himself, despite performing award-winning performances in his Tamil films, has been given dual engine status with leading men in Bollywood unless it is his own remakes or he is not conforms to a stereotype. Cut to today while within a fortnight of its release, SS Rajamouli’s RRR crossed Rs 1,000 crore in worldwide revenue just behind Aamir Khan’s Dangal (Rs 2,024 crore) and director Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (Rs 1,810 crore). One of the main reasons for the film’s success was, of course, the film’s universal appeal, which transcended language and fandom barriers. Furthermore, he neutralized the North Indian narrative of nationalism through a fictionalized version of the lives of freedom fighters Komaram Bheem (Jr NTR) and Alluri Seetharama Raju (Ram Charan) in pre-independence India . In fact, traditional Hindi stars Ajay Devgn and Alia Bhatt provided just the right amount of stardust. It proved that overwhelming patriotism was not unique to the Hindi language. Meanwhile, actor Dhanush, who won the coveted Best Actor award at the famous BRICS Film Festival for his portrayal in Asuran, is now breaking the mold of the Hindi film hero and is a sought-after choice for the leading man. Whether it’s the assurance next to Dulquer Salmaan, the wit and candor of Nithya Menen or the appeal under the skin of Allu Arjun, Bollywood is convinced enough to woo them now.

In fact, if the recent success of the epic Baahubali, Pushpa, a Telugu-language action drama about sandalwood smuggling, and the KGF series, another edge-of-the-siege thriller about the gold mafia , is something to behold, then film-goers across India have certainly learned to prioritize cinematic content over stereotypes.

KGF Chapter 2, while closing in on the Rs 1,000 crore club, scored another hit when its Hindi dubbed version made Rs 300 crore in just 11 days. In 2019, Bollywood’s share of domestic box office revenue was higher than that of South Indian films, Rs 5,200 crore compared to Rs 4,000 crore. The game of money has clearly reversed the deal. According to a report by Ernst and Young-FICCI, South Indian films topped the domestic box office revenue for 2021 at Rs 2,400 crore. Bollywood finished second at Rs 800 crore and Hollywood finished third at Rs 500 crore. Recently, Tamil legal drama Jai ​​Bhim beat The Shawshank Redemption to become the highest rated film on IMDb.

OTT PLATFORMS HAVE EQUAL QUALITY, CONTENT AND LANGUAGE

Traditionally, regional cinema has always had a richness and variety of content as it was free from the “one size fits all” constraint of mass entertainment Hindi films. What he didn’t have, despite the multiplex revolution, was access to cinemas. The pandemic, indoor viewing and the equalizing power of OTT platforms have led viewers to taste different and unique scenarios. Thus, moviegoers, accustomed to gorging on world cinema, had no trouble watching dubbed or subtitled films from across the country, often in their own language. Furthermore, most cable television operators in Tier II and III cities silently fed pan-Indian audiences with a diet of regional films, airing their Hindi-dubbed versions during off-peak hours.

The social media era has also somewhat toned down the aura and mystique of superstars and army protagonists. Regional stories moved away from everyday concerns and from ordinary men and women caught in the midst of a changing world and fluid relationships. In particular, the Southern film industry has appropriated the creative space, whether in terms of genres, characters, stories, context and experimentation.

This fact has been admitted by none other than The great Bollywood producer, Karan Johar, who was recently quoted as saying that Hindi cinema had “fallen prey to herd mentality” while southern filmmakers had “the courage of conviction to do their thing”. This is one of the reasons why he strategically linked up as a co-producer with SS Rajamouli. The fact is that regional films benchmark themselves against international benchmarks while Hindi films are caught in a crazy cul-de-sac. It’s not that Bollywood doesn’t approve of content-driven, independent or meaningful cinema, but when it comes to mega projects, the big production houses play it safe and stick to what’s proven. . Even though they want to push the limits, they end up nudging it.

This is one of the reasons why there is a reverse imitation game. While Rajinikanth has starred in remakes of Bachchan hits at one time, recent Bollywood big hits like Bhool Bhulaiyaa and Drishyam have been remakes of southern films.

STAR AGAINST EVERYONE

Regional film industry heroes have been able to come out of their larger-than-life image much more convincingly than Hindi cinema heroes. The Khan triumvirate tried hard to play everyday characters, but their halo failed. But southern industry stars had no qualms about stripping their aura in business ventures, whether it was Vijay Sethupathi, who played a transgender, Dulquer Salmaan, who played a fugitive or the iconic Madhavan, who plays troubled ISRO scientist Nambi. Narayanan, who fought for years for justice after being falsely accused of spying in Rocketry: The Nambi Effect. The film was shot simultaneously in Hindi, Tamil and English and will also be released in Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada.