Who is afraid of regional cinema?

So what is happening? A Telugu ?lm opens in the Hindi heartland and breaks all box office records across the country even in markets where generally these ?lms struggle. It beats Salman, Aamir and Shah Rukh in terms of single and consolidated day grosses in their most ardent of communities and goes on to gross Rs 100 cr faster than any Hindi ?lm before it.

Add to that the storm the ?lm has created in its home market and language and you have India's ?rst Rs 1,000 cr movie. So does this mean now that regional ?lms have changed the dynamic? That Hindi no longer is the dominant language across the country? Its something to consider but perhaps jumping to that conclusion would be a tad premature.

Bahubali is a phenomenon. SS Rajamouli is a phenomenon. There is no doubt what the ?lm and he has done for the industry is second to none. No ?lm has created the kind of tornado that Bahubali 2 has done and in comparison, its business dwarf's the ?rst part's extraordinary run. But by and large, these are outliers. Regional cinema is gaining a foothold in regional areas - Punjabi and in Punjab, Marathi in Maharashtra and Gujarati in Gujarat. Bahubali shows how language barriers can be broken down and audiences can enjoy stories which perhaps are not native to them. We have seen this in English content as well. People love the spectacle and Bahubali 2 wrapped spectacle in a very Indian package.

There are other smaller examples. Sairaat which released last year was a Marathi ?lm that hit the bullseye with a non-Marathi audience. A small ?lm on a budget of about Rs 5 cr went on to gross Rs 100 cr at the box office and did it by attracting traditional and non-traditional audiences. Yes, mostly these movie-goers were in Maharashtra but centres like Mumbai played an unusually high number of prime shows for the ?lm because audiences that usually patronized only Hindi, went to see a love story that had a shocking conclusion.

What does all this mean? Well it means that for one thing, people want content. Irrespective of language, if the ?lm is good and strikes a chord, people will watch. We have seen this in the growth of English cinema in India in the past few years. English ?lms, like Fast and Furious, which have a mass market heart, even when dubbed, are strong competition to Hindi releases. This is clearly the case with regional ?lms as well. Sairaat was screened at a time where there were many other mainstream Hindi ?lms, but where as they ?oundered, this ?lm picked up steam and kept on going. Word of mouth was strong and audiences chose something good in a regional language over something run-of-the-mill in their preferred language.

Bahubali is not this. Hindi audiences have waited for this ?lm like they wait for one of the big Hindi releases. Such was the clamour to understand why the ?rst ?lm ended the way it ended, there were lines for the 9 am show in theatres which generally patronized Hindi. There are few Hindi ?lms in the recent past that can match this craze. Bahubali is to India what Star Wars or The Avengers is to Hollywood. Its fandom has grown in leaps since the ?rst ?lm and without worrying about things like star cast, songs, etc (which is typical in how we choose Hindi ?lms), people bought tickets in droves. A bar was raised and perhaps it will never be reached again. In absolute terms, Hindi ?lms need to think how they make their cinema go the other way (Mumbai to Hyderabad and Chennai), if they are ever to get close to this record.

But the thing about Bahubali and Sairaat is that they are not an every week phenomena. They come around once in a while. Sairaat is as rare as a Queen. Bahubali is as rare as an Avatar. Films can aspire to be them but most will fail and eventually Hindi audiences will go back to patronizing Hindi ?lms more than any other language but there is a door open now for aspiring ?lmmakers to make ?lms that can truly reach across India's vast geography and grasp audiences without worrying about language and stars. This could be the beginning of something very special for ?lms in India.

- Rahul Puri, MD of Mukta Arts Ltd. on behalf of Mukta A2 Cinemas

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