There was a time when cinematic success in India was always attributed to Bollywood. The idea of regional cinema was, it must be low budget, no foreign locations, no star-spangled cast. Just a story rooted in the culture of a region. But we can’t say that anymore, can we?

In the last decade, certain regional cinema industries have changed the rules, and South India seems to be at the forefront. Bollywood remakes of regional movies, such as ‘Ghajini’, ‘Rowdy Rathore’, ‘Drishyam’, and ‘Kick’, prove that Bollywood never can ignore the regional cinema industry. Slowly, regional cinema of India is developing a new breed of movies, which along with the hearts of their particular audiences, are also eyeing the box office.

In 1989, Malayalam cinema released a film called ‘Piravi’. Directed and produced by Shaji N. Karun, the story revolves around an old man who awaits the return of his son from Kozhikode Engineering College, finally realizing that he has died because of police brutality. The movie won a total of 31 awards, which included the Camera d’Or – Mention Speciale at the 1989 Cannes. As to box office information, I couldn’t find much. Probably because money wasn’t the focus of the regional movie maker back then? Other similar regional movies were the Assamese director Jahnu Barua’s, ‘Xagoroloi Bohudoor’, Rituparana Ghosh’s ‘Unishe April’ in 1995, and Shaji N. Karun’s ‘Swaham’ in 1994. But how many people stood in long lines to watch these? We were proud of them. But that was it. Where was the masala?

It was in the year 1995 though that things started changing. The Kannada film industry, also known as Sandalwood, released the crime drama, ‘Om’. Starring Shivrajkumar and Prema, the film collected a whopping Rs. 40 crores. If you are not impressed, let me tell you, the current equivalent of that is around Rs.167 crores! Yes, it was a cult classic movie, whose formula was marked in many future movies, such as Bollywood’s ‘Arjun Pandit’ and ‘Satya’. I feel that was the beginning of the commercialization of the regional cinema industry.

In 1998, Gujarati cinema, which has also earned the name, Gollywood or Dhollywood, released the family drama, ‘Desh Re Joya Dada Pardesh Joya Gujju’, which crossed the Rs.10 crore mark at the box office. In 2000, Tamil cinema, known as Kollywood because of being based in Kodambakkam, released ‘Vanathai Pola’, another family drama and a huge hit. Later that year, Sandalwood produced ‘Yejamana’ based on ‘Vanathai Pola’. Directed by R.Sheshadri and Radha Bharathi, this Vishnuvardhan starrer raked in more than Rs.40 crores and broke several box office records. Clearly, regional cinema had started sensing that the masses were seeking family drama and that is what they were delivering.

Two years later, Tollygunge, where the Bengali cinema industry is based, received its first commercial success, ‘Sathi’. So far, Tollygunge, or as it was coined in the fifties, Tollywood’s efforts to break away from parallel cinema had not been rewarded. A Rs.9.8 crore box office hit, ‘Sathi’, yielded five times its budget. This film was based on the Tamil film ‘Thulladha Manamum Thullum’, which in turn is said to be based on Charlie Chaplin’s ‘City Lights’. Another surprising hit was the 2003 Rituparno Ghosh movie, ‘Choker Bali’, which was based on Rabindranath Tagore’s novel of the same name. With star power such as Miss World Aishwarya Rai, not only was the movie a declared hit at the box office but also won countless awards.

Marathi cinema, also known as M-town, has always suffered in the shadows of Bollywood, which is a pity considering Marathi cinema is the oldest cinema industry in India. In the last decade, however, Marathi cinema has undeniably seen a revival. It started with the 2004 Sandeep Sawant directed ’Shwaas’, which was India’s entry to the Oscars that year. Come 2005, and Marathi cinema gave us Nishikant Kamath’s directorial debut film, ‘Dombivli Fast’, which was not only the greatest Marathi movie that year but also a four-star earner from New York Times. At the same time, Bhojpuri cinema was rising. That same year Bhojpuri cinema rocked the box office with two hits, ‘Panditji Batana Biyah Kab Hoi’ and ‘Sasura Bada Paisa Wala’. The latter, made with a budget of Rs. 28 lakhs, raked in Rs.19 crores at the box office, propelling Ravi Kishan to stardom in the eyes of the global Bhojpuri audience. Bhojpuri cinema industry started late, it’s first film arriving not before 1962, a movie named, ‘Ganga Maiyya Toke Piyari Chadhaibo’. But the audience this industry caters to is spread out over Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Mumbai and many other states of India, which accounts for it’s rapid and widespread success.

In 2006, Sandalwood produced the romantic musical, ‘Mungaru Male’. Made with a budget of 70 lakhs, this movie earned an estimated 75 crores. It was a launch pad for the lead actors, Pooja Gandhi and Ganesh, and the director Yograj Bhat. Sitting in theatres for over 865 days, this movie broke all kinds of records in Karnataka. Telugu cinema, which has always known how to be commercially successful (apparently, it contributes to 1% of the GDP of the region), released the movie, ‘Bomarillu’. One of the most block busting movies in Telugu cinema, this romantic comedy generated Rs. 25 crores!

In 2007, Sandalwood struck gold again with the love story, ‘Cheluvina Chittara’, which grossed Rs.30 crores at the box office. But the real money raker was S. Shankar’s Tamil film, ’Sivaji’. Made with a budget of 70 crores, this Rajnikanth starrer earned a whooping Rs.128 crores. ‘Sivaji’s success was so high and widespread that it changed the benchmark for Tamil cinema. It won awards, National and Filmfare. The movie’s technical finesse, cinematography, A.R. Rehman’s music, Rajinikanth’s screen presence, all were appreciated. Throughout the world, the film was screened in around 750 theatres. The Tamil diaspora gave an overwhelming response to ‘Sivaji’ in Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Persian Gulf, Canada, the UK, and the US.

Tamil cinema continued to rock the box office in 2008 with ‘Dasavatharam’, starring Kamal Haasan, who also wrote the story and the screenplay for the film. The movie was made as a rival to Sivaji and is the only movie where an actor played ten different roles. The film earned Rs. 21 crores throughout Tamil Nadu in it’s first week! The visual effects of this movie were all the rage. The Malayalam industry, also known as Mollywood, also made it’s presence felt that year with the crime thriller ‘Twenty: 20’. Starring Mohanlal and Mammootty, the film was a fundraiser for the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA). That’s right. None of the actors in this movie were paid. The film grossed at Rs. 32.6 crores at the box office. The next two hits came from Telugu and Marathi cinema in 2009. ‘Magadheera,’ a Telugu romantic action film grossed Rs. 150 crores at the box office. That year, the Marathi social drama, ‘Me Shivajiraje Bhosale Boltoy’, earned Rs. 25.5 crores.

Sandalwood released ‘Jackie’ and ‘Super’ in 2010. Upendra returned to direction in ’Super’ after ten years, which, at Rs.55 crores, became the highest earning Kannada film in 2010. And that October, Tamil cinema made history with ‘Enthiran’, a Rajnikant Aishwarya Rye starer that is stated to have raked in Rs. 256 crores worldwide! It was only the most expensive and most lucrative sci-fi movie ever made in India.

Telugu cinema stole the 2011 scene with the action-comedy blockbuster, ‘Dookudu’. Grossing more than Rs.100 crores in its lifetime, the movie was called ‘The Biggest Hit You’ve Never Heard Of’ by the Los Angeles Times. Punjabi cinema had been struggling for a hit for quite some time now, and in 2011, the industry finally ventured away from NRI-centric storylines and came up with ‘The Lion of Punjab’ and ‘Jihne Mera Dil Luteya’. Each repectively earned Rs. 5 crores and Rs. 12.5 crores at the box office and finally brought about the much-needed change in Punjabi cinema.

From 2012, things really started looking up for South Indian cinema. The statistics look like a celluloid volcano that finally became active. It started out with the Harish Shankar directed Telugu movie, ‘Gabbar Singh’ in May: Rs. 150 crores at the box office. This was a remake of Salman Khan’s ‘Dabangg’. The portrayal of a larger than life bad-ass cop, played by Pawan Kalyan, seems to have been bang on target. In June, came the Kannada movie ‘Dandupalya’: Rs. 35 crores at the box office. The film whose story is based on the criminal exploits of a real gang called ‘Dandupalya’ ran into some controversy regarding violence and skin show, but Pooja Gandhi’s performance floored critics and masses equally. The Punjabi romantic comedy, ‘Jatt and Juliet’ also came out in June, with Rs. 20 crores at the box office. The movie won several awards at the PTC Punjabi Film Awards 2013 and was an unparalleled success in Punjabi cinema, as was it’s sequel, ‘Jatt and Juliet 2’, the following year. In July, S.S. Rajamouli directed a bilingual Tamil-Telugu movie, ‘Eega’: Rs.130 crores at the box office. What apparently started as a joke about a fly seeking revenge on humans became a blockbuster fantasy film with an overwhelming response from Tamil and Telugu audiences. The special effects in this movie were highly praised. At the end of that year in November the Tamil blockbuster, ’Thuppaki’ and the Sandalwood movie, ‘Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna’, stood at Rs.121 crores and Rs. 45 crores respectively. Kaching!!! Directed by A.R. Murugadoss, the action movie, ‘Thuppaki’s success inspired the Bollywood remake ‘Holiday’. Also, it’s cinematographer Santosh Sivan introduced the Arri Alexa camera to Indian cinema in this movie. ‘Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna’ was one of the most expensive movies produced in the south, it’s budget running into Rs.18 crores.

From here, regional cinema seems to have entered the elite club with high budgets, foreign locations, complicated action sequences, special effects, and celebrated singers and actors. The works! With a budget of Rs. 95 crores, Kamal Haasan directed the Tamil-Hindi film, ‘Vishwaroopam’ in January 2013. This was the first film in India that used Auro 3D sound technology and raked in Rs.220 crores at the box office. The very next month Punjabi cinema released ‘Pehchaan’, the first 3D Punjabi film. But it was ‘Attarintiki Daredi’ that became the biggest Telugu blockbuster that year till ‘Bahubali: The Beginning’ came. The film grossed upto Rs.187 crores worldwide. Marathi films too made their mark with ‘Duniyadari’. With a budget of Rs. 5 crores, the film was well-received among Marathi audiences worldwide, raking in upto Rs. 32 crores at the box office. It’s record was unbroken till ‘Timepass’ and ‘Lai Bhaari’. The Bengali movie, ‘Chander Pahar’ became one of the biggest hits in Tollywood. With most of it’s scenes shot in Africa, the film grossed at Rs. 16.5 crores.

2014 was another box office fest for regional cinema. Several industries had cause for celebration. Marathi cinema produced ‘Fandry’, raking in 7 crores, Timepass, which, at Rs.33 crores was the highest earning Marathi movie till ‘Lai Bhaari’, ‘Court’, which won several prestigious awards, and of course Nishikant Kamat’s ‘Lai Bhaari’, which grossed Rs. 40 crores. Punjabi cinema released ‘Punjab 1984’ and ’Char Sahibzade’, earning Rs.34 crores and Rs. 70 crores respectively. ‘Bey Yaar’ a Gujrati film also created some waves with Rs. 8.5 crores. But the real box office kaching was heard in the south. The Telugu industry earned Rs. 47.1 crores for ‘Yevadu’ and Rs.104 crores for ‘Race Gurram’. The Tamil industry earned Rs.150 crores for ‘Lingaa’. Sandalwood earned Rs.50 crores for ‘Mr. and Mrs. Ramachari’ and Rs. 43.5 crores for ‘Maanikya’. Mollywood earned almost Rs. 100 crores for ‘Drishyam’ and Rs. 50 crores for ’Bangalore days’.

By 2015, while ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’, and ‘Bajrangi Bhaijan’ were playing in hundreds of crores, regional cinema had started spewing commercial hits. South Indian cinema brought out ‘Srimanthudu’, raking in Rs. 200 crores. The Tamil movie, ‘I’ earned Rs. 225 crores. Punjabi cinema gave their global audiences two big hits ‘Sardar Ji’ and ‘Angrej’. Marathi cinema was really active with ‘Classmates’ at Rs. 21 crores, ‘Mumbai Pune Mumbai 2’ at Rs.18 crores, ‘Katyar Kalijat Ghusali’, at Rs. 40 crores, and ’Timepass 2’ at Rs. 40 crores. Gujrati cinema earned Rs. 17 crores from ‘Chhello Divas’ and Rs. 15 cores from Gujjubhai the Great’. Mollywood was on a roll with ‘Oru Vadakkan Selfie’, ‘Premam’, ‘Two Countries’, ‘Endu Ninte Moideen’, ’Charlie’, and ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’. Kannada cinema raked in Rs. 48.7 crores with ‘Uppi 2’. But Tamil cinema delivered the biggest blockbuster, ‘Baahubali: The Beginning’ with Rs. 650 crores.

2016 is abuzz with several successful regional films. Telugu movies ‘Janatha Garage’ and ’Sarrainodu’ have both crossed the 100 crore mark, as has Marathi cinema’s ‘Sairat’. Another high earning Marathi film this year is ‘Natsamrat’. In Punjab, ’Sardaar Ji 2’ and ‘Ambarsariya’ are reigning at the box office. Other block busters this year are the Malayalam film, ‘Action Hero Biju’, Kannada film, ‘U turn’, Bengali film, ’Shikari’, and Tamil film, ‘Virsaranai’. Also, another Tamil film ‘Theri’ stands at Rs.175 crores, while the Rajnikant starer ‘Kabali’ is flooring audiences all over the world. Kabali has earned Rs. 350 crores so far, moving neck to neck with the Bollywood blockbuster ‘Sultan’.

Indian regional cinema audiences become global each year as Indian diaspora moves about the world. Regional movie makers realize this and distribution and promotion of movies happen on a global scale now. Regional cinema audiences now don’t just expect a rustic connection with their roots but iconic action heroes, trend-setting heroines, and larger-than-life storylines. To find out more about big profits in regional cinema, check here. It’s a pop culture movement era happening and regional cinema is moving to a different class. So, will this this new trend overtake the regional cinema completely and deprive us of it’s sweet local charm? Come on, that’s not possible. India is too diverse and vast for a single thought process or philosophy to take over. That’s why we will never have a dictatorship here. Parallely, we will always have deep, thought-provoking cinema from every region. India will always offer it’s audiences hundreds of flavors to taste and enjoy. Regional cinema will keep producing the likes of Satyajit Ray, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, and V. Shantaram. To find out more about the great regional film directors of India, read here.

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