India has been the largest movie producer worldwide for the last few years, releasing more than a thousand films each year in various languages. The industry is segmented by language. The Hindi language film industry known as 'Bollywood' is the largest segment and accounts for around 43% of the box office revenue. The combined revenues from the Tamil (Kollywood) and Telegu (Tollywood) film industries are around 36%.
Mumbai is the epicentre of the multi-million-dollar Indian film industry. The industry is well complemented by an elaborate chain of single screen as well as multiplex theatres. There were around 2000 multiplex theatres in India in 2015-2016. Similarly, more than 2.2 billion movie tickets were sold in India, placing the country as the leading film market in the world in 2016.
Domination of Bollywood
Bollywood films earned more in international markets in 2017 as compared to their counterparts in other Indian languages such as Tamil, Telegu or Punjabi.
According to a report by Economic Year (EY) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), while some Tamil and Telegu movies did well in international markets in 2017 and Tamil superstars like Rajanikanth retain their global appeal, other regional films proved unpopular with audience. Excluding the earnings from Baahubali 2 last year, the total overseas box office collections of Tamil and Telegu movies have declined from 2016. Baahubali 2 originally released in Tamil and Telegu and was dubbed in several languages including Engilish, Hindi and Malayalam.
Tamil action-thriller Mersal and Telegu action drama Jai Lava Kusa were two other non-Hindi movies that reaped high box office collections in 2017, according to the EY-FICCI report. Still four of the top five grossing Indian movies in 2017 were from Bollywood. The top five grossers of 2017 include Tiger Zinda Hain ($20,730,000), Baahubali 2 ($14,360,000), Raees ($ 14,100,000), Jab Harry Met Sejal ($10,570,000), and Tubelight ($8,000,000).
Indian cinema is not just Bollywood
Many in India use the terms ‘Indian cinema’ and ‘Bollywood’ interchangeably. Everything else is conveniently termed as ‘regional cinema’. However, India’s three largest film industries – Hindi, Tamil and Telegu – have been neck-to-neck traditionally. Annual reports of the Central Board of Film Certification show that 215 Hindi features were certified in 2017, followed closely by Tamil with 202 and Telegu at 181. However, there is a strong bias in favour of the Hindi film industry in India. Even the national media cannot be exempted from this bias. Nothing exemplifies this bias better than the coverage of the national film awards by English TV channels. In what is now an annual ritual, every tiny award to a Hindi film or star is headlined, while major awards are downplayed if they do not go to Bollywood.
Distribution challenges for regional cinema
With films such as Sairat (Marathi 2016) and Baahubai 2 making a mark at the box office, the regional film industry in India is definitely looking up. According to the FICCI-EY media and entertainment report, most regional film industries clocked double digit growth in 2017 and the trend is expected to continue. However, the fragmented nature of regional cinema in the country means that all languages may not grow at the same pace. In fact, experts believe that while the four southern languages and Marathi have found success, many other regional genres are yet to taste success.
Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, director of national-award winning Bengali films like Anuranan, Antaheen and Bollywood hit Pink, informed, “Distribution is an important issue. Markets like Telegu have an upper hand since Andhra (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana) have more than a thousand screens. Maharashtra also has a large number of screens and so for Marathi films, distribution becomes easier. These languages will, of course, get a fillip.”
He points out that while content may be appreciated, regional movies will not succeed commercially until the distribution model enhanced. For example, he says, Bangladesh is a huge market for Bengali films but it has not been tapped to its full potential. Distribution is also hindered by state policies. While on the one hand, distribution continues to be a pain point for certain language films, markets like Gujarat are stifled because of lack of revenue streams. Director of hit Gujarati comedy Gujjubhai the Great, Ishaan Randeria says, “For Gujarati films, the box office is the main revenue stream. There is no satellite component in a way because there is just one channel that buys our content.”
While tying up with a Bollywood studio is an option, many regional filmmakers feel it may not always be a good idea. Randeria added, “It depends on the script. Some films have a universal appeal and so you dubbing or subtitling in Hindi for mass reach makes sense. Others may not have an appeal beyond the region and so you have to take that into consideration.”
Future of regional cinema
The regional industries are coming into focus for a number of reasons. For example, Marathi and Malayalam cinema have been going through a revolution in recent years. They are increasing producing movies which are receiving national and international recognition. Regional films are known for their smaller budgets but are also less frenzied about their star culture. Tamil and
Telegu cinema are the exceptions. This allows filmmakers to put the content and story at the centre of the films and experiment with different kinds of movies. Regional films are also rooted in specific cultures and deal more with local issues. The smaller film fraternities are now getting more recognition, support and consideration from several heavyweights in Bollywood, many of whom are making a conscious effort to promote regional cinema in our country.
Anurag Kashyap who has always been a proponent of the smaller cinema, raved about the internationally-acclaimed Tamil film Visaranari by Vetrimaaran that deals with police brutality in the current justice system. Priyanka Chopra’s recently launched production house Purple Pebble Pictures currently has three regional films in its pipeline. Bengali cinema is also evolving fast. Bengali movies are increasingly receiving national and international acknowledgment. The industry is poised to flourish with a new generation of innovative film-makers taking over the mantle.