Back to the big screen: Regional films pick up speed abroad

Global box-office for Telegu, Punjabi films expected to make comeback

Cinema

November 14, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Back to the big screen: Regional films pick up speed abroad

With the onset of festival season, regional movies are expected to make a comeback among the Indian diaspora

As Covid-19 eases and cinemas reopen their doors, Indian audiences abroad are expected to rush in to see their favourite actors back on the big screen. But it remains to be seen if smaller, regional movies will do as well abroad as the Bollywood biggies.

The lockdowns imposed to counter the Covid-19 pandemic had a devastating impact on the film industry in countries across the world and in India. With big blockbusters being continuously postponed, film festivals being cancelled or moving online, shootings halted and hundreds of theatres closing, by April 2020, experts had already estimated that the Indian film industry had lost more than INR 10 billion.

With the advent of vaccines however, as movie theatres slowly reopen, although still at 50 pc capacity, business has been picking up, with Bollywood action film Sooryavanshi, featuring superstars Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif and Ajay Devgn, already surpassing INR 1.3 billion in the domestic box office in only in its second week.

However, when it comes to profit, trade analysts have emphasised the importance of the overseas box office. In 2019, overseas markets accounted for around 14 pc of the total amount made by filmed entertainment according to a Ficci-EY media and entertainment industry report. According to a Statista survey, Indian films released in theatres and cinemas abroad made about INR 16.7 billion in revenue in FY 2020 but collapsed to INR 2.5 billion in FY 2021 due to the pandemic.

Although films like Sooryavanshi are expected to fare well, the fate of regional films still rings uncertain. Malaysia, which was the biggest market for Tamil films, is still operating at restricted capacity and even though Canada is the biggest overseas market for Punjabi films, along with US, Australia and UK, Diljit Dosanjh’s latest release, Honsla Rakh (2021) did not do as well as expected. Although placed among 5 highest-grossing Punjabi films, it did not replicate its remarkable domestic box office numbers abroad, earning only INR 20 million overseas.

“Bollywood movies are generally watched more because their reach and advertisements are more. We don’t know about many good Punjabi movies, and Covid-19 is still a concern because I’m diabetic, so I would probably not go to the theatre too often yet,” Canadian resident Arvinder Sachdeva tells Media India Group.

Naga Chaitanya’s Telegu film Love Story, which released worldwide on September 24, 2021, did slightly better at around INR 48 million abroad. Initially scheduled to release on April 2, 2020, it was deferred multiple times due to the pandemic, which may have reduced interest among viewers, according to California resident Shamika Reddy, who saw the movie in theatres when it was finally released.

“Love story wasn’t much fun, partly because the songs for the movie came out almost two years ago since they usually release the songs much earlier. Then the movie got pushed to just a month ago and by then you have kind of forgotten the song and the whole hype around it, there’s kind of a disruption basically,” says Reddy.

The 2020 Ficci-Deloitte report said that as regional films have witnessed a surge of investments from major film studios, they have also led to an increased contribution to the revenue compared with Bollywood. Films like Baahubali 2 (2017) were global hits, underlining the importance of the regional market for the media industry. Regional films have also gained attention for tackling hard or underrepresented topics that are hard to come by in typical Hindi-language Bollywood blockbusters.

“I definitely love watching Bollywood movies a lot, because it is like an all-India thing, something that anybody can relate to or be interested in. So, the audience is definitely much larger. Regional movies focus on such a small audience and despite having subtitles, most people who watch it are those who know the language or are movie buffs. But what I actually appreciate about them is that Telegu and Tamil movies cater to a very specific audience, so the style and plot, characters are very different from a melodramatic Bollywood cast. Culturally it varies as well, in the kind of stories told, so I can relate to it specifically in a way that mainstream audiences cannot,” explains Reddy.

“Regional comedy movies are really entertaining and watching these and hearing Punjabi when you’re living away from home gives a very refreshing and different experience. It makes you feel connected to your culture,” Sachdeva says.

As the global box office dropped by billions of dollars, streaming witnessed a significant upsurge in popularity, with OTT giant Netflix for example, adding about 37 million new paying users in 2020. With the pandemic taking almost two years to abate, many may have become used to the idea of watching movies in the comfort of one’s home.

“Lying in the comfort of your bed and watching movies is something that is difficult to beat. We saw Jinne Jamme Saare Nikamme (2021) while browsing on Zee5, but haven’t heard of other exciting upcoming movies,” Sachdeva adds.

However, OTTs are not enough to replace the complete experience of watching movies, especially as many families are itching to find any excuse to leave their homes. With festival season steamrolling head, as Diwali celebrations end and preparation for Christmas and New Year begin, experts expect viewers for such films to increase, with releases such as Rajinikanth-starrer Annaatthe (2021), a Tamil-language action film which has already surpassed INR 2 billion at the worldwide box office.

“I am definitely willing to go to a movie theatre again to watch Annaatthe. The overall experience is just so much nicer, that’s my favourite part of it, with surround sound, popcorn, the big screen, and being surrounded by a lot of friends just makes the movie so much more entertaining,” says Reddy.

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