That’s what our #BigStory for the week is going to explore. ETimes has spoken to actors and filmmakers who have worked in both Bollywood and South films about why Bollywood wins the war of perception, while there are, arguably, bigger numbers and just as big film stars down South. Read on to see the varied opinions:
Vishnu Induri, the maker of ‘Thalaivii’, ’83’ and many other films in the South, says, “Bollywood is considered big because of the celebrities and viewers for the Hindi films because there are more Hindi language speakers in the country. Otherwise, South films are also being made with the same methods and technology. Bollywood has a wider reach and audience, so it is considered as the bigger film industry when compared to other industries in our country”.
For a perspective on the Telugu film industry’s dominance, one only needs to go back to the most successful film franchise to have ever been made in India, Rajamouli and Prabhas’s ‘Baahubali’ movies. ‘Baahubali’ raked in Rs 650 crore in 2015, and two years later the sequel ‘Baahubali 2’ managed to earn a whopping Rs 1700 crore at the worldwide box office. Fact is, this is not about competition, but a perception where Bollywood gets more recognition and fame than its Southern counterparts, when, in all fairness, the playing field is pretty level, albeit with a slight elevation towards the South.
‘Iqbal’ director, Nagesh Kukunoor, who is all set to make his directorial debut in Telugu films with ‘Good Luck Sakhi’, explains, “The reason why Bollywood is considered big is pretty simple. Hindi is our national language and there are almost four or five large states, who all speak Hindi, hence it has just a larger audience. You have Punjab, Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh, not to mention even Hyderabad that can actually screen Hindi films. That’s the simple logic. Having said that, the Telugu industry produces more films, a lot of times their films have a larger collection, but the Telugu movies, if not dubbed, will only stay in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. So, it’s just a matter of numbers, and in the process of releasing films over the years, the numbers have become of prime importance. Southern films have chosen to make their own cinema largely for their own states. Now, in the past 5 to 10 years, Telugu films are have started getting Hindi dubbing and are then marketed and released in the North, but that’s a new practice. Otherwise, they would get dubbed for only three other states–Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala. All these factors put together allowed Bollywood to take the center stage”.
Over the past decade, films like ‘Manikarnika-The Queen of Jhansi’, ‘Kabir Singh’, ‘Ghajini’ and many more have represented a solid association between the South film industries and Bollywood. However, the crossover between Bollywood and regional cinema dates back to the beginning of the film industry. In fact, filmmakers like K Vishwanath, K Raghavendra Rao, Mani Ratnam, Ram Gopal Varma, Priyadarshan, to name a few, have given Hindi cinema some of its best works. Similarly, like we have Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, and others in Bollywood, there’s Rajnikanth, Chiranjeevi, Kamal Haasan, Vijay, Ajith, Mohanlal, Mammootty, and others who rule the roost down South. So, in all fairness, when it comes to star power it looks like a draw.
While Bollywood remakes South films nineteen to the dozen (case in point being Saif Ali Khan and Hrithik Roshan coming together for a remake of ‘Vikram Vedha’), South Stars end up recreating a few Hindi movies, too. There’s no doubt about the fact that respect and reverence is a two-way street between the North and South. But even then, there’s a trend that tips the scales in favour of the South. Believe it or not, hit films from the Telugu industry are fetching dubbing rights between Rs 30 to 50 crore. These are not the remake rights, they are just rights to dub the film in Hindi and release that version in the rest of India.
Film critic and trade analyst, Taran Adarsh feels that South industries are too big to ignore. He adds, “I think Telugu is the bigger industry right now. The kind of films, budget, professionalism, and release patterns that they have, are impressive. The pan-India films that they plan are superb! Perhaps the image that Bollywood has had over the years makes us believe that it is big. I would like to correct the people who are associated with Indian cinema and say that is wrong to think of Bollywood as the biggest. Somewhere down the line, we should change our thought processes and realise that there are other industries too. It is unfair to South Indian cinema to keep them out and just say that Bollywood is the dominant industry. Not at all, I would say Telugu is ruling right now”.
A select few actors are able to work across several industries, fewer still are those who find stardom and success in more than one film industry. Shruti Haasan is one such name. During a past interview with ETimes,
had said, “I give equal importance to all film industries but Bollywood doesn’t. People in Bombay think Bollywood is the biggest. Not everyone, but some people and filmmakers who watch cinema in different regions think Hindi is the biggest film industry, which is not a fact. The biggest market for South movies comes with the dubbed versions and the audience is aware of all my Tamil and Telugu films; that they’ve seen dubbed versions of it. So, it is not the audience but select makers or some people who work in the film industry, who think that Hindi cinema is the biggest. Making one film industry out of many is nothing new to me because in the South, four languages are clubbed together. In fact, a few people from the industry have supported this practice and we are really happy. I am blessed to be born in a home that is multilingual, having a career that is multilingual, I have also done an English, Hollywood series and my music is being made in English”.
Bollywood actor Chunky Pandey, who played the antagonist in the pan-India film ‘Saaho’ and is now looking forward to his Tamil debut with ‘Sardar’ says, “It depends on who is asking the question and who is answering it. It is a very relative question. According to me, the Indian film industry is considered the biggest film industry in the world and it consists of Bollywood, Tollywood, and all other film industries in India. I will say only the reach is different as a Tamil film will release only in few states down South while a Bollywood film will release in many states. But the numbers clocked by Telugu are as good as Hindi. I have a Telugu film and I am doing a Tamil film now and I feel the future is going to be an alliance of all. South producers are releasing Bollywood films, Dharma is releasing South films. So, in the long run, the taste is going to be the same. Even when South films are dubbed, they are doing very well. It’s a matter of language, rest all is entertainment and good cinema will always entertain around the world”.
Linguistics can play an important role in the perception of what’s universal.
Veteran Bollywood actress Aruna Irani, who has worked across many languages, says, “Even in the past, films in the South were made on massive budgets and there were movies that were made on a larger scale, but the reason why Bollywood is considered bigger is a question that evades me. It could be due to the language. South Indians do understand Hindi language to some extent, but it is difficult for the Hindi-speaking audience to understand their language. The only way a Hindi viewer can watch a South film is if it’s been translated or has captions. But the audience down South doesn’t need such additions to watch a Hindi film”.
Dancing sensation and someone who started off with Telugu and Malayalam movies, Sudha Chandran says, “I honestly feel the distinction isn’t relevant now. In the past, many of Jeetu (Jeetendra) sir’s films were remakes of South hits. Look at Chiranjeevi sir and Rajni sir–they are like demi-Gods. Even Rajkumar sir in Karnataka, T Prabhakar, and Vishnuvardhan sir, are still bigger stars. Most Hindi-speaking actresses are top heroines in the South, for example, Simran, Khusbhu, Kajal Aggarwal, Nagma, and more. Every industry has its own distinction and every industry has its own stars. Here, in Bollywood, we have Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, and Hrithik Roshan. There, in the South, we have their counterparts such as Chiranjeevi sir, Pawan Kalyan etc. I have worked in all industries and I think the line between North and South is fast disappearing. Today, the combined Indian film industry has become internationally acclaimed. We feel happy when Americans dance on Vijay’s ‘Vaathi coming’. In such a situation, there is no distinction, South is much ahead of the others. ‘Baahubali’, on the other hand, has broken all sorts of records. (Laughs) Prabhas is an international star now.”
Sudha Chandran’s views seem to be a perfect summation of the current scenario. There’s no real distinction, just a changing perception that the film industries in the South are fast gaining more prominence around the world.