What’s behind South Indian cinema’s new pan-India appeal? – Times of India

It began with Bahubali : The Beginning. A South movie that set cash registers jingling across India. ‘Pan-India’ became a mantra for many movie production houses in the South. The chatter is now about Maniratnam’s PS-1, set to hit theatres across India on September 30. Supposedly a pan-India film with a big star cast and a huge budget, it will be the latest to be put to test north of the Vindhyas. Plenty have failed that test. Many pan-India South movies can’t survive the first weekend, as happened with The Legend, a ‘panIndia Tamil film’ produced by a retail chain owner, who also played the lead. It bombed pan-India. The point is, as Bollywood has had to learn, a pan-India hit is not a replicable formula. Content is the king. If the audience loves the content, then and only then do big budgets and grand scale make a difference.

Three Flops For Every Hit

For every big pan-India success from the South, at least three movies with similar ambitions sink. Telugu film Pushpa did well, but several other attempts by Telugu producers didn’t. While Aamir Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha flopped across language markets, a small budget Telugu film, Karthikeya 2, is making serious money from its dubbed Hindi release. PS:1 was initially not planned as a pan-India film. “You do not make a pan-India film. In Hollywood, a Tom Cruise film is not made keeping in mind how it will be received in Japan or Chile. PS-1 is an Indian story and people across India will connect with the film,” says Siva Ananth, executive producer, Madras Talkies, which is producing the film in collaboration with Lyca Productions.

50:50 Economics of Tollywood


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As is frequently not understood north of the Vindhyas, the South is not a homogenous entity. The same holds for the movie business. The Telugu movie industry plays the panIndia, big-budget game much better than its Tamil counterpart. The secret is economics. Telugu stars take only 10-20% of their remuneration as advance and the rest when the film is ready for release. This helps producers pump in more money for content, resulting in a bigger and better product for sale – Bahubali 1 & 2, RRR, and Pushpa, to name the best-known examples. “Generally, Telugu films follow the 50:50 rule, with one half going for the star cast and the other into film production. With richer production, Telugu films have created a huge overseas market, especially in the US, and it helps producers to remain in the safe zone,” says Murali Krishnam Raju, CEO, Sinivali Network LLP, a company that helps producers monetise their movies. With most leading producers flush with their own funds, they limit their borrowings in the open market and opt for only low-interest financing.

Star-Struck, High-Risk Tamil Industry

It is just the opposite in Tamil films. “The stars here take a minimum of 50% advance and give dates after a year. Stars account for 60-75% of the project cost and very little goes into production. The production cost of even a big movie by Vijay, who has overtaken Rajinikanth in box office revenue, isn’t more than Rs 50 crore. If the producer claims he spent Rs 200 crore, then it means Rs 150 crore had gone to the star cast and lead technicians. Hence, when Vijay’s Beast or Rajinikanth’s Annaatthe flops, it hurts big time,” said a Tamil film industry veteran, who did not wish to be named. Except for big production houses like Sun Pictures, AGS and Lyca, most Tamil movie producers depend on private financing for almost 90% of a movie’s cost. With OTT, satellite, overseas and Hindi markets, and other rights together fetching not more than 50% of the cost, the producer is at risk for the remaining 50% at the point of a movie’s release. And even if the movie does well, the producer gets to take home very little, as payment of high interest to private financiers eats away a major chunk of the profits.

Malayalam, Kannada Movies Dial Down Risk

Malayalam films are safer, with the production cost of most films featuring leading stars falling in the

Rs 6-14 crore range, barring an odd Mohanlal film that could cost up to Rs 25-30 crore. With OTT and satellite rights fetching up to 70% of the production cost, most producers recover their investment and sustain themselves in the long run. KGF, however, helped rewrite the Kannada film industry’s economics. A typical Kannada film could be produced at about Rs 20-25 crore and sold for about Rs 25-30 crore, thereby making a reasonable profit. But KGF was different.

“Right from the beginning, we were confident not only about the script but also that the sequel would do better than the first part. Hence, we set aside a budget that was three times a normal Kannada movie’s production cost and spent more on the film’s marketing to take the first part to a larger audience. For the sequel, we spent tenfold to make it look grander. The results are there for everyone to see,” says Chaluve Gowda, partner, Hombale Films, which made KGF-1 and KGF-2. So, if a pan-India South movie succeeds it’s because of the story and the script – not because of the stars and the budget.

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