The Southern film industry behemoth has been one to reckon with for decades.
The winds of change are blowing and decidedly in a South-North direction. South Indian cinema, critically acclaimed and commercially viable, has become the talk of B-town. Arjun Reddy’s remake Kabir Singh, directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga went onto become a blockbuster, raking in `370.91 crore and placing 9th in the list of Hindi films with highest domestic net collection. Baahubali director SS Rajamouli is now the most coveted filmmaker with him creating Indian cinema’s biggest ever filmic experience which made around Rs 2,000 crore in total at the box office. Baahubali: The Conclusion crossed a whopping Rs 1,000 crore in collections and with such tremendous success behind him, the filmmaker’s next RRR is one of the country’s most awaited films.
Even Bollywood’s golden girl Alia Bhatt couldn’t stay away from Telugu cinema’s magnetic effect as she will now be starring in RRR, thanks to Karan Johar’s recommendation. Despite having a rather insignificant part in it, Alia, who’s known for her meaty roles in Hindi, is doing the film. Such is the power of Rajamouli, who’s charmed Bollywood, especially Karan, who co-produced the Baahubali franchise. As for Kabir Singh, the superhit has pushed the Telugu industry further into the limelight.
Despite stirring up a huge controversy about consent, Sandeep Reddy’s film is the highest grossing Bollywood flick of 2019 and opened to `20.21 crore on the day of release, giving Shahid Kapoor his biggest opening ever. With these films creating a Telugu-Hindi synergy like never before, the south Indian film industry, especially Telugu and Tamil cinema are being sought after fervently by B-town.
While the much-awaited Dear Comrade didn’t do as well as expected, it had already caught the attention of filmmaker Karan Johar who shelled out a whopping `6 crore to secure the rights, which is the highest-ever amount for a South film. Telugu flicks are indisputably the flavour of the season with producers zealously rushing to buy their remake rights. Simmba, a remake of the Telugu film Temper, went on to give Ranveer Singh his biggest ever box office opening with the film reaching `350 crore in 40 days. Kollywood isn’t far behind with some of its films being picked by Hindi superstars to act in. Actor Akshay Kumar himself is doing three Bollywood flicks which are remakes of south films, including the Hindi version of Tamil film Katthi and Telugu flick Kanchana 2.
While not every remake is a hit, Baahubali and now Kabir Singh, have brought in a huge change, believes National award-winning film critic Baradwaj Rangan. “I don’t know if they’re making a lot of money at the box office, because we have the usual number of hits and underperformers. For instance, Dear Comrade didn’t do as well as expected. But when we talk about synergy, people opt for stories that have worked in other languages. Even when AVM and LV Prasad were making movies, if it was a success in Tamil, then it would be made in Telugu and Hindi and vice versa, with these three industries being the biggest mainstream ones with huge reach and stardom. People have always been interested in knowing both the Telugu and Tamil industry, but the profile of Telugu cinema has really been amped up post Baahubali. As for Kabir Singh, it became a monster success far exceeding Arjun Reddy’s gross.” With everybody wanting to replicate success, Rangan says, “While there are plenty of Malayalam films being made, nobody really wants to remake Kumbalangi Nights as that’s a film specifically rooted in a certain ethos. So, it may not make for a blockbuster success. If you remove the Malayalam element from it, it won’t make sense. But the Telugu and Tamil films have been mainly mainstream and you can transport them from Hyderabad to Mumbai without loss of the nativity factor.”
With Telugu cinema making a colossal impact on the Indian film industry, popular Hindi actresses like Shraddha Kapoor too couldn’t stay away from T-Town and will be seen in Saaho with Prabhas. Southern directors too are in vogue in Hindi and have increasingly been making Hindi films — Krish directed Manikarnika, Prakash Kolemuvadi directed Judgemental Hai Kyaa and Sandeep Reddy directed Kabir Singh, Kangana’s south connection’s only gotten stronger now that she’s doing the Jayalaliltha biopic Thalaivi (in Tamil), directed by AL Vijay.
In the last decade, Bollywood has remade 38 South films, out of 18 have been hits with Baaghi 2 (remake of Telugu film Kshanam), Simmba and Bodyguard topping the box office charts. Giving a commercial perspective to the phenomenon, Kannada filmmaker Hemanth Rao, who co-wrote 2018’s superhit Andhadhun, says, “The reality is that South films now rake in big money — from Baahubali to KGF and films of superstars down south. A lot of this newfound interest is dictated by commerce.
If you notice the recent films from the South, they’ve done incredibly well in the North and have shown investors and film people that there’s a crazy huge market here. Bollywood always knew that we were making films, but it’s just that the numbers are now such that they can’t ignore them anymore.”
With Kabir Singh turning out to be a blockbuster that’s given its lead actor his hugest hit, award-winning journalist and author Yasser Usman is in awe of the fact that the film managed to do this. “It wasn’t promoted much, there was no hype, but it came out and did so well. Even the divided opinions about the film worked for it. It made such an impact that Karan went and bought the rights of Dear Comrade. I do not agree with the protagonist’s actions, but you can’t take away the fact that it’s an extremely well-made film with a well-written script and a great love story and that’s what Bollywood is lacking now,” he adds.
The writer credits the entire south phenomenon to musical maestro AR Rahman, who created a wave with his magical tunes in the 90s in Bollywood. “Before the stories and films, it was the music that came in — from Roja to Bombay. These films were dubbed in Hindi but had the same music, so I’d credit Rahman for kicking off the southern wave in B-Town. Even before we’ve had dubbed films, but it never reached the quality or acceptance in the north as it has in the post-Rahman era. Also, the studio system was not so prevalent back then, but today you have production houses and producers like Karan Johar distributing southern films. Baahubali has been a game-changer,” says the writer, who believes that technically, the south industry is way better than Bollywood. “Whether it was Makkhi, or Hindustani or Shankar’s Robot 2, quality-wise these films were stronger. When SRK tried Ra.one, it failed badly, Bollywood is yet to reach the standards of the south. Also, south films are not invested in the story department whih Bollywood is not doing.
And it’s an easy thing to copy and remake south films — if you buy the rights, you can adapt the screenplay and dialogues too. Apart from Sanjay Bhansali, I don’t think Hindi films can match up to the technique of south films,” he states.
South stars Rule
With the southern factor setting the BO on fire, gone are those days when south stars were treated like second cousins by the Bollywood fraternity. They’ve gained humungous popularity in the North and Bollywood biggies are often seen hobnobbing with their South Indian counterparts. Prabhas’ Saaho is releasing in Hindi too and Vijay Devarakonda was even offered the lead roles in the Hindi remakes of his films. Kannada superstar Sudeep, is one of those actors from the south who seems to have blown some B-towners away with his talent. Not only is he playing the antagonist in Dabangg 3 opposite Salman Khan, his film Pailwaan is releasing in Hindi too. But he doesn’t think the blame should be placed on Bollywood for not recognising south talent earlier. “It’s not that they haven’t taken us seriously. We ourselves haven’t taken ourselves seriously. Unless and until you knock on the door, how will they open it? If you have a complex that they won’t open the door, then how can you blame them? Wherever you want to go, you need to put in an effort to get there. You need to dream big and reach out to them, the place won’t reach you. If you have it in you, people will appreciate you. It’s all about you and your belief, it’s all about how confident you are, your presentation and how you educate yourself. Bollywood also has now started taking the South seriously. They realise our market is everywhere and it’s only a matter of time before this happened. Time changes every thinking. If you’ve not updated yourself, then I’m sorry for you,” says the actor, who was recently seen hanging out with actor Ajay Devgn.
Malayalam actor Dulquer Salman is another favourite amongst many movie lovers irrespective of geography and will soon be seen opposite Sonam Kapoor in The Zoya Factor in his Bollywood debut.
“Dulquer is now popular in the North, but when I spoke with him, he said he was not moving bag and baggage there. As for Prabhas, who’s now doing Saaho in Hindi, let’s see if people remember him from Baahubali. These are all attempts to push the boundaries of a particular star or industry,” states Rangan.
Telugu actresses and those who started off with Tollywood have always appealed to Bollywood filmmakers — from the late Sridevi, who’s Telugu cinema’s biggest success story in B-town, to Rekha, Hema Malini and Jaya Prada, the female leads were always sought after. The trend seems to be continuing with top Telugu actresses doing big films in Hindi — Taapsee is now a name to reckon with in Bollywood, Tamanaah will be doing the Jigarthanda remake, Rakul Preet, who found popularity in T-town is also finding her foothold in Bollywood. South films being adapted or remade in Hindi isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s been happening for many years, but it’s only now that apart from stars like Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth, many of them are high on the popularity quotient online and otherwise. Older films like Maro Charitra (Telugu version of Ek Duje Ke Liye) and over the last decade, Vikramarkudu, Athadu, Pokiri, Kandireega, Ready, Maryada Ramanna etc have been remade with big Hindi stars like Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar starring in some of them. National-award winning actress and filmmaker Revathi says, “There’s always been exchange of ideas from previous generations. Eminent Tamil producers and filmmakers like Chinnappa Devar (Haathi Mere Saathi, Gaai Aur Gauri, Shubh Din), K Balachander (Oonche Log, Aaina, Ek Duje Ke liye) were remaking their Tamil films into Hindi.
We are only listening to two per cent of the films that are being made. Some of the scripts made in the South are so brilliant that they cannot be ignored. Tamil and Malayalam filmmakers are coming out with quirky scripts and they have worked out well in other languages. Some of the films produced in Tamil and Telugu do have a commercial base and there’s also a story, which gets noticed in Bollywood. The Hindi film industry has parallel cinema where there are bunch of filmmakers and actors who always do excellent work. Of course, they have merged into mainstream cinema now. So, there’s no dearth of scripts in B-town. In the recent past, Prabhu Deva and Raghava Lawrence have made inroads into Bollywood with direction. Hindi films have had huge number of cinematographers from south — from Guru Dutt days when Murthy sir who used to work in his flicks. Directors are different. You need to know the language, culture etc. When you have a theme set in a rural village in North India, it is difficult. But Prabhu or Lawrence films are different — their stories are not based in specific rural parts.”
Of course, with Netflix, Amazon Prime and other platforms streaming south films, they’ve found aficionados in the North who can now swoon over south stars. Hemanth adds, “With over-the-top (OTT) media platforms coming in, a lot of migration is happening behind the screens. People from Tamil and Telugu are directing in Hindi etc. Regional stars also have a strong national presence and there’s a cross-pollination of big stars. You have somebody like Amitabh Bachchan acting in Chiranjeevi’s film. It’s only a matter of time before it becomes the norm. Also, the fact that stars like Sudeep are now starring in Bollywood speaks volumes of the kind of presence he has across markets.”
Both script-oriented and masala commercial South Indian flicks are being lapped up by Hindi filmmakers. The Telugu film Prasantham is being remade in Hindi with Sanjay Dutt in the lead and Ajith’s Veeram is being remade as Bachchan Pandey starring remake king Akshay Kumar. Other re-creations include Laxxmi Bomb, a remake of Kanchana 2 and the remake of the Telugu film RX 100 which will star Ahan Shetty (Suneil Shetty’s son). There are also talks that Kannada superhit Kirik Party and Tamil blockbuster Vikram Vedha will have Hindi remakes too. If all goes well, Neeraj Pandey may pull off a great casting coup by bringing Aamir Khan and Saif Ali Khan in the VV remake.
Amongst the new Tollywood films that are being reconstructed in Hindi is Jersey, which starred Nani and Shraddha Srinath. Directed by Gowtam Tinnanuri, Jersey went on to become a superhit and the rights of the film have been bought over by Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions. “I don’t see it as something that’s a bigger leap because it’s being remade in Hindi. I just feel like my story is being shown in another medium and language, reaching a larger audience. When we started Jersey, we never imagined that it would or should be remade in other languages. We concentrated on the South market. Bollywood sure does make great films, but creatively and technically, we’re as strong as the Hindi film industry,” asserts Gowtam, who has had two initial meetings with the Hindi film makers to see if he can direct their version of Jersey as well.
While the North-South blend is more visible now, director Sandeep Reddy Vanga adds that Southern stars have been considered at par with Bollywood actors for a long time. The director of Arjun Reddy and Kabir Singh ruminates on why the spotlight has turned more intensely on the South recently, “With the advent of technology and social media, raw and innovative content is encouraging filmmakers to come up with scripts that have universal plotlines whilst pushing cinema beyond regions. So, this aspect will encourage filmmakers to make films in multiple languages. It also opens up business for cinema too. Filmmakers want to narrate an intriguing story, and for that, they need to feel the emotion of the story. Any filmmaker will only look into the genuineness and connectivity of the story line and how convincing the characters are in the film. If he can strike a fine balance (customising to the nativity of the audience), then he has a winner at the box office. Shahid and I only believed in the emotion of the character, he went on to live the character. So, the challenge in a remake is to relive and recreate the emotion, which I could do successfully because Shahid believed in my writing ability and directorial skills.”
Another Tollywood film that’s being considered to be remade is Puri Jagannadh’s recently-released Ismart Shankar starring Ram Pothineni and Nidhi which crossed `75 crore recently. The film’s co-producer, actress Charmme Kaur reveals, “Ismart Shankar has reap ed in new records for us. This is a trend which started way back, and we’ve seen this obsession getting bigger over the years. Good content is always accepted across India . With more films being made, newer concepts being attempted by Telugu cinema and with the rise in the success rate, Tollywood is now a hotspot for Bollywood.”