Updated: April 30, 2022 9:42:13 am
Two weeks after its April 14 release, the Kannada film KGF: Chapter 2 is inching closer to the Rs 1,000-crore box office mark, a feat achieved by only three other films: Dangal (Rs 2,024 crore), Baahubali: The Conclusion (Rs 1,810 crore) and RRR (over Rs 1,100 crore). The film’s Hindi-dubbed version alone has already earned over Rs 300 crore. KGF: Chapter 2 is the most recent film from South India reporting such a phenomenal pan-Indian run, with SS Rajamouli’s RRR and Pushpa: The Rise (2021), also reportedly smashing box office records, including ones set by the biggest Bollywood hits.
Bollywood, of course, remains a giant of Subcontinental entertainment. But according to the March 2022 EY-FICCI report on consumer trends in entertainment, its preeminent position is facing a stiff challenge from the combined might of the South Indian film industries. In 2021, South Indian cinema generated three times the box office revenues of Hindi films, with a total of Rs 2,400 crore. One contributing factor, no doubt, is the sheer number of films released — compare the Telugu industry’s 204 and the Tamil industry’s 152 releases to the mere 84 produced by the Hindi film industry in 2021. But the real story these numbers reveal is of an audience that is, increasingly, region — or language-agnostic, eager only for high-quality entertainment. Part of this is because OTT platforms have made it easier to access films from across India. Even for films that are not dubbed, the average Indian viewer is now more willing to cross the “one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles”, as the South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho described it. But the most important factor in South Indian cinema’s success is its production quality. Today, the most ambitious set pieces, the most thrilling action sequences and the most breathtaking cinematography and sound in Indian cinema are found in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam films. The audience appreciates this.
This is a development to be welcomed. Never before has the average moviegoer had such access to the cinematic variety that India offers. It should not be turned into an opportunity for one-upmanship over language, such as the unseemly spat that broke out between Bollywood actor Ajay Devgn and Kannada star Kiccha Sudeep, after the latter tweeted that the success of KGF proves that Hindi is no longer the national language. The ensuing controversy, which also saw politicians weighing in, ended up reducing an important industry trend to bickering over language. No one and nothing is served well by this — not the languages whose honour is being defended so vociferously, and certainly not cinema and its audience.
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