Will Southern Cinema Defeat Bollywood in 2023 Too?

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A two-year slump and a slow start to 2022 hardly dampened movie-goers’ spirits.

Calendar 2022 will go down in history as a year when the Indian box office roared back to life and the real star was the Next Big Idea.

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The Southern juggernaut rolled in, scripted success changed the narrative, and gave Bollywood a serious rethink, notwithstanding its marquee production houses, megastars, and marketing prowess.

Estimates by multiplex chains and film trade experts suggest that 2022 will close at nearly Rs 11,000 crore (Rs 110 billion) in terms of gross value for the Indian box office across languages. This is almost on par with 2019 levels, considered the best year for the Indian film industry to date.

Language-wise, the contribution of Hindi films to gross domestic box office value dropped from levels of 52 per cent in 2019 to 40 per cent in 2022, says Kamal Gianchandani, CEO, of PVR Pictures, and president, of the Multiplex Association of India.

The share of non-Hindi-language films, including movies from the South, on the other hand, jumped from 40 per cent in 2019 to 52 per cent in 2022.

The contribution of Hollywood films has stayed constant at 8 per cent between 2019 and 2022, he says.

A closer look at the share of the four languages from the south to the Indian box office shows that it has jumped from levels of about 13–14 per cent for Tamil and Telugu-language films in 2019 to 18–22 per cent in 2022, according to film trade experts.

Kannada films, on the other hand, have doubled their box office share in 2022 (9 per cent) versus 2019 (4.5 per cent).

2023 could see these numbers grow, says Gianchandani, as filmmakers from the South become even more ambitious with box office performance.

“Without a doubt, South cinema has been the big outlier this year. Films such as RRR, KGF: Chapter 2 and Kantara resonated with audiences across the country and the world over. Calendar 2023 will see content creators from the South wanting to build on the success achieved at the BO in 2022,” says Gianchandani.

RRR, KGF: Chapter 2, Kantara, Love Today and Karthikeya 2 cumulatively brought Rs 2,500 crore (Rs 25 billion) to the Indian BO in 2022, say film trade experts.

Some of the big Tamil and Telugu releases in 2023 include the Thalapathy Vijay and Rashmika Mandana starrer Varisu in January. This is a Tamil film that will release during Pongal (January 12).

The Chiranjeevi-starrer Waltair Veerayya in Telugu will release on January 13 and the Telugu-and-Hindi-language film Adipurush starring Prabhas will release in June.

According to Mumbai-based Ormax Media, dubbed versions of Telugu, Tamil, and Kannada-language films, for instance, brought 37 per cent of the Hindi BO collections in 2022. This was higher than the 18–20 per cent share brought by dubbed versions of South films to the Hindi BO in 2019, say analysts.

Gautam Jain, partner, Ormax Media, says, “Year 2022 stands out for the extreme acceptance and the outright rejection of movies at the Indian BO. The films which were appreciated by the audiences managed long runs in cinemas, whereas those which were rejected did not last even a week.”

“The year also saw the language barrier being broken at the box office. Film-makers will now have to think of audiences across India rather than only of those viewers who follow their native language,” Jain adds.

While regional cinema travelled across the country, Bollywood wasn’t a complete flop show either, says Gianchandani.

“The film business is one of peaks and valleys,” he says. “Some movies were underwhelming in terms of performance in Bollywood, but there were some that clicked.”

Movies such as Gangubai Kathiawadi, The Kashmir Files, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, Brahmastra: Part One — Shiva and Drishyam 2 (interestingly, a remake of the Malayalam film starring Mohanlal) cumulatively collected over Rs 1,000 crore (Rs 10 billion) at the domestic BO this year, say film trade experts.

Gianchandani says he sees the content creator community girding up for the future.

“Content creators in India are looking at audience tastes and preferences very closely and incorporating those learnings into films that are currently being produced. The success rate for Hindi films should be better in 2023,” he says.

The next year will see movies such as Pathaan starring Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone release in January, Karthik Aryan’s Shehzada and Ajay Devgn’s Maidaan will release in February and Salman Khan’s Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan will release in April.

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