PATNA, INDIA: For decades, Indian cinema was synonymous with made-in-Hindi Bollywood content, placing films made in other languages on the backburner.
“Not anymore,” movie aficionados and experts told Arab News on Saturday, citing the range of choices, easy access to content on online streaming platforms and the availability of time due to lockdown restrictions as the main reasons for the shift.
“Streaming channels now showcase top talent from all over India, for a much wider audience, and makes word-of-mouth more effective. So, if I hear a friend recommend a Malayalam movie on Netflix, I will check it out,” said Abhas K. Jha, 54, a World Bank executive and Indian expatriate living in Singapore.
He added that Over-the-Top (OTT) streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have ensured that “Bollywood is no longer Indian cinema.”
“Because there is so much good content available, it is hard to stick to one genre or language. Thanks to the OTT, we are spoilt for choice,” he said.
Each year, production houses representing the four major languages of south India — Tamil from Tamil Nadu, Telugu from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, Malayalam from Kerala, and Kannada from Karnataka — create an impressive range of films.
In 2019, these accounted for 500 films compared to the nearly 575 movies made in Hindi.
Internationally acclaimed director and filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, of “Bandit Queen” fame, feels that non-Hindi cinema could soon outplay Bollywood.
“I feel the spotlight and glamor has been concentrated on Bollywood for too long. Regional cinema is no longer regional. It’s time to celebrate cinema made in languages other than Hindi,” he said, adding that such cinema needed due recognition.
“I plan to take the cause of regional cinema to the West. This is the cinema that we need to be recognized by in the West. I just may make a film in a non-Hindi language,” he said.
The shift to content creators outside of Mumbai, where Bollywood is based, became evident in the past five years when south Indian cinema began making incredible inroads into the film-watching habits of Indian movie-goers and culminated with the Telugu production and Prabhas-starrer, “Baahubali.”
Trade and industry experts credit the 2015 blockbuster and its sequel two years later with dissolving the invisible wall between Bollywood and non-Bollywood cinema.
“Baahubali 1,” dubbed in Hindi, amassed $15.6 million, while in Telugu it brought in $20.3 million.
“Baahubali 2,” dubbed in Hindi, accounted for $66.8 million and $42.8 million in Telugu, making it the most successful Indian film of all time.
This was followed by “KGF,” a Kannada-language film with a box office tally of $5.7 million for its Hindi version and $17.7 million for its release in Kannada.
The protagonist of “KGF,” 34-year-old actor Yash, humbly admits that his film turned the tide for regional cinema.
“When people say I put Kannada cinema on the world map, I feel good about it. When we made 'KGF,' we consciously designed it for a pan-India audience. The spoken language is regional, but the spirit of presentation is international,” Yash, who has a massive fan following among Indians everywhere, told Arab News.
Sameer Nair, CEO of production company Applause Entertainment, said that while “Hindi, too, is a regional language,” much credit goes to OTT platforms for ensuring “nothing is lost in translation.”
“I think OTT platforms must get a lot of the credit for collapsing the language and cultural barriers which we faced in the past. Today, with English subtitles, we can consume content in any language or culture . . . The popularity of “Super Deluxe” (in Tamil), is one such example,” he said.
Shabana Azmi, 70, who is one of India’s most accomplished actors with five National Awards to her credit, agrees.
“The lockdown has given me and my husband (writer Javed Akhtar) a chance to see some of the finest works from Indian cinema in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. The OTT platform has made it possible for me see films that were not accessible earlier,” she said, adding that the boundary between Bollywood and the rest of Indian cinema was created for “economic reasons.”
“It was created to emphasize the importance of Bollywood cinema as global merchandise. The truth is, even when (the actor) Amitabh Bachchan ruled Bollywood, there was (the actor, producer and screenwriter) Rajinikanth in the south who has an equal fan base both in India and among Indians abroad,” she said.
New-age actor Tapsee Pannu began her career by working in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi films and says that the “regional” tag is insulting to filmmakers such as S.S. Rajamouli (“Baahubali”) and Geetu Mohan whose Malayalam film, “Mothoon,” stirred up a collective surge of appreciation across India.
“To me, there was never a difference between a Hindi and Telugu film. But I sincerely hope more people are watching movies from regional languages now thanks to the OTT. That helps us to know the culture and storytelling (format) from different areas of our country, and cinema also grows in that sense. This can happen only when moviegoers consider Bollywood and non-Bollywood platforms equally important,” she said.