Beyond Bollywood: The power of India’s billion-dollar regional film industry



One of the best-known and widely appreciated attractions of India is its film industry. It is, however, a grave mistake to assume that Mumbai based Bollywood is the ‘be all end all’ of Indian films. Regional films are now moving ahead and quickly capturing the imaginations and the hearts of viewers across the country and also across the world.

The USD 1.5 billion box office earnings of 2016 have not grown significantly (over the previous year) but what has certainly grown is the share or contribution of Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Gujarati, Bengali, Kannada, and Punjabi films. 2017 is likely to see a different trend altogether. The regional film industry itself is all set to become a billion dollar industry by itself.

Numbers and Box Office Smashes

For those who care to dig a little deeper and look a little closer, there is a world of regional cinema waiting to be discovered. In 2016, the total number of films produced in the country is pegged at 1,900. Of these undoubtedly the largest share comes from Bollywood and despite this it may do us good to remember that only 340 Hindi films were produced this year. This means that regional cinema accounted for a whopping 1560 films in 2016.

Let us look at the gross earnings here. Baahubali 2 is a classic example of how regional and vernacular movies are quickly moving up the list of high revenue earning films in the country. As of mid-June 2017, Tollywood’s Baahubali 2 registered a box office (worldwide) collections of over INR 1686 crore outdone only by Aamir Khan starrer Dangal (Bollywood production) at INR 1,968 crores. Baahubali – the Beginning collected over INR 600 crore at the box office. Rajinikant starrer, Kabali, a Tollywood film registered a collection of INR 650 crores in August 2016. Bengali film industry (also called Tollywood) has never been a big buck earner. 2017 release Posto, however, has already recorded earnings of INR 70 crore. Not only are regional films starting to creep into the list of  highest grossing Indian films, one gets the feeling they are only getting started in their attempts to set newer benchmarks for domestic and overseas collections.

Technologically Ahead

Kollywood’s offerings of 290 Tamil films and Tollywood’s productions of 204 films (in 2016) are by no means far behind. And we’re not going merely on numbers here. Tamil and Telugu film industries have started to showcase some of the best, state-of-the-art technology and film making techniques in the world. Bollywood mainstream cinema is yet to catch up in terms of the VFX, sound effects, stunts, and cinematography.

While Bollywood is still stuck with its song and dance routines and glitz and glamour, foreign film makers are rushing to cities like Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai, and Bangalore to rope in VFX experts from regional industries to help them in their productions.

Gaining International Acclaim

The fact that increasing number of regional movies has been featured as submissions in the Best Foreign Film category of the Academy Awards must be some measure to go by. In 2016, Visaranai (Tamil) was one of the entries; in 2015 Court (Marathi), in 2013 The Good Road (Gujarati), in 2011 Malayalam film Adaminte Makan Abu and in 2009 Harishchandrachi Factory (Marathi) were among the featured movies in this category.

While we may be reluctant to book a ticket and watch a regional film at the multiplex, Indian film festivals abroad truly reflect what the global audience prefers. The London Indian Film Festival, for example, is full of regional movies.

It’s Time…

From the looks of it traditionally neglected Indian regional cinema is all set to make it big, at least in overseas markets. What remains to be seen is if we will start to recognize the treasure trove of talent and expertise that we own right now and encourage regional films. It’s time regional films gain the financial success and critical acclaim that they richly deserve.


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