Language Barriers Disappearing: Romil Ramgarhia’s Views on the Rise of Pan-Indian Films

The habit of watching films has undergone a revolutionary change in recent times. The mainstream audience is opting to watch regional films over Hindi films. This may be the first time that Bollywood big tickets are registering less revenue than high-intensity Telugu, Kannada and Tamil films. To find the reasons for this, we have to delve deeper and consider a few factors.

A Change in Film Watching Preference:

We all think that language barriers in content consumption have started disappearing with the advent of Netflix with shows likeMoney Heist (a Spanish series) and Squid Games (a Korean series). But we must understand that while Over the Top (OTT)platforms gained traction in India only since 2016,the trend of watching South Indian films started in the Hindi market a few decades back.

Since the beginning of the 80s, we have seen many Hindi and South Indian films trying to be pan-India. During this time, you would observe Amitabh Bachchan collaborating with Rajinikanth (Andha Kanoon, 1983) or Kamal Haasan trying his hand in Ek Duje Ke Liye (1981), which was a Hindi remake of Telugu film MaroCharitra (1978). These were only the initial steps of breaking the language barrier, a proclivity that became much more popular and mainstream with dubbed films on Hindi Movie channels.

The Role of Hindi-Dubbed Tamil and Telugu Films:

During the first few years of the New Century, Hindi movie channels started acquiring movies from the Tamil and Telugu film industries. They started dubbing these in Hindi and played on their channels. The Hindi-speaking audience was initially unaware of the films’ lead actor however, the finely orchestrated action sequences,which even defied the laws of physics, kept the viewers hooked to these movies. The storyline is secondary for these viewers, who would literally snack on the flying cars after an explosion, or the hero’s power-packed punch to the villain – just like a Rohit Shetty movie in Bollywood!

Besides providing wholesome entertainment, these Hindi Dubbed films kept the cash registers ringing. The following numbers on Hindi Movie Channels tell you the story:

  • Every second film today is a Telugu or Tamil flick.
  • These movies contribute to 55% of television ratings, so they have a positive yield
  • 62% of premiers on Hindi movie channels in 2021 were dubbed films.
  • The prices of dubbed movies have increased between 10xto 50x in the last decade – again a testimony of the consumer demand.

These movie channels had already been making a significant imprint in consumer minds towards acceptance of South Indian actors since many years.

South Indian Stars have status of demi-Gods:

I was taken aback during my recent tour of a village. 8-year boy asked me –“Bhaiya, aap to film industry meinho – Allu Arjun se miltehokya” (Brother, you work in the film industry. Do you meet with Allu Arjun?)? I was surprised that there was no mention of Bollywood actors like Khans or Kapoors.

The South stars have a larger-than-life persona and enjoy the status of demi-gods – which has continued even with the new generation after Rajnikanth. Bollywood have lost this cult and even the new actors in Bollywood have failed to gain such popularity.

This is when I felt that the flood gates have truly opened. From that signature dance step from Pushpa, which was done by a cricketer during an international cricket series, to the query of the village boy – we are witnessing a new wave of content!

The difference in Storytelling:

Over the last few years, you would have observed a change in the Bollywood storytelling style. Though you may find power-packed ,action thrillers like Sooryavanshi once in a while, there is a predominance of realistic scripts, which may sometimes address a social issue. These are accepted by the urban multiplex going audience but sometimes fail to woo the masses.

On the other hand, the Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam industriesare still dominated by single-screen viewers. The makers understand their audience’s choices much better, owing to which we can witness a number of entertainers that are loved by the pan-Indian audience. Baahubali, Pushpa, KGF2, RRR all bear testimony to this fact.

Aspiration to become pan-Indian:

Many South Indian films are now modifying their way of shooting to cater to pan-India audience. Meanwhile, the Hindi films are also attempting to woo southern states. Upcoming films like Brahmastra, Jawanetc are all being marketed as Pan India films. Though no Bollywood film has broken through the wall of the four southern states, we may be in for a surprise in the coming months.

So far content has driven this change however in future it may also be the technological developments. One of these days, you may get hold of a new method of communication where you can interact with others through small earpieces with built-in microphones. A Tamil person can understand a French movie in the original language. While technology will make the language barrier further disappear, at the heart of all will be the magic of storytelling.

Today, it’s the beginning of the golden era of cinema! And truly, the World is our dance floor!