The success of Allu Arjun’s latest movie Pushpa The Rise in north India was not a fluke. It is a sign of fast-evolving dynamics, which has put mainstream Hindi filmmakers on the backfoot. The change creeped up on Bollywood slowly but definitely — as ‘pan-India film’ became the most in-demand currency, the industries that seem to be producing them were all from South India. And this phenomenon was not limited to box office numbers; in terms of ideas, narrative and a new cinematic language, south film industries became the new flag-bearers, and streamers brought them all directly to our hand-held screens.

Many columns written on the invasion of the South films and film stars, and that Hindi stars have ceded the ground and the Hindi audience is lapping up the content from the South. Is any such thing happening, really? Why suddenly more South stars are appearing as guests on television programmes, something that was unthinkable till the Covid-19 lockdowns struck?

Is it a sort of a campaign to undermine Hindi film stars, or is it just a case of ‘out of sight is out of mind’? Hindi stars, thanks to the various lockdowns and Covid-19 norms, are not much in the news. Shoots, even if they do happen, are mostly at some remote locations, away from Mumbai. Dubbed films and the South stars can be and are being used as the gap fillers by the media in place of normal content.

Whatever gives this impression that the South films and stars are making inroads into the Hindi film industry is unfounded. So, what has happened to make some columnists think the way they do?

‘Baahubali: The Beginning’ and ‘Baahubali: The Conclusion’ combined to score about Rs 650 crore at the box office in the Hindi belt. Ironically, the first part, which was good and a visual delight, contributed just about Rs 150 crore to this total.

‘The Conclusion’ was much inferior, but cashed in on the foundation laid by the first part as well as viewers seeking an answer to the most asked question of that time, “Why did Katappa kill Bahubal?” The second part went on to do a business of about Rs 500 crore!

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So, ‘Baahubali’, the franchise, its content worked because nobody in the Hindi belt had heard of the hero Prabhas. His second film, ‘Saaho’, was nowhere near the ‘Baahubali’ franchise, nor did Hindi filmmakers make a beeline to sign him up. If that has not happened, he is not the star a Hindi filmmaker will bet his money on.

‘Baahubali: The Beginning’ released in 2015 and ‘Baahubali: The Conclusion’ in 2017. It was a closed chapter, a flash in the pan. So, what has created this air about South films and Hindi films?

One would think it was the simultaneous release of ‘Sooryavanshi’ and ‘Pushpa: The Rise’ that gave rise to the speculation that the South films were scoring over Hindi films. It is all about perception and expectations.

With three top stars of the Hindi industry, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and Ranveer Singh playing pivotal roles with hitmaker Rohit Shetty at the helm, ‘Sooryavanshi’ was being built up as a film to look forward to. But the lockdowns delayed the film’s release by over 18 months and when the film did release, the content was a gross letdown. I don’t know why successful filmmakers dabble in community issues in their films!

It so happened that ‘Sooryavanshi’ got a thumbs down from the viewers. But, as if that was not bad enough, the dubbed film, ‘Pushpa: The Rise’ managed to sustain at the box office. If people turn against a film, there are solid undercurrents and social media is the weapon of choice. While ‘Sooryavanshi’ was written off as a mediocre film, ‘Pushpa: The Rise’, a mediocre film, was praised to the skies!

These South films, which are dubbed in Hindi, have huge budgets and whatever they gross from the Hindi belt is sheer bonus. Yes, ‘Pushpa’ sustained, while ‘Sooryavanshi’ could not. But the film managed to reach the Rs 100-crore mark in the Hindi market only in its seventh week (Rs 100 crore means less than Rs 50 crore take-home).

In normal circumstances, a Hindi hit would do that kind of business in its first weekend. So, that is much ado about nothing.

So far, between 2015/17 and 2021, two dubbed films have sustained within the Hindi belt and that is hardly worth writing pages about.

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It is a fact that Hindi films are starved of good writers and hence the need for original content. South films have always been an inspiration for Hindi filmmakers over the years. In between, we did have a generation of self-styled wizkids, the new breed of directors brought up on Hollywood films. So Hollywood films were remade in Hindi.

Some worked only because of the entertainment quotient. ‘Hamare Tumhare’, ‘Khatta Meetha’, ‘Satte Pe Satta’, ‘Andar Baahar’, ‘Baazigar’, ‘Dushman’, ‘Awara Pagal Deewana’, ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar’, ‘Awarapan’, ‘Ghulam’, ‘Judwaa’, ‘Krrish’, and many more were Hollywood inspired.

Some filmmakers worked on making a place for music in these remakes because Hollywood movies have no place for songs a la Indian movies. The problem with most of these remakes was that they did not have much scope for music and they lacked the emotional angle. Both are the soul of our cinema. Songs, when forced in, were a drag on the film.

Except for this phase when Hollywood films were the inspiration, it was usually South films that Hindi filmmakers would fall back on. The South filmmakers were equally active in the Hindi film industry as they were in the South. Banners such as AVM, Gemini, Padmalaya, Suresh Pictures (Dr D. Rama Naidu), Prasad, Padmalaya, Chinnappa Devar, S. Ramanathan, Mani Ratnam, Purnachandra Rao, along with many top-rated directors, have all made films in Hindi over a period.

What the South filmmakers were known to do, if a regional film proved a hit, they would remake it in Hindi. In such cases, the Telugu-language films had the best record of succeeding in Hindi as their films were more identifiable for the Hindi audience. That usually worked.

During the late 1970s and 80s, the Hindi industry had many top South banners making films. When the South producers felt that they were being exploited by the system here, they all packed UP and left. This is how it has been for a long time. Most Hindi stars have worked in South remakes and continue to do so.

In fact, Jeetendra, after his disastrous home production, ‘Deedar-e-Yaar’, failed so badly that it almost made him bankrupt, with no Hindi producer offering him a film, salvaged his career with the help of South filmmaker L.V. Prasad’s film. Thereafter, the doors of South remakes in Hindi opened up for Jeetendra. There was a phase when almost all his films were South remakes.

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So tied up was Jeetendra in Hyderabad and tired of staying in hotels days on end, that he even went ahead and bought a lavish bungalow there. Rajesh Khanna did many South films. Even Anil Kapoor consolidated his career thanks to South remakes.

The South was the main source of heroines in Hindi films, right from Waheeda Rehman, Vyjayantimala, Padmini, Leela Naidu, Hema Malini, Rekha, Meenakshi Sheshadri, Tabu, Jaya Prada, Sridevi, Asin, and many contemporary actresses who have made their way into Hindi films through the South.

When it comes to male actors from the South, there has been a lineup but nobody stayed or stuck around. They were rejected as soon as they landed in the Hindi industry. Earlier, the heroes from South, such as MGR and NTR, wore South all over them and there was no way they could be accepted in Hindi films.

But then came Kamal Haasan, Rajinikantj, Chiranjeevi, Mammootty, Mohanlal, Nagarjun, Venkatesh, Hareesh, Ambareesh, Vishnu Vardan, Arvind Swami, Chakravarthy, Prabhu Deva, R. Madhavan, Rana Daggubati, Prakash Raj, Siddharth, Dhanush, Sudeep, Dulquer Salmaan. None of them have sustained or managed to make a mark in Hindi films.

The South producers may have stopped making films in Hindi, but Hindi filmmakers depend a lot on the South for subjects. South films offer them a wholesome package of action, romance, emotions and entertainment. Something that writers in Mumbai are no more capable of delivering.

Even at present, as more than 20 South remakes in Hindi are on the floors, including titles from Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada cinema. The list is long: ‘Drishyam 2’, ‘Forensic’, ‘Ayyapanum Kohium’, ‘Helen’, ‘Anjaam Pathiraa’, ‘Mumbai Police’, ‘Nayattu’, ‘Dia’, ‘Ratsasan’, ‘Master’, ‘Rocky’, ‘Maan Karate’, ‘Nakshatra Tharattu’, ‘Aruvi’, ‘U Turn’, ‘Soorarai Pottru’, ‘Comali’, ‘Vikram Vedha’, ‘Kaithi’. Still, two dubbed films do well at the Hindi box office in five years, that does not mean the Hindi industry is ceding ground to the South. #KhabarLive #hydnews

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A senior journalist having 25 years of experience in national and international publications and media houses across the globe in various positions. A multi-lingual personality with desk multi-tasking skills. He belongs to Hyderabad in India. Ahssanuddin's work is driven by his desire to create clarity, connection, and a shared sense of purpose through the power of the written word. His background as an writer informs his approach to writing. Years of analyzing text and building news means that adapting to a reporting voice, tone, and unique needs comes as second nature.