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APRIL 8, 2007
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Mobile Security
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Rough Ride
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Business Today,  March 25, 2007

The Boom In Regional Films
India's economic prosperity is scripting an unlikely story: The market for regional films has come roaring back, with Bhojpuri to Tamil to Punjabi to Telugu movies raking in record moolah at the box office.
Reel rush: Filmgoers at Prasads IMax, Hyderabad. 245 films were made in Telugu last year
In January last year, something queer happened in Mumbai. The Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Family was released simultaneously with the über-cool, ultra dark Sanjay Dutt thriller Zinda. Both movies had tepid openings and flopped subsequently. But that's hardly strange. Flops, especially costly ones, are more the norm than the exception in Bollywood. What was bizarre was the fact that the competition for Big-B and Deadly-D came from unlikely quarters-Manoj Tiwari, the Jerry Lewis of Bhojpuri cinema, who sang, danced and, of course, emoted his way to box office glory. The movie, Dehati Babu, went on to become the biggest Bhojpuri hit of 2006.

The success of Dehati Babu is no flash in the pan. The once down-in-the-dumps industry has been on a roll for the last three years. Today, Bhojwood has its own Oscars, cheekily christened, BFA-the Bhojpuri Film Awards. Star rates have more than tripled over the last year, with Manoj Tiwari charging as much as Rs 50 lakh per film. "The number of Bhojpuri movies being produced almost doubled from 39 in 2005 to 76 last year. That makes it the fastest growing film industry in India," says Supran Sen, Secretary, Film Federation of India.


Films produced in 2006: 245
Number of hits (2006): 10
Number of distribution territories: 3
Top grosser last year (2006): Pokkiri with close to Rs 40 crore (the highest ever in the industry's 75-year history)
Other major hits: Stalin (Rs 33 crore), and Bommarillu (Rs 20 crore)
Major movie-going towns: Nellore, Tenali, Miryalguda and Nandiyal
Number of multiplexes in state capital: Two
Average size of big budget movie: Rs 12-15 crore
Average size of medium budget movie: Rs 5-8 crore
Average time taken for movie making: 2.5 months
Top stars and their fee per film: Chiranjeevi, Rs 3.5 crore; Balakrishna, Rs 2 crore; Nagarjuna, Rs 2 crore; Venkatesh, Rs 1 crore to Rs 1.5 crore; Ravi Teja, Rs 1 crore-plus
Reel rush: Filmgoers at Prasads IMax, Hyderabad. 245 films were made in Telugu last year; Telugu actor Chiranjeevi (bottom)

The Bhojpuri industry is not the only one that's tasting success. Here's a quick quiz. In which language were the most films produced in India in 2006? No, it's not Hindi. The answer-Telugu. "Of the 1,091 movies produced in India last year, 245 were made in Telugu, 223 in Hindi and 162 in Tamil," reveals Sen. Basically, only one in every five movies made in India is churned out by Bollywood. And it's just not the volume of regional movies being made that's astonishing. The Telugu industry registered its biggest hit ever with Pokkiri, which raked in close to Rs 40 crore in box office collections. In fact, industry association FICCI had valued the Indian film industry at Rs 6,800 crore in 2005. The industry is projected to grow at CAGR of 18 per cent to Rs 15,300 crore by 2010. "It would be safe to assume that the size of the regional film industry today would be about 55-60 per cent of the total Indian film industry," says a leading film analyst. That means regional film industry revenues of Rs 4,400 crore in 2006.

The Story so Far

Packed house: With box office collections close to Rs 40 crore, Pokkiri was a Telugu blockbuster that was remade in Tamil as well (above)
Evidently, regional Indian cinema has achieved in the past three years what every corporate in India also has on its wish list-attract funds, hire and retain fresh talent and go global. But things weren't always this good. For Bhojpuri cinema, for instance, the 90's were a horrific period. Less than 20 movies were being made a year, and most of them flopped. 2004 was a watershed year with superhit movies like Panditji Bataai Na Biyah Kab Hoyee and Sasura Bada Paisewala. The success of these films opened up a market, which led to a spate of first-time producers thronging to make Bhojpuri movies. Like Sudhakar Pandey, who has produced hit Bhojpuri movies such as Sasura Bada Paisewala, and Daroga Babu I Love You. "I had a shaukh (hobby) for music. And I used to produce Bhojpuri music albums with popular singers like Manoj Tiwari. These albums used to cost Rs 10-15 lakh to make. And then, I realised that it was possible to make a Bhojpuri film for Rs 30-35 lakh. That's how I got into movies," says Pandey, who used to be in the 'clearing and forwarding business' before making a plunge into movie production in 2002. According to industry watchers, in 2006 alone, Rs 90 crore worth of Bhojpuri movies were produced-up from about Rs 55 crore in 2005. In fact, liquor baron Vijay Mallya is said to be bankrolling a Bhojpuri movie, even as Balaji Telefilms is remaking Hindi blockbuster Sholay in Bhojpuri with yesteryear matinee idol Jeetendra playing Thakur.


Films produced in 2006: 162
Number of hits (2006): 25, five were mega hits
Top grosser last year: Varalaaru, Rs 55 crore
Other major hits: Vettaiyadu Valaiyadu, Rs 50 crore; Tiruttu Payale, Rs 40 crore; Imsai Arasan 23am Pulikesi, Rs 15 crore
Major movie-going towns: Madurai, Coimbatore, Salem, Tirunelveli and Tiruchirappalli
Number of multiplexes in state capital: 18 screens that can be termed as multiplex; number likely to go up to 80 by 2010
Average size of big budget movie: Rs 22 crore
Average size of medium budget movie: Rs 7 crore
Top stars and their fee per film: Rs 5 crore or 30 per cent of movie budget. Super stars Kamal Hassan and Rajinikanth charge anything upwards of Rs 9 crore

Starting young: Kishen made his directorial debut at 10
The story is similar in other regional industries, too. Ask 70-year-old D. Ramanaidu, the man who holds a Guinness Book record for most movies made under one banner, on what's driving people to make more Telugu movies, and he'll tell you as it is. "There are no entry barriers here. If you have the money, you can get to promote a film. That's why we are now seeing NRIs, real estate brokers getting into this. Nearly 70 per cent of new crop of film promoters today are such people," says Ramanaidu, who points out that only 10 per cent of the movies go on to become hits.

Other film industry watchers in Hyderabad support this view. "Every month, at least a couple of people with no film background and as diverse as being into brick and sand business come to me for a signature to join the producers council," says D. Suresh Babu, President, Suresh Productions, and elder son of Ramanaidu and elder brother of well known Tollywood star Venkatesh.

The Bengali film industry, renowned for its brand of arty and sedate cinema, is also witnessing a turnaround. "The industry, seven-eight years ago, was plagued by the maladies of low budgets, poor production values and zilch marketing effort. That's passé now," says Prabhat Roy, one of the best-known film directors. The turnaround started in 2002 and since then, budgets have increased and production standards have improved. The Bengali film industry now churns out 50 movies a year with the market estimated to be worth around Rs 150 crore.

As a result, big Bollywood banners are foraying into the industry and "Ideas", a local film production company floated by Bengali superstar Prosenjit, is working on producing Bengali films. "If you make a good vernacular film, production costs are much lower and you tend to make more profits,'' says Shrikant Mohta, Director, Shri Venkatesh Films, a leading production house. As a result, Bengali actresses such as Rituparna Sengupta, Roopa Ganguly and Indrani Halder have floated production houses.

The boom in regional movies has also resulted in more and more films being shot in studios down south. "In the last one year, there has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of movies being shot here," says G. Sudhakar, General Manager (Film Marketing), Ramoji Film City. However, Mumbai continues to remain the major hub for film production, thanks to the spurt in Bhojpuri, Marathi and Punjabi movies. According to the Film Federation of India, Mumbai was the biggest centre for film production, accounting for 403 of the 1,091 films produced. Hyderabad accounted for 220 films followed by Chennai at 205 films.

New Stars, New Rules

Bhojpuri movie star: Ravi Kishen
Tamil New Year's day (April 14) will witness the clash of celluloid titans- Rajinikanth and Kamal Hassan-with the release of their mega-budget movies, Sivaji and Dasavatharam. Both movies have been made at budgets exceeding Rs 30 crore. Even though both movies are likely to open to packed houses, things have changed substantially since the 90's when the duo ruled the box office. A new breed of actors including Vikram, Surya, Ajith and Vijay has emerged as dependable box office stars.

That has resulted in two things. One, the budgets and returns of movies have got bigger. For example, Kamal Hassan's previous movie, Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu (2006), was made at a cost of Rs 24 crore and grossed Rs 50 crore. Two, a lot more medium-sized and small-budget 'experimental' movies are being produced and becoming successful. Tamil industry watchers believe that in the first half of 2006, 35 per cent of the movies that came out were made within the budget of Rs 1.5 crore to Rs 3 crore. Similarly in the Telugu industry, almost half of the movies produced are mid-budget ventures (Rs 3-5 crore). The boom in budget movies can be partly attributed to the burgeoning costs of the stars of the South Indian film industry. Industry insiders say that Tamil 'superstar' Rajinikanth charges upwards of Rs 9 crore, while Telugu 'megastar' Chiranjeevi demands anything above Rs 3.5 crore.


Films produced in 2006: 67
Number of hits (2006): 12
Number of distribution territories: Seven
Top grosser last year (2006): My Autograph, Rs 6 crore
Other major hits: Jothe Jotheyali, Huballi and Sevanthi Sevanthi
Major movie-going towns: Hubli, Belguam, Dharwad, Mysore, Bellary and Mandya
Number of multiplexes in state capital: Five; total theatres in major cities, 1,200
Average size of big budget movie: Rs 3.5 crore
Average size of medium budget movie: Rs 75 lakh
Average time taken for movie making: 7 months
Top stars and their fee per film: Shivaraj Kumar, Puneet, Ravichandran, Sudeep, Upendra. All charge upwards of Rs 30 lakh

Such steep prices have forced producers and directors to look beyond predictable star casts and run-of-the-mill plots. Take the case of the Kannada industry, popularly referred to as Sandalwood. While the industry was driven for decades by pairing popular (and ageing) heroes such as Rajkumar, Vishnuvardhan and (former mp) Ambareesh with a crop of lesser paid (and often much younger) actresses, producers and directors seem to have taken a reality check recently. "There was a wave of poorly-made remakes for many years, but that has changed recently with movies such as c/o Footpath, Nenapirali, Mungarina Malle and Jothe Jotheyali all providing some fresh ideas and that too from first-time producers," says H.R. Srikanth, who produced his 11-old-year-son Kishen's directorial debut c/o Footpath. Moviemakers such as Srikanth also say the industry is getting more professional, with over-the-counter payments, bound scripts and new ideas all slowly, but surely, becoming the norm.

Not Just Box Office

Ready to roll: Director Prabhat Roy (bespectacled) says low budget Bengali films are a thing of yore
Regional producers are also beginning to focus on non-theatrical revenues like music rights, VCD rights sales and international rights sales. Even laggards like the Punjabi film industry have learnt to tap non-theatrical revenues. Manmohan Singh, a cinematographer-turned-director, has made blockbuster movies such as Jee Aayan Nu, Asa Nu Maan Watna Da and Yaaran Naal Baharan. His last movie, Dil Apna Punjabi (2006), was the first movie in the state to cross the magical Rs 10-crore mark in revenues.

This tips-produced movie had a 12-week run at the box office and did business worth Rs 4 crore in the country. Singh also released the movie in Australia, Norway, New Zealand, France, Spain, Italy and Germany, apart from usual markets like the UK, the us and Canada. "Even DVD, VCD distribution is a huge revenue-earner. For Dil Apna Punjabi, we did something between Rs 1.25-Rs 1.5 crore from both domestic and overseas market," says Singh.


Films produced in 2006: 77
Number of hits (2006): Five
Number of distribution territories: Bihar, UP, Mumbai, and parts of Punjab and West Bengal
Top grosser last year (2006): Dehati Babu, Rs 1.45 crore
Average size of big budget movie: Rs 55 lakh (recently movies have been made for Rs 1-1.5 crore)
Average size of medium budget movie: Rs 35 lakh
Average time taken for movie making: 2-4 months
Top stars and their fee per film: Manoj Tiwari, Rs 30-45 lakh; Ravi Kishen, Rs 15-25 lakh; Nagma, Rs 8-12 lakh; Rambha, Rs 5-10 lakh

Films produced in 2006: 35
Number of hits in 2006: Four
Number of distribution territories: Six major territories, plus 1 overseas
Top grosser last year (2006): MLA Fata Kesto, Rs 80 lakh-Rs 1 crore
Major movie-going towns: Haldia, Behrampur, Siliguri, Burdwan and Malda
Number of multiplexes in state capital: Four
Average size of big budget movie: Rs 1.5-1.6 crore
Average size of medium budget movie: Rs 70-80 lakh
Average time taken for movie making: Six months
Top stars and their fee per film: Mithun Chakraborty, Rs 15 lakh-Rs 50 lakh; Prosenjit, Rs 10 lakh-Rs 35 lakh; Jeet, Rs 10-30 lakh
Films produced in 2006: 12
Number of hits (2006): Four
Number of distribution territories: Punjab, Haryana, parts of Delhi and Himachal Pradesh
Top grosser last year (2006): Dil Apna Punjabi, Rs 10-12 crore
Major movie-going towns: Ludhiana, Chandigarh Jalandhar, Amritsar & Patiala
Number of multiplexes in state capital: One
Average size of big budget movie: Rs 3-6 crore
Average size of medium budget movie: Rs 1.5 crore
Average time taken for movie making: 35-50 days
Top stars and their fee per film: Harbhajan Maan, Rs 60 lakh; Gurdas Maan, Rs 55 lakh; Babbu Maan, Rs 30 lakh; Neeru Bajwa, Rs 20 lakh.

Audio, DVD, VCD and theatrical rights for Rajinikanth's yet to be released Sivaji are being negotiated by Chennai-based AVM studios for a release in Europe, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and West Asia. The movie is also slated to hit theaters in the US, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Mauritius. Bhojpuri movie producers too have started seriously selling VCD and music rights. "Music rights are sold at Rs 7-15 lakh per movie, while hit VCD rights can sell between Rs 15 lakh and Rs 22 lakh. There is a huge audience for Bhojpuri movies in countries like Fiji, Nepal, West Indies and Indonesia," says Bhojpuri director Rajkumar R. Pandey.

With audiences like these, it won't be long before a Ravi Kishen or a Balakrishna becomes the face of Indian cinema across the world. Cooking roast chicken on Big Brother (think Shilpa Shetty) may not be the only way.

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