Regional films: No more poor country cousins to Bollywood

    MUMBAI: Bollywood is the most consumed film industry in India, or so they say. The second day at FICCI FRAMES saw a round-up of regional cinema from the biggies of each cinema front. Including Sindhi, Gujarati, Marathi, Bhojpuri and South Indian languages, India has produced some outstanding films.

    The Sindhi film front has been downplayed for sometime now. As Nanek Rupani put it, “Sindhi films are quietly being made in Ulhasnagar, Lucknow and other places and being released with the same treatment. Some films are even shot on video and then transferred onto film. One of the first few hits, Abbana (1955) has probably not even been heard of by today’s generation. With a one-hour block on one of the obscure offshoots of Doordarshan is what Sindhi films have been reduced to. But there is hope, people who’ve been passionate about this regional cinema have gone on, with whatever they can and continue to make and release films in Sindhi.”

    For the Marathi film industry, things are looking up quite a bit. Starting from the birth of Indian cinema in Maharashtra with Shri Dadasaheb Phalke, to today, Tingya and Shwas in the international limelight, Marathi cinema has indeed come a long way. The technology that Bollywood uses: DI, Dolby Digital, anamorphic formats are all also being employed in regional cinema and that is an achievement. The Golden Lotus was awarded to Shwas. According to Kothare, "It took nearly 50 years for an intelligent enough jury to be formed to give Marathi cinema its due."

    Bhojpuri cinema is known for its crudeness and Ravi Kissen to most urban audiences. But, according to Manoj Tiwari, this 30-crore viewership industry is on its way to becoming more and more planned and efficient. With scripts coming in 12 days after the shooting of the movie has begun, to making a movie in Rs 30 lakhs and box-office collections in the range of Rs 45 crores, Bhojpuri industry is one of the most viable businesses in the country today. Even actors like Ajay Devgan, Amitabh Bachchan, Jackie Shroff have dabbled with Bhojpuri cinema, but the actresses are reluctant to take the plunge.

    Tamil film industry, on the other hand, arguably, comes second only to Bollywood – quantitatively, qualitatively and budget-wise. With about 60% of content, outstripping even Mumbai, coming from Chennai, it is set to be the next big thing. The numbers in this industry look mind-boggling with the 2005 hit, Chandramukhi grossing about Rs 80 crores and the latest, Sivaji, made on a budget of Rs 70 crores, made about Rs 175 crores in box-office collections.

    Where Gujarati films did not register a dent in the mind or the film industry, it did make the point that without these tiny, regional touches, an Indian film, even Bollywood films are incomplete.

    As far as problems with regional cinema were concerned, the panel was unanimous in its opinion that the Indian government needed to do a little more to take regional cinema to the world. With screening in the UK, all Indian films to be exported need to pass the Censor, which costs about 2000 pounds. For an average regional film, that’s a lot of money. Also, Kothare shed light on the fact that Marathi movies are actually tax-free at single screens but the multiplexes refuse to do so. Although, with the intervention of the government, multiplexes now do provide enough shows to Marathi cinema screenings. However, they’re still not tax-free.

    International markets that are available can be tapped in a much better way if only either the government or FICCI takes up the cause of regional cinema.

    L Suresh said that the south film industry is also as relevant as the Hindi film industry. The top gross earners are from that side of the country and have won awards for their efforts. Kothare still believes that Marathi cinema and other regional cinema need to be treated as the big banners of Yash Raj are treated.

    A word of advice from Rupani was, "Why not take the more successful films in Hindi and dub them into other regional languages, like Sindhi?" It doesn’t cost too much and might not see any relevance in the theatres but as a home video venture could be quite successful. Internationally, Sindhi films, like other regional cinema, have a market, in people who want to keep their language and culture alive. In the country, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Calcutta has people watching Sindhi movies on home video.

    A good bit of news for regional cinema has been the entry of corporates into the film space. With Tamil and Marathi films already seeing the benefits, the best is yet to come. But as Gautam Ghose put it, "Corporates are good at distributing and promoting, but not at production."