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Year 2004 — a flashback

How was year 2004 for the film industry down South? SREEDHAR PILLAI takes a look.



"Ghilli" ... the year's big Tamil hit.

THE SOUTH Indian film industry is becoming as big as Bollywood in terms of domestic box-office collections. Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have more number of theatres than the entire North and East put together. Nearly 60 per cent of film production in India is concentrated in the four South Indian States where entertainment tax is the lowest in the country. In Karnataka there is no entertainment tax on Kannada films.

An Ernst & Young report pegs the Indian film industry at Rs. 5,000 crores in 2004 out of which the South Indian film industry accounts for Rs. 1,200 to Rs. 1,400 crores! And it is growing at 18 per cent a year. Where the South Indian film industry is losing out is the lucrative overseas market and revenue from video and DVD. Bollywood's biggest strength is its reach - Karan Johar's "Kal Ho Naa Ho" was the top grosser overseas in 2003 and had grossed Rs. 25 crores, while this year "Veer-Zaara" has already covered Rs. 35 crores! Compare this with Tamil movies, which have the best overseas market (Malaysia, Singapore, U.S., Europe and Sri Lanka) among South Indian films, "Ghilli" this year's big hit is reported to have collected Rs. 3 to Rs 3.5 crores overseas!

In Telugu, a Chiranjeevi or NTR Film fetches only Rs.40 to 50 lakhs in the U.S. market while a Mammootty or Mohanlal film from Malayalam will get only Rs.35 to 50 lakhs mainly in the Gulf countries. Kannada does not have an overseas market.

In Hollywood, studios make more money from DVD than theatrical rights while in Bollywood revenue from home video is 15 per cent and is increasing every year. But down South traditionally producers are barred by the powerful distributors and exhibitor's organisations from releasing original VCDs and DVDs. This helps the neighbourhood video and DVD pirate to mint money at the expense of the producer! The biggest selling point for South Indian films is that the audience continues to pack the theatres especially during weekends. Gone are the days when a film was considered a hit after it ran for 100 days at a stretch. Today a film is a hit if it takes a good opening in its first three days and released with the maximum number of prints. Telugu superstar movies are released with over 300 prints in Andhra resulting in films like Chiranjeevi's "Shankar Dada MBBS" which is reported to have collected a distributors' share of Rs.30 crores in less than 50 days from the State!

Mixed year

It has been a mixed year for the Tamil film industry with 83 releases, out of which only eight films made money for its producers and distributors and theatres that paid Mimimum Guarantee (MG) for the film. Five films are breakevens and the rest are all losers. The success ratio is only eight per cent, still nearly 150 films are under production or lying in the cans waiting for buyers. The biggest hit at the box-office was the Dharani directed Vijay starrer "Ghilli", which according to trade analysts have made a distributors' share of Rs 18 crores. "Autograph" and `7- G Rainbow Colony" are also blockbusters as they made four times their investment.



All Mammootty's films including "Kazhcha," were not only critically acclaimed but had the cash registers ringing.

The year 2004 was the year of young guns as it saw the rise of young actors and technicians. Except for "Ghilli" there was no superstar driven blockbuster. The all-powerful star system in Tamil films can ensure only an opening but not a hit, as star salaries have touched astronomical rates. A top hero in Tamil films took a salary of Rs.4.5 crores for a film this year, more than Shah Rukh Khan's remuneration!

A lot of new one-time producers willing to pay any amount are flooding the market and signing up superstars without looking at the viability of the project.

The lesson to be learnt is that small films like "Autograph" and "7-G Rainbow Colony" without any star value are reported to have done business of over Rs 10 crores! At the fag end of the year "Kadhal", made on a shoestring budget of Rs1.25 crores, turned profitable for its producer in the first week. Directors like Selvaraghavan and Cheran have proved that story telling and packaging are more important than the presence of any superstar. About 80 per cent of the viewers in Tamil Nadu are below 25 years and it is they who decide what clicks at the box-office.

According to Selvaraghavan, "I try to think like my audience and make films to suit their taste. Remember these guys are exposed to more than 100 channels and are craving for all materialistic things in life that they see around them." Adds Cheran: "I knocked on the doors of some top actors but all of them turned down the offer to play hero in `Autograph.' One of them even told me that the film would not run as there was no heroism!" Cheran feels that a good story is still the king at the box-office. The year 2004 saw the rise of young actors like `Jayam' Ravi, Silambarasan, Ravi Krishna and Bharath. They have created a new market along with a set of savvy technicians like cameraman R. D. Rajasekhar, music director Yuvan Shankar Raja and editor Antony among others. The audiences have started appreciating the work of these technicians as a new breed of youth film makers have swamped the Tamil film industry, and it promises to be more exciting in the coming years.

Formula-driven

The Telugu industry has always been star-driven and these superstar films were formulaic with larger-than-life heroes, lots of glamour, packaged in entertainment format like the biggest grosser "Shankar Dada MBBS." Given the common theme, almost all films had the usual overdose of mush and melodrama as 118 films released. The only silver lining was the success of Sekhar Kanmula's "Anand" middle-of-the-road film of a highly independent woman played brilliantly by Kamalinee Mukherjee. "Anand" made on a shoestring budget brought a breath of fresh air to Telugu cinema and did surprisingly well commercially, especially in Hyderabad.

It is almost impossible in Telugu for a newcomer to make it without the backing of a large production house or star. Teenage romances that did not work last year were given a face-lift with lots of action in films like "Varsham", "Arya," and "Sye" and they all did good business. The surprise hit of 2004 was "Varsham" a film that released without much hype or hoopla.

It had young hero Prabhas and Trisha in the lead, supported by good music and sleek presentation. "Arya" with Allu Arjun a campus caper was a super hit and Nagarjuna's "Mass," another typical action film released for Christmas, has taken a great opening. The source materials for most of the Telugu films came from Hollywood, Bollywood and Tamil remakes. But this year the magic formula went haywire as all remakes from Tamil bombed miserably as there was no local flavour! The top five grossers of the year were, "Shankar Dada MBBS," "Varsham," "Arya," "Anand" and "Mass."

Trendsetter

Malayalam cinema has become the monopoly of two superstars Mammootty and Mohanlal, who have four among the five hits of 2004! There were 59 releases and the top grosser was "4 The People" a trendsetter from director Jayaraj with an all-new star cast. This vigilante film was packaged to suit the taste of youth with music by Jassie Gift, a debutant music director. The film, made on a shoestring budget of Rs.40 lakhs, went on to make Rs 3 crores.

It was the year of Mammootty as all his films like "Sethurama Iyer CBI," "Kazhcha," "Black" and his Christmas release, "Vesham," were not only critically acclaimed but had the cash registers ringing.

Mohanlal also had two hits, a mass entertainer "Natturajavu" and family drama "Mambazhakalam". For Dileep, it was his worst year as none of his films was a hit. Audience apathy towards upcoming young stars continued as all films with lesser lights and newcomers failed miserably at the box-office.

All leading ladies of Malayalam like Meera Jasmine, Navya Nair, Gopika and Nayantara migrated to Tamil and Telugu.



P. Vasu-directed `Aaptha Mitra" made Rs. 12 crores, an all-time record for a Kannada film in recent times.

Malayalam cinema which used to make off-beat female-oriented subjects found that there were few takers for it. Kamal, a pioneer in such films found that his "Manjupole Oru Penkutty" and "Perumazhakalam" both critically acclaimed failed to impress at the box-office.

Bollywood dominated satellite channels and the song and dance programmes have completely eroded the taste of the Malayalee audience, who wanted similar fares in their films! The top five box-office hits of the year are — " 4 The People," "Sethurama Iyer CBI," "Natturajavu," "Black" and "Kazhcha."

Lucky for Kannada

The year has turned out to be lucky for the Kannada film industry as almost 12 films made money on their investment. A record 81 Kannada films were released in 2004 and nearly one third of them were remakes from other languages.

P. Vasu-directed `Aaptha Mitra" made a turn over of Rs.12 crores as against an investment of Rs. 3 crores, an all-time record for a Kannada film in recent times. Vishnuvardhan and Ravichandran had a great year as their films did well while it was a disastrous year for young stars like Upendra, Shivrajkumar and Sudeep.

Controversies marred the prestige of Kannada film industry.

First, the State Government reduced the entertainment tax for non-Kannada films from 70 per cent to 40 per cent. This led to a seven-week moratorium resulting in Dr. Rajkumar leading two huge rallies. Later an agreement was reached in the office of the Deputy Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, according to which a three-week moratorium would prevail. But those who agreed for this broke the accord and now the case is in the court.

The five hits of the year are "Aapta Mithra," "Malla," "Kalasipalya," "Monalisa" and "Mourya."

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