Amazon and Netflix look beyond Bollywood for India’s next big hit

Hungry for new content after hit production of Covid-19, Amazon, Netflix and movie channels in India are not betting on famous Bollywood blockbusters to increase audiences, but on films from non-Hindi rivals – Tollywood, Mollywood and Kollywood.

India, which has the largest viewership in the world, has dozens of languages, but films shot in Hindi, the most widely spoken, dominate.

Bollywood, the Mumbai-based Hindi language industry, recorded 43% of gross box office returns in 2019, though it only accounted for 14% of releases, according to EY, the professional services company. The Indian filmed entertainment industry as a whole was worth $ 2.6 billion in the same year.

But in the face of strong demand for original material and a shortage of new content due to production shutdowns linked to the coronavirus lockdown, streaming groups and theaters are pushing for dubbed or subtitled releases of southern language films. -indian. Many were slaughtered before the pandemic, but previously had limited national appeal.

Netflix has released its first original Tamil-language film, The Drama Paava Kadhaigal, in December, as Amazon Prime Video released a series of regional language titles like the comedy Telugu Middle class melodies, See you soon, a Malayalam thriller and Tamil drama Soorarai Pottru.

“We are able to give scope to these films. . . which in the past may have been difficult given the screenings these films would have had outside of their home country, ”said Gaurav Gandhi, Country Director of Amazon Prime Video.

The push towards regional language content, which began before the coronavirus but has been accelerated by the pandemic, is opening another front in competition between US streaming platforms in India, which are seeking to expand their reach beyond English and Hindi speakers. The 1.4 billion movie mad nation is considered one of the most promising entertainment markets in the world, thanks to the rapid adoption of the internet and rising disposable income.

Amazon Prime Video has released a series of regional language titles like the Tamil drama “ Soorarai Pottru ” © Amazon

Multiplex channels including PVR and Inox, meanwhile, are betting on a series of non-Hindi blockbusters due out in January, like the Tamil thriller. Master, to attract the public kept away from theaters by Covid-19.

An industry executive said if these films were successful, it could encourage Bollywood producers to release Hindi blockbusters whose 2020 debut was delayed by the coronavirus in theaters. These include the cricket drama 83 of Anil Ambani Reliance Entertainment.

“The role [south Indian cinema] go play. . . is more important than ever. We are looking at a shortage of content, ”the executive said. “If people show up and these films are doing well, it will give the other producers a lot of confidence.”

“They are experimenting,” said Rakesh Jariwala, media and entertainment partner at EY. “They need something to keep going.”

The local language film industries in southern states such as Tamil Nadu (Kollywood), Telangana (Tollywood) and Kerala (Mollywood) are already flourishing, producing hits and stars that are followed by diasporas around the world. regional and beyond. 2017 action film in Telugu Baahubali 2 was one of the highest grossing Indian films of all time.

Streaming companies say they are helping to generate interest in regional productions in largely Hindi-speaking northern India and abroad. Malayalam language Jallikattu, India’s official entry to the 2021 Oscars, was shown on Amazon Prime Video.

Historically, South Indian films “would get really limited release” elsewhere, said Suparna Sharma, film critic at Asian Age newspaper. “Now with this lockdown and Covid there is obviously [streaming] platforms that are desperate and hungry for content. “

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