While large scale movie production houses have always had their fingers in as many pies as possible, the advent of OTT video has resulted in a sharp increase in the amount of regional language content that mainstream Hindi production houses are churning out. If the Tamil-Telugu Baahubali duology and its unprecedented success saw its north India distributor — Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions -- begin dabbling more in south Indian cinema, the success of Telugu action comedy Devadasa and Malayalam movie Kodathi Samaksham Balan Vakkeel seems to have convinced media giant Viacom18 to aggressively expand its south India presence.
The company announced a six-film slate for its south Indian audiences earlier this week, with five flicks set to be produced in Tamil and another in Telegu. While its Tamil movies are to feature top eyeball pullers like Vijay Sethupathi, Chiyaan Vikram and Dulquer Salman. its planned Telugu flick -- Manmadhudu 2 -- will star Nagarjuna and Rakul Preet Singh. All the movies are planned to be completed by the end of next year.
For the company, the southern expansion is a no-brainer, since over 69 per cent of Indian audiences prefer to consume content in ‘regional’ languages. “I have always believed that good content transcends regions, languages and even platforms and our recent content successes, especially across regional markets is a testament to this belief. As storytellers, we want to continue to tell good stories and connect with our audiences and are collaborating with some of the best talents especially in the south to further consolidate and strengthen our position in the market,” said Ajit Andhare, chief operating officer, Viacom18 Studios, in a statement.
Viacom18 is only the most recent of Bollywood’s mainstream producers to be fishing for lucre in the South Indian market. The past few years have seen a long series of such production houses pick up titles for the Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam markets. Sony Pictures Entertainment India, for instance, made its foray into the regional space with the release of 9, a Malayalam film co-produced by and featuring Malayalam film industry star Prithviraj Sukumaran.
Zee Studios, on the other hand, has been producing a string of Marathi hits like Sairat and Natsamrat. And after its success with Baahubali, Dharma Productions signed on to distribute Madhuri Dixit’s Marathi debut Bucket List last year.
Market analysts say that while Bollywood production houses have always been aware of the potential of regional cinema markets, the advent of OTT platforms has provided insight into just how big these markets are and how they consume content. A recent study by YouGov for instance showed that 72 per cent of Indians prefer to watch regional content with subtitles instead of dubbed.
“Such insights are important because they let the company’s make fine-tuned plans. OTT platforms also offer an easier entry point and make distribution of content and achieving reach a lot easier than when the industry was solely dependant on cinema theatres and television,” noted a senior industry executive, “Investments by big production houses into regional content will only continue to rise.”