By Liz Shackleton
Contributing Editor, Asia
Panorama Studios’ Drishyam 2, starring Ajay Devgn, has just had a strong opening at the Indian box office, taking around $9m on its opening weekend and holding up strongly today (Monday, November 21).
The crime drama sequel, directed by Abhishek Pathak and also starring Tabu and Akshaye Khanna, is receiving a red carpet gala screening at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa this evening. Devgn sat down with Deadline in Goa to discuss the film, which was partly filmed in the Indian beachside state, his thoughts on the current state of Hindi-language (a.k.a. Bollywood) cinema and some of his upcoming projects.
Indian audiences have become much more demanding since the first Drishyam was released in 2015, Devgn starts off by explaining. “It’s not just that audiences have seen much more content during the pandemic, it’s also the way production technology has changed. We’ve upgraded everything for Drishyam 2, because the film should not look outdated,” says Devgn, who is a filmmaker himself with three films under his belt as director.
“So the tone of the film, color palette, style of shooting has also been adapted. It looks edgier, more real. But the story definitely starts right from where the first one ended. In fact, you really need to see the first Drishyam before you watch the sequel,” Devgn adds.
A critical and commercial hit, grossing more than $14m worldwide, the first Drishyam told the story of a man who goes to extreme lengths to protect his family when they commit an unexpected crime. Both the first film and Drishyam 2 are remakes of a Malayalam film and its sequel, but the Hindi sequel has some additional characters, including a senior cop played by Khanna. The Malayalam film was also remade in the Tamil, Telugu and Kannada languages, and spawned a Chinese remake, Sheep Without A Shepherd, which was a huge hit in China just before the pandemic.
The film is one of many Hindi productions adapted from South Indian films. So what is it about films from the South that make them so adaptable? “Some of them are just extremely well written, especially Malayalam cinema,” says Devgn. “They have some great writers who are very intelligent, very smart.”
But then of course, during the pandemic, audiences all over India also started watching dubbed and subtitled versions of the original South Indian films, not just their Hindi remakes, thus changing the definition of a pan-Indian movie. Just a few years ago, it was thought that only Bollywood films could reach a truly nationwide audience in India.
“It’s not just Western audiences that discovered South Indian films during the pandemic, the rest of India discovered them also,” laughs Devgn, who starred in S.S. Rajamouli’s RRR, the Telugu-language film that has been a record-breaking global hit and is currently campaigning for Oscars glory. “During the pandemic, our audiences took to OTT, a lot of content was dubbed or subtitled, and language was no longer a barrier.”
Devgn is one of two big stars from the Hindi industry in RRR, along with Alia Bhatt, part of a new trend in Indian cinema where the country’s biggest film industries – Hindi, Telugu and Tamil – are working more closely together. “When the audience is ready to accept this, then you start merging things together to make pan-Indian cinema,” Devgn explains. “I’m sure Rajamouli’s first intention would be to cast me because he had planned to release the film in a [dubbed] Hindi version also. Obviously, we’re going to merge and that’s very good for all of us.”
Recently, much has been made of the success of South Indian cinema, while Bollywood has experienced a string of flops, although Devgn points out that the ratio of hits and misses in the Telugu and Tamil industries has been roughly the same as in Bollywood. But Drishyam 2 is currently tracking at the same level or above some of the year’s biggest Hindi releases – Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 and Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva – and is also performing well in international markets. So is it breaking the box office drought that Bollywood has recently been experiencing?
“I personally feel that you need three great experiences for audiences to get back into the habit of going to theatres,” says Devgn. “If you see two or three films in a row and have a great experience, then you start to regain trust. But if you see one good film, and the next one is not so great, then you still get put off.”
Although Devgn says production has slowed down in the Hindi industry over the past six months, as investors have become more cautious due to weak box office, he appears to have been busier than ever over the past year. He recently wrapped Maidaan, inspired by the story of football coach Syed Abdul Rahim, regarded as the architect of Indian football, as well as action film Bholaa, which he has directed, produced and also stars in. Next up, he will start shooting Singham 3 and is also working on an as-yet-untitled project with Neeraj Pandey.
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