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The year 2022 was hands down the year of south Indian cinema. While Bollywood is still struggling to revive business after the pandemic, the south Indian industries appear to be well on the road to recovery. This is in spite of challenges such as the change in audience behaviour and the accelerated growth of OTT platforms. Here’s a look at the four southern industries and how they have fared:
Tamil cinema this year had two blockbusters that broke several records — Vikram and Ponniyin Selvan-1. Both films earned over Rs 400 crore worldwide. The first is a multi-starrer directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj with Kamal Haasan, Vijay Sethupathi, and Fahadh Faasil in the lead. The thriller is part of the Kaithi (2019) cinematic universe and a sequel is on the cards. The second is a historical-fiction period drama directed by Mani Ratnam. PS-1 is based on a novel series written by Kalki, and the Tamil film industry has been wanting to make a film on it from the time of MGR.
Interestingly, both films marked the return of a veteran from the industry. Haasan’s last release before Vikram was Vishwaroopam 2, which released four years ago. The actor not only played the titular character in Vikram, he also produced the film. Ratnam’s last directorial, too, was four years ago — the gangster drama Chekka Chivantha Vaanam (2018), which took inspiration from the succession battle in the Ponniyin Selvan novels.
It’s also significant that many elderly people watched PS-1 in theatres — a demographic that isn’t usually considered to be theatre-going.
Post-pandemic, there was concern that the audience would go to theatres only if they believed a film demanded a big-screen experience. This may be true in other industries, but not necessarily so in Tamil. The success of romcoms like Dhanush’s Thiruchitrambalam and Pradeep Ranganthan’s Love Today points to the fact that the audience is happy to watch an entertaining film in theatres, even if it doesn’t have spectacular visual effects or elaborate stunt sequences. In fact, despite not having any big stars in the cast, Love Today is expected to cross Rs 50 crore soon. The film — which is about a young couple that exchanges their phones as a test of love — was made at a budget of Rs 5 crore. The promos that revealed the premise were a big hit with the youth, the film’s target audience.
Other films that reportedly did average-to-good business this year include Ajith’s Valimai and Vijay’s Beast (both the films received negative to mixed reviews but, supposedly, have recovered their money), Karthi’s Viruman and Sardar, Sivakarthikeyan’s Don, Vishnu Vishal’s FIR, Suriya’s Etharkkum Thunindhavan, RJ Balaji’s Veetla Vishesham and Vijay Sethupathi, Nayanthara and Samantha’s Kaathuvaakula Rendu Kaadhal.
Though Sai Pallavi’s Gargi was a theatrical flop, it received high praise from critics. The film, directed by Gautham Ramachandran, is about a young woman whose father is accused of gangraping a child.
The Telugu industry saw a string of flops this year, prompting producers to worry about the drastic change in audience behaviour. However, the industry also had SS Rajamouli’s RRR, a runaway success in India and international markets. The epic action film, starring NTR Jr and Ram Charan, is estimated to have made around Rs 1,200 crore. The movie recast two real-life activists — Komaram Bheem and Alluri Sitarama Raju — as mythological heroes who fight against British rule in India. The film won praise from several acclaimed American directors and is also enjoying a great run in Japan.
Karthikeya 2 is another Telugu release that became a big hit in the Hindi belt. Directed by Chandoo Mondeti, the film stars Nikhil Siddartha, Anupama Parameswaran and Anupam Kher. The action adventure film with mythological elements was released around the same time as Aamir Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha and Akshay Kumar’s Raksha Bandhan. However, its popularity among the Hindi audience was such that many theatres replaced the Hindi films with the dubbed version of Karthikeya 2. The film is estimated to have made Rs 120 crore.
Sashi Kiran Tikka’s Major, based on the life of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan who was martyred in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, was another hit from the Telugu film industry. The film starred Adivi Sesh in the lead role and is among the highest-grossing Telugu films of the year, earning close to Rs 65 crore. The film was also released in Hindi. Bimbisara, directed by Mallidi Vassishta, and starring Nandumuri Kalyan Ram, Catherine Tresa and Samyuktha Menon, was a fantasy film that mainly worked because of the humour in its premise — a ruthless ruler from the past ends up in the present and has to navigate his way back. The film is estimated to have made over Rs 60 crore.
Hanu Raghavapudi’s period romance drama Sita Ramam with Dulquer Salmaan, Rashmika Mandanna and Mrunal Thakur, struck box-office gold despite the male lead belonging to the Malayalam film industry. The film, which is about a young Pakistani woman unravelling the twists and turns in an interfaith romance between an Army man and a Muslim princess, made over Rs 90 crore.
Shree Karthick’s time-travel film Oke Oka Jeevitham, starring Sharwanand, Amala and Ritu Varma, received positive reviews and did moderate business. The film was especially appreciated for how it brought back the ’90s to the screen. Mahesh Babu’s Sarkaru Vaari Paata and Pawan Kalyan’s Bheemla Nayak are two mass entertainers that emerged as hits from the Telugu industry, making over Rs 150 crore each.
The Kannada industry had two massive hits this year. The first was, expectedly, KGF-2. The Prashanth Neel-directorial was the sequel to the 2018 period action film set in the Kolar Gold Fields and tells the rags-to-riches story of Rocky. Starring Yash, Sanjay Dutt, Srinidhi Shetty and Raveena Tandon, the sequel was faster, bigger and mass-ier than the first film. The film did extremely well across the country, amassing more than Rs 1,200 crore. The Hindi dubbed version alone made over Rs 400 crore, beating Aamir Khan’s Dangal’s (2016) record.
Rishab Shetty’s action thriller Kantara (he directed the film and also starred in it) is another Kannada film that’s rapidly breaking linguistic barriers despite the controversies surrounding it. Made on a budget of Rs 16 crore, it has reportedly made over Rs 350 crore so far. The film is centred on the cultural phenomenon of Bhootha Kola in coastal Karnataka. Shetty’s performance and the riveting climax, in particular, have made the film extremely popular. In Hindi alone, the film has made over Rs 75 crore in its dubbed version.
Kiranraj K’s Charlie 777, starring Rakshit Shetty and an adorable Labrador in the lead, made over Rs 100 crore. The film is about how a dog changes a grouchy man’s outlook towards life. The late Puneeth Rajkumar’s posthumous release James (directed by Chethan Kumar) and Sudeep’s fantasy thriller Vikrant Rona (directed by Anup Bhandari) were two other films which made over Rs 150 crore at the box office. Smaller releases like Gaalipatta 2 and Dollu also won critical acclaim.
Of the four southern industries, Malayalam still leans strongly towards small budget, realistic films. As is characteristic of the industry, the list of hits includes films with big stars as well as those without them. The first half of the year was fairly dull and several films flopped despite receiving positive reviews. However, the Kerala box-office appears to be back on track in the recent months and films with strong word-of-mouth publicity are seeing good footfalls.
The biggest Malayalam hit of the year is Mammootty’s Bheeshma Parvam, directed by Amal Neerad. A tribute to the Hollywood classic The Godfather, the film made over Rs 100 crore and is currently the third highest-grossing Malayalam film ever. The film had a host of other stars, including Sreenath Bhasi, Shine Tom Chacko, Soubin Shahir, Nadiya and Anagha.
Vineeth Sreenivasan’s coming-of-age college drama Hridayam, starring Pranav Mohanlal, Kalyani Priyadarshan and Darshana Rajendran, was a big hit among the youth and did very well in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, too. The film, with its popular songs, made over Rs 50 crore at the box office. Mammootty’s CBI 5: The Brain, the fifth film in the famous investigative thriller series, received mixed reviews but became a hit nevertheless. Directed by K Madhu, the film brought back Sethurama Iyer, the eccentric fictional detective, on screen again.
Courtroom drama Jana Gana Mana, directed by Dijo Jose Antony, that references several real life crimes to create a narrative about media trials, made over Rs 50 crore. The film stars Suraj Venjaramoodu, Prithviraj, Mamta Mohandas and others. Kunchacko Boban’s Nna Thaan Case Kodu, directed by Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval, was yet another courtroom drama that won big at the box office. The film, which is about a thief who sues a minister over a pothole, became a huge hit, making Rs 50 crore and spawning several memes and jokes.
Apart from the mass entertainer Kaduva (directed by Shaji Kailas) and crime thriller Paappan (directed by Joshiy) each making Rs 50 crore, experimental ventures like the colourful non-linear action film Thallumaala and psychological thriller Rorschach also got a thumbs-up from the audience. The first, directed by Khalid Rahman and starring Tovino Thomas and Kalyani Priyadarshan in the lead, is about a series of fights and is presented in comic-book style. The film’s action sequences, in particular, won praise from the audience. Made on a budget of about Rs 20 crore, the film raked in over Rs 70 crore. Mammootty’s Rorschach, directed by Nissam Basheer, is about a man who is supposedly in search of his missing wife. The film, however, takes a dark turn as we realise that there’s more to him than meets the eye. It has made over Rs 30 crore so far.
Small-budget comedies like Jo & Jo (directed by Arun D Jose), Super Sharanya (directed by Girish AD) and Palthu Janwar (directed by Sangeeth P Rajan) were also profitable, making between Rs 10 crore-20 crore each.
The latest Malayalam film that’s been making waves is Vipin Das’s Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey with Darshana Rajendran and Basil Joseph in the lead. The black comedy is about a young woman who faces domestic violence and decides to fight back. Made on a budget of about Rs 5 crore, it has so far made Rs 35 crore and is estimated to make at least Rs 40 crore in total.
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