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Bollywood, the pretence that they don’t even see the success of South Indian cinema and how the wheels are turning

While Anil Kapoor, after the SS Rajamouli blitzkrieg RRR floored the nation, acknowledged that his career began with Telugu and Kannada films and that the south has always been making really good cinema, many in Bollywood pretend that Indian cinema is synonymous with only, and only Hindi movies. 

Not many would be aware that Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor began his film career with the Telugu movie Vamsa Vruksham in 1980, which was remade from the National Award-winning Kannada film Vamsha Vriksha, adopted for the screen from SL Bhyrappa’s novel of the same name. This was after his debut in the 1979 film Humare Tumhare in a blink-and-you-miss role that is nowhere similar to the launchpad Hindi film debutants, rather star kids, get today. Kapoor went on to act in Mani Ratnam’s Kannada directorial debut Pallavi Anu Pallavi (it won three Karnataka State Film Awards) before finally breaking into the Hindi film industry as Raja in Yash Chopra’s 1984 action drama Mashaal. Interestingly, another of his hit films, Woh Saat Din, where he played the endearing Prem, a struggling musician who falls in love with his landlord’s granddaughter, was remade from the Tamil hit Andha 7 Naatkal.  

If we were to map the career of many Hindi film actors today, somewhere or the other there will emerge a connection with the South film industry. Inspirations, lift-offs, blatant copies or official remakes in Mumbai from successful reel ventures from the southern part of India notwithstanding, Bollywood’s step-motherly treatment of regional film industries is not just rankling but reeks of a patronizing and ignorant mindset about the business these industries do or the popularity they enjoy amongst movie lovers in different states.

While Anil Kapoor (amongst the very few who are not oblivious to the hold the south has in the movie sector), after the SS Rajamouli blitzkrieg RRR floored the nation, acknowledged that his career began with Telugu and Kannada films and that the south has always been making really good cinema, many in Bollywood pretend that Indian cinema is synonymous with only, and only Hindi movies. 

While this pigeonholing could be largely due to the NRI audience post-liberalization overdosing on stereotypical movies churned out by Hindi filmmakers, it cannot be denied that the masses gradually started disconnecting with this generalized format presenting India through an extremely loud, Karan Joharesque Punjabi prism. That India is rich in its variant indigenous cultures were ill-represented by most Hindi directors and storytellers. It turned out to be a conveyor belt mechanism of movie-making that India couldn’t identify with anymore.

Also, with celebrities engaging too much in urban chatterati instead of concentrating on what they should be doing more, making films, the formula for commercial success slipped away from Bollywood’s grip. Yet the halo of popularity floated thanks to heavy PR mechanisms and hyped media snippets that kept the industry in the limelight. Perhaps, this fake idea of superiority denied the actors and everyone involved in the Hindi film industry a brush with the reality that regional films are increasingly being preferred now. 

A recurring complaint also is that while rehashing the original script, Bollywood films distort the narratives that botch up their theme and relevance. For instance, one of the gripes with Akshay Kumar’s recent dud Bachchhan Pandey was that the styling of Kriti Sanon and Jacqueline Fernandez ruined the simple charm that Lakshmi Menon carried in the Tamil original Jigarthanda. Hindi films look more like the fashion ramp than a realistic canvas engaging the audience with top-class tales and histrionics.  

Earlier, we had several Hindi remakes from Tamil family dramas helmed by famous AVM Productions based in Chennai. Like Main Chup Rahungi starring Meena Kumari and Sunil Dutt was remade from Gemini Ganeshan-Savitri starring Kalathur KanammaGharana featuring Rajendra Kumar and Asha Parekh was copied from Telugu film Santhi Nivasam. There are many, many such examples. From the current crop, Amir Khan’s Ghajini was A R Murugadoss’s official Hindi remake of his Tamil superhit. Rowdy Rathore was copied from Telugu Vikramarkudu, Ajay Devgn’s Drishyam was lifted from Mohanlal’s successful originals while his Singham was inspired by the Tamil Singam. Shahid Kapoor’s Jersey is the official Hindi copy of Nani’s National Award-winning Telugu blockbuster while his Kabir Singh was lifted from Vijay Deverakonda’s Arjun Reddy. Lack of original scripts abounds as Hindi films continue churning copies from other regional films as well. A case in point is Dhadak, remade from the award-winning Marathi drama Sairat. Even as you read, Hrithik Roshan is completing his version of Vikram Vedha a lift-off from Vijay Sethupathi’s immensely successful Tamil original.

In a recent function, former politician and superstar Chiranjeevi narrated an incident that took place in Delhi around 1988 when he had come to receive the Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration for Rudraveena, directed by the legendary K Balachander. He noticed that in Rashtrapati Bhavan while there were huge frames mounted on the walls carrying posters of famous Hindi actors and films, the adulation of South film legends was conspicuous by its absence. What Chiranjeevi felt back then, must be the thought in every famous actor, director, musician and film personality working in Kannada, Telugu, Tamil or Malayalam film industries. How Mumbai grabs the limelight in the Indian cinema segment despite being inspired regularly by regional movies thanks to the lopsided media and PR narrative keeping only Bollywood in mass consciousness. 

But looks like the wheels of change are spinning at last with the shift helmed by recent pan-India money-spinners such as Baahubali-The Beginning and Conclusion, KGF 1 & 2, Pushpa-The Rise and RRR elbowing out just about every Hindi cinema in their wake. Not just movie lovers from separate cities, the Indian audience en masse has gravitated to these productions due to the sheer power of good storytelling, original content and technical soundness. Om Raut’s much anticipated Adipurush, to be released next year on Mahashivratri, will showcase Telugu star Prabhas as the hero Raghava and not a Bollywood actor. 

Ajay Devgn might cook up a verbal brawl with Kannada star Kiccha Sudeep on Twitter over Hindi being a superior language so everyone must learn it but the incident only reinstates brewing insecurity amongst these elitist celebrities as well as their disregard for India’s many official languages and that, in Bharat, a country known for cultural and language diversity, when it comes to cinema, the days of Bollywood monopoly are clearly over.

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Sharmi Adhikary
Sharmi Adhikary
Senior Lifestyle Journalist and Film Writer with a yen for films that spark interesting conversations.

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