Is the Tamil film industry in a Kollywood Crisis?

Kollywood Crisie

The very popular South Indian film industry used to be dominated by the Tamil production machine. However, it seems to be struggling in the overall Indian market, despite occasional hits like “Master“. Given the size of the Tamil Indian population and the diaspora around the world, what are the reasons for this crisis?

The last year has seen the streaming platforms become extremely powerful, the Facebooks and Google of the lockdown-era world. Cinema is now aimed at these platforms rather than the movie houses. Popcorn is microwave-ready and the next generation of children won’t remember the big boxes that got finished before the opening credits.

A backlog of films

Dhruva Natchathiram, Naragasooran, Idam Porul Yaeval, Rendavathu Padam and Madha Gaja Raja are still rolled up in their reels with no clear idea of when they can be shown on the silver screen. Not to forget the much-hyped Veeramadevi  with Sunny Leone – with Sunny having learned horse riding just for the PR shots.

Sunny Leone Veeramadevi

A well-known Chennai based director, Anand, has turned to opening a grocery store in order to make ends meet as the studios are empty.

One controversy after another

A slew of unfortunate happenings have hit the Tamil film industry, from the sublime to the ridiculous.

  • Production accident and death on the set of Indian 2
  • Vijay Sethupathi had to step away from the Muthiah Muralitharan biopic, 800, as he did not seem sympathetic to Sri Lankan Tamil politics
  • Clash of egos on Thupparivaalan 2  between the film-makers led to production issues
  • Anti-hindu statements by Jyotika and Rajinikanth turned cinema-goers against them quite quickly
  • The water shortage in Tamil Nadu put a ban on scenes being shot ‘as if in the rain’..

Comparison with the Telugu film industry

The balance has shifted from Kollywood to Tollywood, some estimate it happened in the 1990s. While actors are beloved in both markets, and Tamil audiences flock to Tollywood films the reverse is not really true.

As Sujatha Narayanan writes “In the last five months post lockdown, Telugu cinema has seen four legitimate blockbusters: Krack (Ravi Teja), Uppena (Vijay Sethupathi in a cameo with newcomers), Nandhi (Allari Naresh and Varalaxmi Sarathkumar), and now, Jathi Ratnalu.

Three of these four films don’t star biggies, and yet, have been received well. Pitta Kathalu on Netflix is also garnering more numbers. It clearly shows that the love for the movies from the audience—which is the demand, is matched with supply.

Movies, big and small, are celebrated equally, with the producers and filmmakers of both big budget and small budget films sharing a bonhomie that enhances the film’s business and release plans.

The word, ‘flop’, is never used in the Telugu film industry loosely. They see every film as a success relative to the investment in the film. This is why the industry is thriving.

Sujatha Narayanan

Covid and the movies

Covid worked like a magnifying glass, highlighting some of the cracks that were evident. With cinemas being closed for a long, and being the target of public officials during each successive waves, movies had to adapt well to streaming and the OTT market.

English is more understood as a second language in South India, and therefore local films compete with Hollywood releases more than Bollywood. This setup does not favour extraction from the Kollywood Crisis.

Streaming – the OTT option

The nature of business in a global economy is that some things are packaged for export only. If you end up buying wine in Canada or the UK you’ll find South Africa wines on the shelves that you’ve never heard of. Bollywood has been shifting over the years to be the face of the Indian film industry.

The South Asian diaspora is huge, and accounts for about 12% of overall revenues of movies. This number will only become more important as sales from platforms overtake DVDs.

“While streaming platforms keep a weather eye on popular big star movies, they are also giving equal importance to content-rich, acclaimed films. However, the OTT market for Tamil films is currently in a very nascent stage, and producers are pulling out all the stops to land a digital contract since it would meet a significant part of the investment. Now, the producers have started to divide the satellite and digital rights separately in the hope that they will bag a deal with any of the streaming platforms.

Suriya’s Thaanaa Serndha Koottam was reportedly sold to Amazon Prime even before release for Rs 6.25 crore, which is nearly 56 percent of satellite rights of the film’s Tamil version. Now, the digital rights of Karthi-Sayyeshaa’s village drama Kadaikutty Singam have been sold to Amazon Prime well ahead of the film’s release. It must be noted that the makers have not even released the film’s teaser or trailer yet. According to trade sources, the digital rights (reportedly with Amazon Prime) of Rajinikanth’s 2.0 fetched nearly 72 percent of its satellite revenue of Rs 110 crore, which marked India’s single-largest broadcast deal (Indian satellite rights for all versions sold to Zee Network for a period of 15 years).,” so reports Surendhar MK of FirstPost.

Movies will become a political football. Netflix, which seems to have a track-record of telling viewers how they should think, unfortunately has run some films that portray Indian culture in a poor light.

Will the under-fire industries, Kollywood in particular, retool for a world of streaming and be coerced in going against its proud tradition of telling Tamil stories?

Time will tell.

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