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Mana cinema going places

Telugu commercial cinema has over the years maintained a high level of popularity and brand value across the other film industries in India. From the late 1970s till a good part of the 1990s, original Telugu films, mostly a hybrid of action, emotion and borderline erotica connected seamlessly with the Hindi-speaking audience whose IQ as one famous film director described was akin to that of a 11-year-old boy.

Even if it was just an uber macho fare with a simpering heroine donning skimpy clothes, improbable stunts and a scarcely cogent storyline, it never bothered anyone as long it was a two-hour 'time pass'. Moreover, in a classic case of strange symbiosis, none could ever guess why things were so transparently terrible and whether the fans wanted their heroes to do their bidding or was it the other way around.

Currently, among many other films that are being remade into Hindi, the 2017 film 'Arjun Reddy' remade as 'Kabir Singh', starring Shahid Kapoor and Kiara Advani in the lead roles is bound to hit the theatres on June 21. There is news about another surprise hit 'RX 100' sailing across the southern shores into Mumbai.

A much pilloried 'Simbba', reprised from the Telugu original 'Temper', the last major hit for its director Puri Jagannadh, had the redoubtable Ranveer Singh and Sara Ali Khan essaying the lead roles. For its rambling script and melodrama, it should have been given a thumbs down but strangely the remixing of a 1996 song 'Aankh maare oh ladki aaankh maare' into its tepid narrative worked wonders for the film, a BO blockbuster at the end.

A casual look too reveals how over a period in time, big names in the local industry like Dasari Narayana Rao, K Bapaiah not to speak of K Raghavendra Rao had all earned their spurs effortlessly in Hindi film industry also with their remake hits, three decades ago. The careers of two villains, who turned comic bad guys – Kader Khan and Shakti Kapoor – received a booster shot when they signed up Telugu remakes, wore hideous make-ups and costumes and hammed atrociously, yet grinning to glory all the way to the bank.

Having been the pioneer in involving talents from various filmi regions, Telugu film ventures have been watched avidly across the Hindi belt. If it was through the dubbed releases in stand-alone theatres all across the towns and hamlets of the cow belt till the dawn of the new millennium, digital technology has made it a drawing room favourite all over upcountry regions in this past decade.

The local banners, always scouting for methods to de-risk their productions have unearthed a goldmine as satellite rights for Telugu dubbing movies is commanding a good price, with the masala movies of the modern heroes like Ram Charan, Mahesh Babu, NTR Jr and Ravi Teja getting great value for money running into a few crores of rupees. With other digital platforms like YouTube on the one end and Amazon Prime, Netflix, etc on the other, the brand equity of our macho men has expanded beyond imagination.

In the 1980s, the big stars of Tamil cinema made their forays into Hindi and created the first round of ripples in an industry, which was not aware of any one of them despite having many sultry southern sirens as heroines in their films. 1981 was the year when Kamal Haasan struck gold in Bombay with 'Ek Duuje Ke Liye' followed by Rajinikanth in 1983 with 'Andhaa Kaanoon'. Both of them could not last as they were not keen on sacrificing their successful careers as a trade-off for a foothold in Mumbai. Whispers abounded about how some leading lights in the Hindi film industry were also unwelcoming and felt threatened about these stars, whose launch films had made good money and given them a head start.

The 1990s saw Chiranjeevi, Nagarjuna, Venkatesh making their debuts in Bombay even as Vishnu Vardhan from Kannada and Mammootty from Malayalam cinema too made their attempts. Yet it all fizzled out despite Telugu heroes too hitting the bull's eye at the box-office with their films. Come 21st century, and well into the end of the second decade, most of these heroes are still around and are having their films shown, not only in the original language but also in the dubbed versions. All because content is at a premium and though there are question marks about the variety and watchability of our films, its demand has remained steady.

Already, many film production houses have successfully started tapping the power of the internet and there have been popular web series productions, more alluring for the young gen with its no-holds-barred action and sex scenes, since there is no censor for the Net. Debates are already ongoing as to how much these endeavours will affect feature film productions and whether they would replace onscreen entertainment in the days to come.

Industry watchers are of the view that a similar poser came up when sponsored serials in the 1980s in the one and only Doordarshan paved the way for satellite channels, the 'saas-bahu' serials and what not which was conveniently blamed for the decline of the feature film industry and its ability to woo the women and the children.

Yet, commercial cinema has found its own routes to stay relevant and remain contemporary, beating back competition and also co-opting them into its own scheme of things. With the demand for entertainment a constant, filmmakers and service providers will obviously hunt for options where there is a cost-benefit analysis involved. Here is where successful hit films will keep getting remade into other languages, our directors like Krish Jagarlamudi and writers like KV Vijayendra Prasad will get their chances to work for Hindi cinema and other industries.

The filmwalas are one superstitious lot too, as it has been an accepted theory that the success ratio of remakes as against original stories is higher, the reason being that it has already found acceptance in some parts of the market. With faith overriding rationality, despite a very dubious hit to flop ratio, the film industry will continue to import and re-assemble hit formulae to suit local sensibilities and markets.

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