With film making business in South India increasing, movies like Baahubali, RRR, KGF: Chapter 2, Pushpa: The Rise have in the recent past received pan-India acceptability and beyond it because of content and creativity, overall elevating cinematic experience of audiences for Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, and Kannada films
Six years have passed since ‘Aruvi,’ a Tamil film was screened in Indian cinema halls. In the fast-paced life of the world, few remember any film even if it is action-packed, full of melodious songs and each episode marked with hero triumphing over odds while fewer remember a film even if special effects are top notch and drama is woven around intense social and family issues. But ‘Aruvi’ is still vividly remembered by cinemagoers as it had not only a compelling story to tell but was also packed with social messages as it exposed the consumerist and misogynistic nature of modern urban life. In nutshell, novelty, relatability, and exceptional acting prowess are packed in the film. It is not that these specialties are rare. Rather they can also be found in movies of ace filmmakers like S S Rajamouli and Mani Ratnam who try their best to add charm to their craft in movies directed by them. S S Rajamouli directed Telugu-language epic action-drama film RRR has all elements that make it being adored by all in India and outside the country. It has been packed with maximalist action, imaginative sets, “many of which are built around dramatic effects and choreography,” The New York Times said in its review of the film. Common characteristics of South Indian films are: They pick up local talent, bring in a local feel and try to get local attitude into their storylines. In return, they help in making South Indian films hits at box offices and minting money. According to a Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) report, revenues of the South Indian films comprising Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam almost doubled to Rs 7,836 crore in 2022 from Rs 3,988 crore in 2021. Within the South Indian films, Tamil films topped the list of revenue earnings by minting Rs 2,950 crore followed by Telegu with Rs 2,500 crore, Kannada with Rs1,570 crore and Malayalam with Rs 816 crore. Going by the CII report, S S Rajamouli’s RRR alone earned Rs 1,200 crore at the box office for Telugu cinema. Popularity of South Indian films South Indian films have created a benchmark for being full of entertainment; whether it has been RRR, KGF: Chapter 2, Pushpa: The Rise or Kantara---they have been loved by audiences across India. The success of RRR, especially its ‘Naatu-Naatu’ song which won Oscar and Golden Globe awards along with several other recognitions worldwide earlier this year, has shown that if nativity and cultural roots are interwoven together effectively, they would catch eyeballs. In fact, the landmark success of movies like Baahubali and KGF has showcased the immense potential and caliber of regional cinema. These films have not only shattered box office records but have also garnered critical acclaim both domestically and internationally. Their grand storytelling, stunning visuals, and technical finesse have not only elevated the status of South Indian cinema but have also proven that regional films have the power to captivate audiences. Cinematography South Indian cinema has a rich history of storytelling, and cinematography has played a significant role in bringing these stories to life. Known for their unique style of screen techniques, which is rooted in the culture, dialect, politics, social structure, and lifestyle of the people in their respective regions, South Indian cinematographers have been able to capture the essence of their respective regions through their work. They have used their craft to create a visual language that is unique to South Indian cinema. Some of the most notable South Indian cinematographers include K.V. Anand, P.C. Sreeram, Ravi K Chandran, and Santhosh Sivan. These cinematographers have not only captured the beauty of South India but have also pushed the boundaries of Indian cinema with their innovative techniques. One significant aspect of South Indian cinema is abundance of natural lighting. South Indian cinematographers have mastered the art of utilizing natural light to craft a distinctive visual language that is both realistic and poetic. They also employ colour effectively to evoke specific moods and atmospheres that align with the film's narrative. For instance, the warm colour palette in “Baahubali: The Beginning” conveyed grandeur and epicness, while the cool colours in “Kaala” evoked a gritty and realistic ambiance. Another distinctive element of South Indian cinematography is the utilization of long takes. This is used to engender a feeling of immersion and authenticity. In “Kaala,” a notable example is a 12-minute-long take that follows the protagonist's stroll through the streets of Dharavi. This extended shot not only enhances immersion but also showcases the scenic allure of the location. Factors behind rise of South Indian films The rise of regional cinema in South India can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, the increasing demand for content in regional languages has led to the growth of regional cinemas. Secondly, the availability of digital platforms has made it easier for regional films to reach a wider audience. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the growth of digital platforms, and regional films have benefited from this trend. Thirdly, the quality of regional films has improved significantly in recent years, with many films receiving critical acclaim and winning awards at international film festivals. History of South Indian films Four years after the first Indian film “Raja Harishchandra” was made in Bombay in 1912, the first South Indian feature film “Keechakavatham” was produced in Madras. It was produced and directed by R Nataraja Mudaliar. The first studio in Madras, India Film Company, was established in 1916. In the early 1920s, silent Tamil films were shot at makeshift locations in and around Madras. For processing, these films used to be sent to Pune or Calcutta. Introduction of sound in the late 1920s revolutionized the Indian film industry. This transformative development impacted South Indian cinema as well. A milestone moment in this transition was the release of “Kalidas” in 1931, directed by H.M. Reddy. This film marked the advent of talkies in South Indian cinema, enabling a new era of storytelling and cinematic experiences. The following decades, the 1930s and 1940s, witnessed the emergence of notable filmmakers who played pivotal roles in shaping the growth of the South Indian film industry. Filmmakers such as S.S. Vasan, B.N. Reddy, and P. Pullaiah contributed significantly to the industry during this period. Their visionary approach and creative endeavors not only elevated the standards of filmmaking but also expanded the horizons of storytelling in South Indian cinema. Conclusion South Indian films are increasingly recognised for resilience, creativity, and artistic excellence. From its humble beginnings in the early 20th century to its present stature as a powerhouse of Indian cinema, South Indian films have left an indelible mark on the global stage. With a rich tapestry of cultural heritage, diverse narratives, and exceptional talent, the industry continues to evolve and captivate audiences, ensuring its enduring legacy for generations to come. ***The writer is a Bengaluru-based journalist; views expressed are her own