Despite mixed reviews the recent pan-Indian release of Ajith’s Valimai received a record opening in Tamil Nadu. The film reportedly grossed over 100 crores in just 4 days.
However, the Tamil film hasn't made the cut in the Hindi market unlike how Allu Arjun’s Pushpa or Prabhas’s Bahubali previously did. Having released amidst neck-to-neck competition with Alia Bhatt’s Gangubai Kathiawadi, Ajith's Valimai has minted less than Rs 2 crore at the end of its first weekend in the north Indian market.
The makers of Valimai also edited the film by 18 minutes hoping to get more footfalls. While the distributors will most likely break even or gain a meagre profit in the south, Valimai has failed to create an impact nationwide. So, how is the Telugu industry consistently striking the right chord in making their pan-Indian releases work?
Starting with the simplest reason: Stories and dialogues that resonate with the audience even while they are pictured as “larger than life movies”. For instance, Bahubali worked all over the country for various reasons including clear characterisation, precise detailing and its grandeur. Secondly, leveraging the cross border talents like Fahad Faasil, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vijay Sethupathi from neighbouring industries to increase the audience's sample set and maximise the film's visibility.
Lastly, the hardest pill to swallow is the film's ability to establish its brand, to promote itself breaking language barriers and to work as a commercial entertainer.
Let’s consider the case of the Tamil market. The local fans might throng to theatres irrespective of seeing their favourite stars in movie promotions because part of their local stardom is also strong due to this elusiveness. Tamil stars who reign in their regional kingdoms struggle to make a mark when it comes to the northern belt since it is still a virgin market for them. That’s where Telugu outperforms by rigorously marketing outside their home grounds Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Take, for instance, the promotions of RRR where the entire cast and crew including Rajamouli, Ram Charan and Jr NTR continuously flew to Cochin, Mumbai and Chennai to aid their national level marketing.
Allu Arjun did the same for the release of Pushpa.
In addition, the Telugu industry has a knack for effective social media marketing where they lure cricketers, celebrities and fans to hop on the the hook step challenges of viral songs like Butta Bomma…, Oo Antava Oo oo Antava… , recreation of looks and lip-synching famous dialogues like “Pushpa ante Flower anukunnava? Fireuuuu”(Did you mistake the name Pushpa for a flower? It’s fire).
Speaking to The Quint, Entertainment Industry Tracker and Trade Expert Sreedhar Pillai said, “ It (Valimai) was not aggressively promoted in the Northern India belt. Moreover, Valimai had come amidst a stiff competition with Alia Bhatt’s Gangubai Kathiawadi and Pawan Kalyan’s Bheemla Naik. Earlier, when Allu Arjun’s Pushpa was released, there was no competition”. He further added that basically Valimai is a Tamil film pushed in Northern India. For the audience there, especially after COVID, their first choice would be a straight Hindi film. Also, the film had more of Tamil nativity sentiments and it should have been trimmed by 20 minutes, pre-release. "A film should not be more than 2 hours 30 minutes. Run-time counts a lot especially when movies are dubbed for Hindi audiences. For long films, even on OTT platforms, people tend to fast forward", said Sreedhar Pillai.
Every regional film that aims for a pan-India release now invariably has a benchmark set by hits like Bahubali and Pushpa from the Telugu industry. In the pandemic times and with the advent of OTT, given the dwindling theatrical window even for massive movies, Telugu industry is a case study in itself to position a regional market's strong ground in the Indian Cinema.