Trade experts claim that KGF is the first Kannada film to make Rs 200 crore worldwide and to make Rs 100 crore in Karnataka alone.
The success rate of Kannada films may be around 5- 10 percent. However, recent releases like Yash-starrer KGF, Darshan’s Yajamana and Nata Sarvabhouma could prove to be game changers for the sector as these films have made it big at the box office, not only in India but even offshore.
While recent release Yajamana earned around Rs 6.7 crore on the opening day (March 1), Puneeth Rajkumar’s Nata Sarvabhouma, that opened in theatres on February 7, surpassed this number by minting Rs 7.50 crore. Last year’s release KGF emerged as a winner despite facing competition from a big Khan release, Zero starring Shah Rukh Khan.
Touted as the costliest Kannada film made at a budget of Rs 80 crore, KGF maintained a steady pace even after the release of Ranveer Singh-starrer Simmba. It even proved to be a challenge for the war drama Uri: The Surgical Strike.
Its Hindi version collected Rs 42 crore in four weeks, with experts claiming KGF to be the first Kannada film to do well in the Hindi belt.
Along with this, KGF is only fourth in the list of highest grossing films from the south Indian film industry. Topping the chart is the Baahubali series, followed by Rajinikanth’s 2.0.
Trade experts also claim that KGF is the first Kannada movie to make Rs 200 crore worldwide and to make Rs 100 crore in Karnataka alone. Apart from Kannada and Hindi, KGF: Chapter 1 was released in Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam languages.
Along with KGF, 2019 releases Yajamana and Nata Sarvabhouma are setting the tone for the Kannada film industry that lags behind other south Indian film industries like Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam.
In conversation with Moneycontrol, film trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai said, “KGF is the first Kannada film that has performed okay outside the state (Karnataka).”
He explained that Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam films are bigger “because of a large number of consumers of content in these languages overseas". Elaborating on this, Pillai said, "The overseas market is for content in these languages is huge because the Telugu film industry is as big as Bollywood in America. This is because more number of Telugu people are there. Similarly, Tamil has huge market mainly because of Sri Lankan Tamils who have grown up watching Tamil films and who have migrated to the US or Canada and their population is huge there.”
“Kannada has got a market only in the US. Tamil has the biggest overseas market because it is spread evenly across the globe. Then comes Telugu because it has got a very big audience in the US. People who migrated from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the two Telugu-speaking states, have created an opening there,” Pillai added.
He also pointed out that “ticket rates of Telugu films are higher in the US – while the ticket of a Hindi film costs $10-$12, a ticket for a Telugu film is for $20”.
At the recently concluded Bengaluru International Film Festival (Biffes) 11th edition, Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy had asked the members of the Kannada film industry to submit a list of the various problems faced by the industry with possible solutions.
He had said that even though the success rate of Kannada films is less but the industry should keep focusing on making good films.
The industry, which churns around 300 films every year, does not have a big market. Pillai believes that the only way forward for the industry is to make it big globally.
He also pointed out that “regional content (Kannada films) in Karnataka is only one-state-driven while other regional cinema has travelled to Mumbai, Delhi and other cities”.
"There is a huge market for content in alternate languages – for instance in Hyderabad for Tamil films; Malayalam cinema is now popular all over in multiplexes in Gujarat. However, Kannada hasn’t grown like that. For the Kannada industry, 95-98 percent revenue comes from within the state. This is different for Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam films, where 70-80 percent revenue comes from within the state and the rest is outside,” Pillai explained.
Pillai said that while Kannada films are big in markets like Hubli, Dharwad and Shimoga (Shivamogga), the real big deal is Bengaluru because of the presence of multiplexes. “PVR alone has the highest earnings coming from Bengaluru, where they have 25-28 multiplexes,” he said.
However, he said that Kannada films in Bengaluru are getting swamped by Hindi cinema and to a certain extent Tamil and Telugu cinema. "Telugu has a bigger market because Andhra Pradesh shares its border with Karnataka. So, first I would say the Khan films followed by Telugu and Tamil,” Pillai said.
This is probably the reason that of the 230 films that the Kannada film industry produced last year, only 20 could stand out in terms of business at the box office.
According to a 2017 report, the contribution of the Kannada film industry to the overall box office share is 2 percent of the revenues and box office success rate stands at around 25 percent.
Citing KGF’s example, Pillai said, “The film has done very well, breaking out of the state and making it big pan-India as well as in the overseas market. So, you have to make pan-India films and you have to have a hero who has that kind of appeal. KGF was marketed by Karan Johar. It was the first Kannada film to be actively marketed and also saw a simultaneous US release.”
While industry players have suggested a number of solutions – like the state government should promote Kannada films outside Karnataka, it should increase the subsidy for Kannada movies, etc – Pillai said that the industry should just concentrate on making good films.
While the industry is in a transitory phase and witnesses many half-baked attempts, a member of the film industry suggested regulating the number of releases. This will then give more screen space to good films which now get lost in the crowd.
The industry is also warming up to the idea of joining the library of over the top (OTT) platforms that are aggressively looking at expanding their regional content. This could increase interest amid viewers for Kannada films.This year, films like Nicotine, Kavacha, Kurukshetra will hit the theatres. Exuding confidence in the Kannada film industry, Pillai said, "Like KGF, this year you will see more films coming up that will perform well even outside Karnataka."