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South films versus Bollywood: Where are the big romance heroes of Hindi cinema?

The question isn't why south films are doing well across India but what can the rest of India do to win the south.

July 30, 2022 / 03:47 PM IST
A still from 'Michael Madana Kama Rajan'. Films like 'Ek Duke Ke Liye' and 'Sadma', among many others from the south, were huge pan-India hits in the 1980s and ’90s.(Image credit: Rajshri Tamil/YouTube)

A still from 'Michael Madana Kama Rajan'. Films like 'Ek Duke Ke Liye' and 'Sadma', among many others from the south, were huge pan-India hits in the 1980s and ’90s.(Image credit: Rajshri Tamil/YouTube)

The huge discussion everywhere today is how Bollywood has been taken over by the South. Let’s look at things in perspective; go back in time a few decades.

Films like Ek Duke Ke Liye, Sadma, Sanam Teri Kasam, Anari and many others were huge pan-India hits in the 1980s and ’90s. Clearly, this isn’t a new phenomena.

South films and stars have been mega hits before Bahubali as well. The difference perhaps is that we didn't have social media then, and we didn’t start writing the epitaph of Hindi film heroes or Hindi films as a few careless headline seekers are attempting to do.

The rest of India has always welcomed actors from the south and east (Uttam Kumar in Amanush in the ’70s) as much they have from Hindi cinema. Why then is the pan-India success of ‘South Stars’ curious to many beats me. But for discussion sake, let’s look at a few reasons of the ease of acceptability of this new crop from the south.

Dubbed versions of south films have been lapped up by huge mass audiences on Hindi satellite TV channels throughout the 2000s. This has given south stars like Allu Arjun and Ram Charan a ready fan base in the Hindi market. Ignoring this penetration and reach is the main reason for not understanding the current popularity of south stars and cinema.

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Current Bollywood superstars have all had mega romantic hits with great music that propelled them to superstardom - these films gave their heroes a rock solid foundation that they continue to capitalize on. The new crop of Bollywood actors, however, shies away from romance and looks at every other genre in the hope of becoming the next megastar. This total ignoring of romance and music has left this generation without a strong base. Where are the DDLJs, KKHHs, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanams, KNPHs and Hum Tums of today? The south hero, meanwhile, is singing romantic songs and fighting bad guys, all while using his strong satellite base of fans and other newfound fans to send unfounded shivers across the Hindi market.

While welcoming the south stars, let’s not dismiss the Hindi stars who are still doing mega numbers as Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 and Kartik Aryan have shown. The market is big enough for all and many more to survive. The success of one isn’t at the cost of another. The real debate should be what the Hindi films and stars should be doing to gain acceptance in the south, a market the Hindi film industry has been unable to conquer for decades.

While seeking a global audience is a fine goal, let’s try winning our south markets first. If they can, we can too. The debate isn’t how the south won the rest of India, the holy grail is how the rest of India can win the south.
Kunal Kohli is an Indian film director and writer. Views expressed are personal.
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