On an Awards and Box Office Roll, South Indian Filmmakers Reveal Secrets of Success at CII Dakshin Conference

The cream of the southern Indian film industry was present in force at the just concluded Dakshin South India Media and Entertainment Summit in Chennai.

Organized by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), southern region, the event kicked off with recent south Indian Oscar winners, Kartiki Gonsalves, director of winning documentary short “The Elephant Whisperers” and Prem Rakshit, choreographer of winning original song “Naatu Naatu” from “RRR” being felicitated.

The stage was then set for a heavyweight filmmakers panel moderated by former Variety correspondent Anupama Chopra, with Mani Ratnam, director of Tamil-language blockbuster “Ponniyin Selvan: 1”; Vetrimaaran, whose acclaimed Tamil-language “Viduthalai Part 1” is currently on release; Rishab Shetty, star and director of Kannada-language smash hit “Kantara”; and Basil Joseph, director of Malayalam-language Netflix superhero film “Minnal Murali” participating.

Films made in the four southern Indian languages – Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam – together account for more than 50% of production and revenues in India. The Hindi-language Bollywood industry had a horror 2022 and has recovered partially in 2023 with the successes of “Pathaan” and “Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar.” In sharp contrast, the south enjoyed a stellar year and accounted for six films, including the top four, in the top 10 Indian hits of the year. The films, dubbed into Hindi from their original languages were hits across the country.

Telugu-language “RRR” was the biggest hit of 2022 with $153 million, closely followed by Kannada-language “K.G.F: Chapter 2” with $152 million, and Tamil-language films “Ponniyin Selvan: 1” and “Vikram” occupying the third and fourth positions with $61 million and $60 million respectively. Kannada-language “Kantara” was sixth with $54 million and Tamil-language “Beast” ninth with $42 million.

Ratnam said that Tamil cinema icons such as K. Balachander, Balu Mahendra and Bharathiraja who operated in the 1970s and 1980s had paved the way for the current crop of filmmakers by telling varied stories with the mindset of independent films but within the parameters of mainstream cinema. Vetrimaaran thanked mainstream audiences for making his Tamil and Telugu-language Venice-winning 2015 film “Visaranaai” a box office success.

“We are gifted to be in this position where the audiences are open. And we are challenged as creative people to work only within the mainstream framework,” Vetrimaaran said.

Joseph said that as a storyteller he stays within his known world and if he deliberately set out to make stories that could work internationally, he might have to make compromises, something he is not willing to do. Shetty concurred and said that stories rooted in a particular culture, like “Kantara,” have the potential to resonate with audiences anywhere.

Industry luminaries present at the conference included: chief guest, the actor-turned politician Udhayanidhi Stalin, the minister for youth welfare and sports development of Tamil Nadu state; India’s minister for information and broadcasting Anurag Thakur, who delivered the closing keynote speech; actors Dhanush, Karthi Sivakumar, Kushboo, Shobana, Suhasini Maniratnam and Aishwarya Lekshmi; veteran producer T.G. Thyagarajan, who serves as chair of the CII’s media and entertainment task force; filmmakers Anurag Kashyap, R. Balki, Sriram Raghavan, Gayatri and Pushkar; and representatives of south India’s theatrical, television and streaming businesses.

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