Multilingual cinema isn’t really a new fad, the way it has been addressed and hyped up with the recent release of Prabhas and Shraddha Kapoor’s Saaho, the idea prevailed in making celluloids for decades. However, Bollywood considers this as a breakthrough to increase the profit margin in today’s times. But to what extend does this work? While the southern film industry in India doesn’t shy away to break the barriers of linguistics, is the tinsel town missing out on its regional audience, or is it a new mine that needs to be tapped, here’s our take on the current scenario.
Dare to not just ‘Dub’
Back in the day, filmmakers like V Shantaram made bilingual films with the idea to reach more audience, as viewers back in the day did not happen to know languages other than that of their region. He made films like Aadmi and Ayodhya Ka Raja in Hindi, Manoos and Ayodhyecha Raja in Marathi, to name a few.
The south film industry understood this concept at large, and as we see they have secured a good list of not just bilingual, but trilingual films as well. But does the Hindi cinema understand the potential of language? Veteran journalist and trade analyst Dilip Thakur opines, “This trend saw an onset in the ’60s and then gained momentum. But now the scenario is that South films are made in languages like Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam at the same time and with dubbing and subtitling. It’s a good avenue with Hindi markets and satellite too where South films are a big draw. I feel this is the trend of the future.”
When Bollywood stared the exchange students programme
This trend caught up in the ’80s, with Jeetendra, Rajesh Khanna and Mithun pairing up with Sridevi, Jayaprada, Bhanupriya, Madhavi, Radhika, Sumalata etc. In fact, the south film industry has probably given B-town fresh talent on a large scale. Actors like Rakul Preet Singh, Sonu Sood, Kichcha Sudeep, Kamal Haasan, and Dhanush to name a few. This helped strengthen ties between the two ends and also increased the fan following to multiple folds as they became renowned faces beyond borders.
Films like 2.0 featuring Akshay Kumar as the antagonist, or having Prakash Raj do the same in Salman Khan’s Dabangg is on similar notes, where the creative horizons have gone a step ahead of language and added the star element to woo audiences on several fronts.
Kannada actor Kiccha Sudeep who will be seen playing the antagonist in Salman Khan's upcoming film Dabangg 3, told PTI, “People here think South is so good (in making films) and we think what great films Bollywood is making. It is a beautiful phase where there is an exchange of ideas, thoughts. It is the beginning of a beautiful era. Viewers across the country and globe are welcoming content from different languages. Earlier there used to be a problem of skin and accent but today it is not there. People have grown. There is a difference in their mentality. Now there is no divide of borders.”
Despite the star element, how far do multilingual films really work?
Earlier, films were made multilingual for creative reasons, it has now become a lair to garner more money at the box office. As they say, the more the merrier. But does this strategy work for any movie?
Post the success of magnum opus Bahubali, that was released in two parts, and considering the fact that Saaho has already entered the 100 Crore Club in no time, filmmakers are going beyond the idea of simply dubbing a movie. Although doing a voice over can go lenient on the budget, bigwigs prefer planning multi-lingual films right from the first cut.
In an interaction with NDTV Movies, Tanuj Garg, former CEO of Balaji Motion Pictures stated that it only works in favour of the makers if they have the right project that will take them to new heights, otherwise it’s a terrible mistake. He said, “When you have two or three versions of the film, you have sales on not just one but two or more films. When the star cast and the director lend themselves to such a film, the business proposition is more lucrative for producers. Productions costs don't skyrocket, either. And we have two sets of rights to sell, rather than just one.”
Taking notes from history
It is not like Bollywood has refrained from creating multilingual films. Sridevi's English Vinglish was released in multiple languages since she had acquired a fan base here and there as well. Rajinikanth is a proof of what language can do to amp up one's image. For starters he is a Maharashtrian who worked in B-town but is a god down south.
That being said, multilingual films are here to stay, since it provides a systematic approach to increase fan base, or market a reel to regions that distributers are setting up as their fresh base. It seems like filmmakers are going back to basics to churn out content but also with a selfish motive since creativity off lately has either gone for a toss or is dumbed down for numbers. But if this is what really works, maybe Bollywood can adopt the idea and fish with a wider net.