Movies and mass heroes are scarce in Kannada industry!

About 110 movies have already been released in 2024, but not even one was successful. Meanwhile, most of the star heroes take a few years to complete a film.

ByDr Asha Krishnaswamy

Published Jun 20, 2024 | 2:55 PM Updated Jun 20, 2024 | 2:55 PM

Superstars and mass heroes in Kannada

The Kannada film industry is going through a tough period. It is not because of the recent arrest of a popular actor but because of a plethora of reasons that have persisted for a long time.

In April this year, single-screen theatres across Karnataka wanted to shut down for a month to offset financial losses.

However, the key players in the industry thwarted this by giving some unconvincing reasons. Therefore, the core problem is unsolved.

The Kannada film industry aka Sandalwood has shown the entertainment field that it can produce a big-budget mass hit like KGF: Chapter 1 (2018) and a content-driven movie like Kantara (2022). The industry has also produced new-gen movies such as Lucia (2013).

777  Charlie (2022), the movie highlighting the bonding between a hero and a dog, became a pan-India hit. But such blockbusters are few and far between.

The volume of Kannada movie production might not have been reduced considerably because of the government subsidy factor, but movies with popular actors or mass heroes have become a rarity.

In addition, the movies produced are not strong enough to attract audiences to theatres because of poor content.

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Awaiting the next superstar

Late Puneeth Rajkumar was one of the superstars in Kannada

The late Puneeth Rajkumar was one of the superstars in Kannada. (X)

Kannada cinema producers bank heavily on superstars or popular actors to get a minimum return on their investments. But their numbers have dwindled.

There are countable superstars and mass heroes in Kannada—Kiccha Sudeep, Yash, Darshan, Upendra, Dhananjay, and Dhruv Sarja. These actors have a good fan base.

Except for Dhananjay, the rest take at least a few years to complete a movie.

For example, Sudeep’s last movie was Vikrant Rona in 2022. His next movie, Max, may hit the screens this year.

The fans of Yash, KGF 1 and 2 hero, saw him on a big screen in 2022. His next film, Toxic, is scheduled to be released in 2025.

Mass hero Darshan’s last hit, Kateera, was in 2023. Now, he is cooling his heels in prison over a murder case.

At least four movie producers have been banking on him for their big-budget movies. Now, there is uncertainty about his immediate availability.

Shivarajkumar, 61, acts in not less than three to five movies a year. Producers can expect minimum returns from his movies, though it is not a windfall.

The untimely demise of Puneeth Rajkumar has also significantly contributed to the vacuum at the top level.

There are no signs of the emergence of a superstar or mass hero or even a cut-out material actor in Kannada cinema in the near future.

No top star can pull off a royal crown in a historical drama, as they are all typecast.

Of course, no heroine has been projected as a superstar in this patriarchal field.

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Tough times for exhibitors

Theatre owners in Karnataka are constrained to keep their businesses floating

Theatre owners in Karnataka are constrained to keep their businesses floating. (iStock)

Cinema producers and single-screen theatre owners are constrained to keep their businesses floating.

There is no steady flow of movies. It is almost like the COVID-19 period when the film industry nosedived.

Big stars are not ready to act in more than one movie a year or two, and fairly popular actors and debutants cannot promise much to investors.

Except for a couple of blockbusters, several multiplexes in Bengaluru are seeing Kannada movies running for a week or two. Unless a movie is screened for at least four weeks, it is not considered financially successful.

Single-screen theatres are closing fast in Karnataka. Before COVID-19, there were nearly 1,000 theatres. Post-pandemic, the number has reduced to about 620.

Even if two movies are released in a week, it can feed only about 200 theatres, and the rest would get zero feed.

Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce (KFCC), supposed to be the face and voice of Sandalwood, doesn’t maintain statistical details about the industry.

However, industry captains say that in 2023, 182 movies were released. Among them, only Kateera was a box-office hit with around ₹25 crore in revenue.

Another movie that earned decent revenue in the same year was Kranti—₹18 crore. In both movies, Darshan was the hero.

The rest of the so-called hit movies—about 8—collectively earned  ₹20 crore.

In 2024, about 110 movies have already been released, but not even one could be marked as successful.

However, 2022 was a golden period for the industry. In all, 125 movies were released.

For the producers of KGF 2 and Kantara, it rained money. The revenue generated was about ₹2,000 crore. But the trend has not been sustained.

The industry is highly unpredictable, with demand from audiences always changing. Kannada movies account for 15 percent of South Indian business, and the turnover hovers around ₹4,000 to 5,000 crore.

Many substandard movies are produced, aiming to garner state government subsidies.

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Stars alone make money

Malayalam cinema has overtaken South films and even Bollywood

Malayalam cinema has overtaken South films and even Bollywood. (X)

Once, actor Dhananjay said no one could force him or anyone to act in a particular number of movies in a year. He was right. A big-budget movie requires no less than one to two for production.

About three decades ago, superstars and mass heroes like Rajkumar, Vishnuvardhan, Srinath, Ananth Nag, Shankar Nag, and Jaggesh used to act in no less than four to five Kannada movies in a year. Hence, the industry—from studios to theatres—used to thrive.

The cost of production and payment for actors, including the superstars, was not exorbitant like now.

The present-day popular Kannada actors have their own movie production houses. They also co-invest in their films. Instead of remuneration, they take a share in the profits earned from their cinema.

They also encourage new actors by producing movies for them. They invest in producing web series. In a nutshell, for actors with money, there are many avenues to earn.

However, their profession is no longer profitable for producers, directors, distributors, and theatre owners. In addition, Sandalwood is not a big industry, unlike in Tamil Nadu and undivided Andhra Pradesh.

Malayalam filmland is on a different footing. It does not invest crores of rupees, and actors do not come with a price. Usually, it settles for good content and gets good returns.

For example, Malayalam cinema has created history by earning ₹1,000 crore by releasing five movies in five months in 2024. It has overtaken all Southern states and even Bollywood.

The cost of the blockbuster Malayalam cinema Manjummel Boys reportedly touches ₹20 crore. It earned ₹200 crore at the worldwide box office.

But in Sandalwood, there is an unwritten norm that only blockbuster movies have to have huge budgets and superstars. Of course, there are exceptions like Kantara and Ondu Motteya Kathe (2017).

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Sandalwood lacks sustainability

Lahari Velu is the co-producer of Upendra's UI

Lahari Velu is the co-producer of Upendra’s ‘UI’. (X)

Lahari Velu, film producer and owner of Lahari Recording Company, is co-producing Upendra-starrer UI. Launched in mid-2022, the movie is still in the making.

Velu says a film like UI will take a long time to produce. “We are producing something extraordinary. The budget is about ₹100 crore. Filming songs abroad takes time,” he adds.

But, does that mean only big-budget Kannada movies with superstars and mass heroes fetch revenue?

Well, Velu replies in the negative. “We lack a steady flow of Kannada movies with good content. Content will always be king. Our producers and directors must return to good novel-based movies. More than gun culture, sentiments sell.”

The producer further adds, “Our movies have failed to touch hearts. Producing big-budget movies comes with high risk. Hence, actors spend much time on each movie to make it perfect and unique. Unfortunately, youngsters are in a hurry to dabble in many things and don’t sustain in the industry.”

Echoing similar views, Chandrashekar KV, president of the Karnataka Film Exhibitors Association and theatre owner, says there is a lack of producers and directors in Karnataka. Earlier, a movie’s filming process usually lasted a month. But now, because of heroes, it takes a minimum of 100 days.

“Producers are finding it tough to absorb financial pressure. Now, the industry has become hero-driven rather than producer- and director-driven. The industry can survive if actors reduce their fee and complete shooting in about 40 days.”

Chandrashekar says the number of movies is dwindling, and producers being at the mercy of a handful of actors complicates the situation. Nearly 15,000 workers engage in the field, and they find it tough to get even daily wages.

A box office hit movie is like oxygen to all involved in the field. But when movie production has come down, survival becomes difficult.

When top stars themselves turn producers and encourage a revenue-sharing system instead of remuneration, it is increasingly becoming difficult for mid-range producers to survive.

Related: Kannada film industry first half 2024: High on content, low on box office

All is not lost

Upcoming Kannada movies

Upcoming Kannada movies of 2024. (X)

However, film producer KP Srikanth sounds optimistic about the future of the Kannada industry. The lull was due to the Lok Sabha elections, and IPL matches at the beginning of 2024.

Some mega movies are due for release. There are hardly a dozen producers and half a dozen directors with creative brains. The situation is no different in Telugu and Tamil, he points out.

KFCC Chairman MN Suresh says the closure of theatres may become inevitable, but that is not a solution. The government must reduce ticket prices to attract audiences to theatres and stop movie piracy.

Kannada films miss out on OTT. Like Kerala, the government must offer its OTT platform for screening Kannada movies, he suggests.

K Sadashiva Shenoy, entertainment journalist and author, says the Kannada film industry can do far better than it is now.

“Rajkumar and Vishnuvardhan used to act in 8 to 9 movies a year, while Anant Nag assured a minimum of three movies. They never preferred going abroad for a shoot,” he recalls.

The trend is reversing now. There were no satellite rights or OTT. People used to come to theatres to watch their heroes and heroines. Now, film production is more like corporate house functioning.

The way people watch movies has become Internet-driven. Still, if the content is good, the script is convincing, and the songs are appealing, people will watch on big screens, Shenoy feels.

There seems to be no instant or long-term solution to overcome the drought in the Kannada film industry. However, not much to expect unless all the key players put their heads together to help each other survive and thrive.

If movie lovers encourage only good content-oriented movies and creativity, then Sandalwood can set an example even for Mollywood.

(Dr Asha Krishnaswamy is a Bengaluru-based journalist, political analyst, media trainer and content curator.)

(Edited by Y Krishna Jyothi)

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