The Hindi film industry — informally called Bollywood — took quite a beating in 2022.
Big-ticket films, more often than not headlined by fat-paycheque stars, crashed and burned at the box office.
Even the highest grosser — Brahmastra — was not all that much of a success, given its making and marketing budget.
But it wasn’t meant to be that way. Film industries across the world targeted 2022 for their comeback.
And some of them did it better than others, with the spectre of the Covid-19 lockdowns and consequential business losses well behind them.
Industries like Tollywood (the Telugu one) and Kollywood road the coattails of successes from 2021 into the new year.
Sandalwood and Mollywood fared better as well, banking on films that focused more on content than star power.
Meanwhile, Bollywood has been struggling to churn out successful films. What’s worse, Hindi filmmakers seem to be running out of steam with remakes, which were once considered a sure shot for a hit film.
Here’s a closer look at the trend, and why and how it is leading to the demise of South Indian remakes in Bollywood, at least in the faithful form.
Series of flop remakes from ‘stars’
One part of the trend we are witnessing right now is that Bollywood remakes of cinema from South India are simply not working.
The only two remakes that feature in the list of the top 10 highest-grossing Bollywood films of 2022 — Drishyam 2 and Vikram Vedha — are both from South India.
However, they have something else in common: Both films — as well as their originals — banked more on content than star power.
What’s more, these were near-faithful remakes that seem to be more the exception than the rule.
So, what’s the rule, then? Focus more on bettering the merits of the film rather than relying blindly on the story, screenplay, and other aspects that worked for the South Indian audience.
At this point, one may point to Jersey, the Shahid Kapoor vehicle that stumbled at the box office despite his acting being praised.
The answer brings us to the next point.
Also read: The best Hindi movies of 2022
Dubbed versions of older films
The makers of Shahid’s Jersey were on a marketing blitz to promote the film. They had high hopes: The Omicron wave was in the rear-view mirror, and post-pandemic life — including peoples’ preferences for entertainment — was returning to normal.
However, they faced an unusual obstacle that undercut the box-office performance of the film. Just as Jersey was hitting the theatres, the Hindi-dubbed version of the Telugu original, which had the same name, was released on YouTube.
It was more of a re-release. The film had already been on YouTube for some time, and Goldmines — the production company that had the rights to the dubbed version — cashed in on the marketing, and the Hindi version, whose box-office collections sustained a crippling hit.
But Jersey was not alone. Akshay Kumar, who headlined five films in 2022, was also hit. What’s worse is it seems the producers of his films suffered on two different occasions!
To be honest, Bachchhan Pandey was not exactly a great film, to begin with.
Add to the fact that Goldmines released the Hindi-dubbed version of Gaddalakonda Ganesh (the Telugu remake of the 2014 Tamil film Jigarthanda, which itself was a remake of a South Korean film) around the time of the Hindi film’s theatre release, and you know why Bachchhan Pandey grossed less than half of its budget.
Then there was the Disney+ Hotstar offering Cuttputli, which was also hit as Goldmines re-released the Hindi dub of the original Ratsasan on YouTube as the OTT platform struggled to garner audiences for the Akshay Kumar-starrer.
This was perhaps why the makers of Ajay Devgn-headlined Drishyam 2 paid Goldmines a sum of ₹3.5 crore to keep it from airing Drushyam 2 — the Venkatesh-starrer Telugu remake of the Malayalam sequel to the directorial debut of Jeethu Joseph from 2015 — on TV.
It would be folly for any future Hindi remake of a South Indian film to refuse to do this, especially if the original’s dubbing rights had been sold cheap and early.
The ‘pan-India film’ phenomenon
A more recent development that may put paid to Bollywood remaking films from South India is more and more films being released simultaneously in several languages, including Hindi.
Now, films being dubbed in Hindi for a release is not a new phenomenon. It has happened for decades with English ones.
However, it was not as common for films from South India. The first Bahubali film — way back in 2015 — was released with a Hindi dub along with the Telugu original. This was a privilege usually reserved for acclaimed directors like Mani Ratnam.
The trend has only grown since, giving rise to a crop of “pan-India” films, especially if it is a big-budget film billed as the “epic saga” type.
Pushpa from 2021 really benefited from this trend, as did the likes of RRR, Kantara, Ponniyin Selvan 1, and KGF Chapter 2 — like the 2018 original — in 2022.
Even the likes of Karthikeya 2 made hay last year thanks to the release of the Hindi dub simultaneously with the Telugu original and dubs in other South Indian languages.
There were of course the likes of Vikrant Rona, Bimbisara, and Liger that failed to get the cash registers ringing, but that hasn’t stopped other films from being marketed using the “pan-India release” gimmick.
South Indian actors, directors in Bollywood
With films from South India increasingly making an impact across the country, it’s no surprise that actors and directors from this corner of the woods are being wooed by Bollywood.
Now, this is not a new phenomenon. From music composers to actors to technicians to even directors and producers, the southern industries have been pioneers in one way or another since the beginning of movies in India, and have time and again been pulled to Mumbai — formerly Bombay — to the Hindi film industry.
But now, actors and directors are also being retained for the remakes! One prominent example is Sanjeev Reddy Vanga for Arjun Reddy and then Kabir Singh.
There will of course be arguments that this is nothing new, with AR Murugadoss remaking his 2005 Tamil film Ghajini in 2008 with Aamir Khan in Hindi being used as an example.
What’s more is that many are using their South Indian successes as a springboard into Bollywood, while others are being organically picked to helm a project or cast as the lead.
Now, Dhanush and Dulquer Salman have been at it for quite some time, and Ram Charan did try to break into Bollywood with the best-forgotten Zanjeer remake of the same name.
However, now a director like Atlee is making a Shah Rukh Khan vehicle like Jawan that stars Nayanthara and Vijay Sethupathy — two superstars from South India in their own right who are yet to make their presence felt in Bollywood.
Similarly, Salman Khan’s upcoming film Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan stars the likes of Venkatesh and Jagapathy Babu. After all, it is a remake of the Ajith-headlined 2014 film Veeram.
This might be the beginning of the trend, and it could very well hamper the remake bandwagon, because the stories, stars, filmmakers, and even actors are coming directly to Bollywood!
What lies ahead
However, from what we can see so far, several Bollywood remakes of South Indian films are still in the pipeline.
For example, there is Ajay Devgn’s Bholaa, an official remake of the 2019 Karthi-headlined Kaithi.
Then there is Shehzada, starring Kartik Aryan and Kriti Sanon. This one is a remake of Allu Arjun-starrer Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo. Interestingly, its makers reportedly paid Goldmines ₹8 crore not to screen the Telugu original.
And of course, Akshay Kumar has at least one more remake lined up. This time it is the critically acclaimed Soorarai Pottru.
The success or failure of these films will play a big role in determining how Bollywood progresses with remakes, especially those from the southern industries.
However, the prevailing trend seems to be a diminishing in the number of such remakes, given the reasons enumerated so far.