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Big-ticket southern films fail to excite box office

Films featuring bankable stars are seeing a tepid response even in movie-crazy southern states post the pandemic. Films featuring stars like Mahesh Babu, Ravi Teja and Chiranjeevi in titles like Sarkaru Vaari Paata, Khiladi and Acharya have not replicated the success of Pushpa: The Rise- Part One, RRR and K.G.F: Chapter 2, that is seen as crucial to the recovery of the theatre business.

Even Malayalam star Mohanlal’s post-covid release Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham failed to woo audiences. Trade experts said like the north, large sections of southern audiences are tired of formulaic fare and far too many similar big-screen spectacles being churned out.

“We don’t see around 30% of audiences coming back, and the situation gets worse as you move to the big metros and up-market, urban locations, where so many people have begun to own large television screens at home where they watch films with friends and family,” said a Tamil Nadu-based single screen owner who did not wish to be named.

The same people don’t mind partying or stepping out of home, in general, but it’s a mindset issue when it comes to movie-viewing, he said, adding that things improve when you move into interiors and smaller towns where cinema is the only source of entertainment.

What went in favour of hits like Pushpa, KGF and RRR was their universal appeal and storytelling, helping them find draw in not just home states but among north Indian audiences too, said Rajendar Singh Jyala, chief programming officer at INOX Leisure Ltd.

However, trade experts said many recent films come with lazy execution, making their lead stars do the same things they have been known for, for years. Babu, for instance, who had seen hits like Sarileru Neekevvaru (2020), Maharshi (2019) and Bharat Ane Nenu (2018), could not recreate the same magic with Sarkaru Vaari Paata, that only made Rs. 87 crore worldwide over the first week, according to trade website Andhra Box Office. “That said, when south films find traction in the north, they manage to penetrate even into small towns. However, even big Hindi hits do not go beyond the top seven or eight cities in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka or Tamil Nadu,” Jyala pointed out.

Independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai said top stars must realise they have to cater to audiences of 2022, which is dominated by the youth that doesn’t appreciate old-school filmmaking, given the variety of options they have on hand. While many like Tamil star Vijay have turned to younger directors who can offer omg omg them roles and scripts that help them stay relevant, recent colossal failures prove established actors can’t be playing the larger-than-life roles they played in the 1990s.

“In a way, top stars have no option but to keep pulling off big openings and collections (if they intend to retain their theatrical clout and reputation). The scenario has changed post covid, and it’s not related to the fact they are seen as older now, but that they can’t be repeating the same formula. They must give enough meat to audiences,” said film producer, trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar. Live Mint

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