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South Indian films lead viewership on OTT platforms

In 2021, over-the-top (OTT) streaming platforms saw films in the four south Indian languages, including their dubbed versions, gain big audiences and as much as 10% of overall viewing minutes.

West and north Indian states like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi NCR (National Capital Region) accounted for 75% of viewership for dubbed films, said platform executives.

Malayalam film Minnal Murali is one of the top ten non-English films on Netflix for the last week of December, with 5.9 million viewing hours while Jai Bhim, Sarpatta Parambarai and Soorarai Pottru are among Amazon Prime Video’s biggest hits. Once it is released in theatres, period drama RRR will be dubbed in Spanish, Portuguese and Korean for Netflix.

Netflix has also seen its Tamil anthology Navarasa feature in the Top 10 in 10 countries including India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka. In its first week on Netflix, more than 40% of the viewers for the film were from outside India.

In the last one year, films like Nayattu (Malayalam), Andhaghaaram (Tamil), Pitta Kathalu (Telugu), Paava Kadhaigal (Tamil), Cinema Bandi (Telugu) and Mandela (Tamil) have all featured in the Top 10 in India.

Pratiksha Rao, director, films and licensing, Netflix India said that OTT growth in the country has provided massive opportunity for new talent to share their stories with the world. “We are excited to have stories by a new generation of incredibly talented stars and storytellers from South India. They continue to set new standards with their authentic and relatable stories across genres,” she said.

As the company expands its film slate to have original and licensed films from these languages, it has recently launched a Twitter handle dedicated to conversations on south Indian films, having heard from members that they would like to engage more deeply on the same, Rao said.

In an earlier interview with Mint, Manish Menghani, head of content licensing, Prime Video India had said for movies in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada, 50% of the audiences come from outside their respective home states. Globally, these movies are being watched in over 170 countries, with international viewers already accounting for over 20% of total audiences of these local language films.

Regional films, especially from southern languages are attracting viewership around the world, agreed Gautam Jain, partner at media consulting firm Ormax. “This is due to the fact that each language from south India offers unique films which tend to highlight their traditions, culture, locations, and so on. South Indian diaspora is also present in large numbers across the world. Leading platforms are actively acquiring films from these languages,” Jain said.

South Indian dubbed films make for one of the strongest categories on any OTT platform, said Mansi Shrivastava, senior vice-president and head- content acquisitions at MX Player that has seen great traction for titles like Sarrainodu, Kaithi, Jungle and Chennai Central, among others.

The platform plans to increase stakes in the southern and south dub movie categories with Telugu and Tamil leading the list, followed by Malayalam and Kannada. “Southern films provide a sort of freshness and storylines different from Hindi that is now primarily making a lot of biopics and war films. They have great music and production values, there is action, humour and a complete package on offer,” said Shrivastava. The movie category overall helps long-tail consumption and there are many viewers who log in only to watch films, she said.

Manish Kalra, chief business officer at ZEE5 India said the past quarter has already seen an escalation in both originals and movies in southern languages on the platform, which plans to ramp it up by four times. “We have noticed that language barriers don’t matter much provided the storytelling is top notch,” Kalra said naming films like Operation Java, Republic and Aranmanai 3, as big hits.

“We have noticed that a strong sense of affinity comes in from the South Indian market, and that larger-than-life cult films tend to win more hearts. The film industry in the South happens to be one of the most evolved in the world…” he added.

Media experts said acquisition prices for southern films, that were much lower than Hindi films to begin with, is only going to get higher in 2022, as they perform better than others. Even small Malayalam films can now demand up to Rs. 20-30 crore, as much as a mid-sized Hindi film. That they are being dubbed in many new languages only helps. Live Mint

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