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Small-budget films rake in big profits down South

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The year 2012 was highly successful for low-budget films in the southern Indian film industry, with some having earned returns on investment of over 600 per cent, industry experts said.

Of the 423 Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam films released in 2012, the most successful were those that were produced on modest budgets and without superstars, industry sources said.

While there was a mere trickle of small and medium-budget movies until 2008-09, the appetite for them started increasing two to three years ago, owing to high artiste and production costs. Film-makers began realising that a good story can bring success.

Successful low-budget movies of 2012 include Tamil films Marina, Attakathi, Pizza and Oru Kal Oru Kannadi, as well as Telugu offerings Eega and Ee Rojullo. Tamil comedy Oru Kal Oru Kannadi, made at a cost of less than Rs 2 crore, reported gross collections of Rs 15.86 crore in Tamil and Telugu — a return of almost 700 per cent.

Marina, a movie about children who earn their livelihood doing odd jobs on Chennai’s Marina beach, was produced for Rs 1.35 crore, but collected Rs 5.47 crore. Attakathi was made for Rs 2.5 crore, but collected Rs 7.67 crore.

In Telugu, Mahesh Babu-starrer Business Man, despite mixed reviews, earned Rs 44.8 crore at the box-office. Kalpana was produced at a cost of Rs 4 crore, but collections were Rs 9 crore, while the Rs 4.5-crore Kannada romantic-drama Addhuri collected Rs 16.4 crore.

In Malayalam, the comedy-drama Ordinary collected Rs 14.05 crore, but was produced on a budget of Rs 3.3 crore. Thattathin Marayathu, produced for Rs 3 crore, earned Rs 9.8 crore. None of these films was produced by top directors or had any leading actor or actress.

“This trend has proved that big stars are no guarantee of success and the mood of the audience is to look at the script rather than the artiste. This is certainly a healthy trend,” said S Sridharan, a film analyst in Chennai, adding that technology has given the smaller and mid-level producers new avenues to sell their content.

Today, apart from traditional theatres and television channels, producers have avenues like mobile, internet, direct-to-home (DTH) and others. “Recouping the cost of production is almost guaranteed,” said Sridharan.

One film director said the satellite rights of these were also sold at high rates, adding to the films’ profits.

“The southern film market, especially Tamil, gives us a foothold in a creatively vibrant environment where many interesting stories are being told. The cost and revenue models in the south are also still quite sensible, while in Hindi, it has gone a little off-track,” said a senior official from a corporate house, which had forayed into the southern film industry three years ago.

He added that in the south, expenditure on print and publicity is lower than in the Hindi film industry, where spending on this count is high. Production budgets are still fairly controlled, and the movies set out to tell good stories, which is why small-budget movies have been highly successful, he said.

The key factor that determines success is the story line and that is what the success of small-budget movies proves, says K A Jaleel, a senior producer in the Malayalam film industry.

Small-budget films, despite their growing success, often face heavy odds, especially non-availability of theatres – particularly when big stars decide to release their movies – and inadequate access to finance.

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