Kabzaa-Kannada film
Lack of quality writing, production of poor content and excessive dependence on VFX are being attributed for the failure of Kranti and Kabzaa (above) at the box-office in recent days

Kannada cinema flounders in first half of 2023; just 5 of 118 new films break even

While the tide turned in favour of Kannada cinema in 2022 due to the pan-Indian success generated by films like KGF-2, Kantara, Charlie 777, and Vikrant Rona, the picture of the Kannada film industry looks bleak in the first half of 2023.

As many as 118 Kannada films have been released in the past six months.  Of these, only five claimed to have recovered the investment made. The success rate is approximately 4-5 per cent, compared to 5-10% in 2022.

The outlook of the Kannada film industry, which is still basking in the glory of pan-Indian releases of star-studded films, now looks grim. Lack of quality writing, production of poor content and excessive dependence on VFX are being attributed for the failure of Kranti and Kabzaa at the box-office in recent days. But this trend is not unique to Kannada films. It is the same in all film industries across the country.

Newcomers’ movies fade away

But what is surprising is the fading away of films by newcomers that sink without a trace. A look at the list of releases throws up an interesting fact. In the first half of 2023, over 100 newcomers made their Sandalwood (colloquial reference for Kannada film industry) debut. Here, the term newcomers is inclusive of directors, producers, technicians, besides heroes, heroines and others.

Kranti-Kannada films
Poster of Kranti, starring Darshan Darshan Thoogudeepa

The shelf life of actors and actresses in the showbiz industry hinges on the success of their latest film, where money, fame, and glamour reign supreme. It has the power to elevate an ordinary individual to demi-god status overnight. While certain struggling newcomers manage to persist for a while due to their perseverance and acting prowess, there are talented youngsters, who almost disappear after their debut, as they are unable to sustain their career for long.

Treating newcomers’ with contempt

“Why are you forsaking newcomers? Most of the present-day stars were once newcomers isn’t it? We too are talented. Please give us a chance to prove our mettle?” Amar Viraj, protagonist of Agrasena appealed to scribes recently during the release of the film trailer. But his appeal did not make any difference to both the audience and the scribes.  The film failed to attract an audience on the release day itself and there were no audience to watch the film in theatres on the second day and another debut film of one more debut actor replaced Agrasena. The fate of another film is no different from Agrasena.

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“As many as 100 new heroes, heroines, technicians, producers surfaced in Kannada cinema and 90% of them have disappeared without trace,” observes senior film analyst Chetan Nadiger. “Though the fading away of newcomers is not a new thing for Kannada cinema, the development cinema is witnessing in the past few months is a cause of concern,” he adds.

Vanished without a trace

In the past 180 days, one can count successful films of stars and semi-stars on fingers. Of the 118 released, 110 films are steered by newcomers. The budget of these films ranges from Rs 50 lakh to Rs 3 crore. An average investment of these films crosses Rs 100+crores, says Umesh Banakar, president, Karnataka Film Producers’ Association.

According to him, among the films of newcomers, it is Daredevil Musthafa, directed by Shashank Soghal, which succeeded in recovering investment, and appealed to both mass and class. The rest of the other films vanished from screens without leaving a trace of their arrival.

This trend will not stop and will continue for 2024 also as these films are being produced by “floating producers” as referred to in Kannada cinema, who come and produce one film. They will vanish in case of the failure of the project. Even if these producers stop filmmaking, another set of producers, hoping to “achieve” something, will arrive on the scene and launch their films with new faces, observes Ba Ma Harish, president, Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce (KFCC).

Moderate success

It is being claimed that out of the 118 films, five films — Kabzaa (starring Upendra, Shivaraj Kumar and Sudeep); Raghavendra Stores  (starring Member of Rajya Sabha Jaggesh); Kranti (starring Darshan); Shivaji Surathkal-2 (starring Ramesh Aravind); and Gurudev Hoysala, with Daali aka Dhananjaya in the lead — saw moderate success.

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The claim is based on the recovery of the investment made on the film through the trading of OTT, dubbing, and satellite channel rights and collection of box-office. But, despite having stars including Upendra, Shivaraj Kumar and Sudeep, people rejected Kabzaa and it did not play in the theatres for more than a week. Similar is the plight of Kranti.

Daredevil Musthafa-Kannada films
Among the films of newcomers, it is Daredevil Musthafa, directed by Shashank Soghal, which succeeded in recovering investment, and appealed to both mass and class.

According to industry sources, Kabzaa got a collection of Rs 34.50 crore, Kranti collected Rs 33 crore, Shivaji Surathkal-2 gathered Rs 5.40 crore, and Gurudev Hoysala succeeded in recovering Rs 5.18 crore from all sources. “Except Kranti and Kabzaa, no star films were released in the last six months and small-budget films of newcomers fail to stay in the theatres,” says K V Chandrashekar owner of the single-screen Veeresh Cinemas.

Most films fail to recover fee paid to UFO and QUBE

Most of the released films could not recover even fees paid to UFO and QUBE (digital cinema distribution network that operates on satellite based technology), which delivers digitised full-length feature films in theatres, says N Jagadish, a major distributor of Kannada cinema. “The situation is grim. We need films that can pull audiences to the theatre and wait for the magic of 2022 to happen,” he adds.

Content is the king in other language films

But Chandrashekar, who earlier headed KFCC, is not surprised by this trend of 100 newcomers vanishing in thin air without a trace. “Earlier, more than 60 lakh people used to watch a film released in 30 to 50 screens, which would run for over 50 days. Producers, distributors, and exhibitors reaped the benefits of this release system. Now, the situation has completely changed. Nowadays, star films are released in 300 screens, attracting over 50 lakh viewers in just one week. The audience’s viewing habits have not changed. But the film industry is suffering because even star films struggle to sustain their presence in theatres for more than a week,” says Chandrashekar.

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Admitting that the phenomenon is not unique to Kannada cinema, Chandrashekar notes that the situation is similar in other film industries across India. He further observes, “While star-studded films, along with content-driven movies by newcomers, are doing well in Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam industries, the scenario is different in Kannada cinema. Star films like Kabzaa and Kranti failed to attract audiences to theatres, while newcomers’ films lacked content. However, Daredevil Musthafa managed to achieve moderate success at the box-office.”

Producers, distributors and exhibitors of Kannada cinema are keeping their fingers crossed, hoping that the situation will improve in the remaining six months. Kannada cinema is banking on the success of Martin (Sept. 30)starring Dhruva Sarja and directed by A P Arjun; Sapta Sagaradaache Ello, featuring Rakshit Shetty and directed by Hemanth Rao; and Bheema (Sept. 11), directed by Duniya Vijay. The first part of Rao’s two-part romantic drama will hit the screens on September 1, and the second part on October 20.

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