Maverick director Mani Ratnam’s magnum opus Ponniyin Selvan has received a massive opening worldwide. The big-budget film boasts of an ensemble cast, and music by maestro AR Rahman. The multi-starrer historical drama has been released in over 4,500 theatres in India alone and the number of screens is increasing with each passing show.
Only two shows in Bengaluru
Ponniyin Selvan: 1 (PS1) has been released in over 135 theatres in Karnataka alone; the state will see an average of five shows per day. The film is being released in five different languages (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi), but the Kannada-dubbed version has few takers.
The Kannada version of PS1 has only two shows in Bengaluru, the hub of moviegoers in Karnataka. The number of shows for the Kannada-dubbed version would certainly hurt the sentiments of pro-Kannada dubbing activists in the state, but there is very little they can do about it.
The six-decade-long unofficial ban on dubbing in Kannada film industry was scrapped by the Competition Commission of India way back in 2012, but this does not seem to have done any good to the pro-dubbing activists or their supporters a decade later.
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Karnataka remains an extended territory for non-Kannada films, especially Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. Non-Kannada films from these languages are often released on hundreds of screens across Karnataka and have done well in their original language.
Karnataka Grahakara Koota, the pro-dubbing organization, fought tooth and nail, hoping that the Kannada audience would get better content in their language, but the market for Kannada-dubbed films remains minuscule even today.
Tony A. Raj, the owner of Horizon Studio, the company distributing Ponniyin Selvan: 1 in Karnataka, says he does not know whether to blame the audience or the exhibitors for the prevailing situation of Kannada-dubbed films in the state. He claims that exhibitors are reluctant to release PS1 in Kannada, fearing poor collections. Exhibitors compare the advance booking for the Tamil and Telugu version with the Kannada version and refuse to provide more shows, says Tony. The two shows for the Kannada-dubbed version of PS1 had registered poor show till late evening on Thursday.
‘Responsibility of distributors to promote’
Dheeraj Pai, the owner of Dheeraj Enterprises, who is well-known for distributing non-Kannada films in the state, claims that it is also the responsibility of the distributors to promote and create awareness about the Kannada-dubbed version of films releasing in the state.
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Pai claims that his distribution house had 60 shows every day for Tollywood’s mega star Chiranjeevi’s Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy back in 2019. He added that the Kannada-dubbed version of Tamil Superstar Vijay’s Master had 100 shows every day for two weeks in 2021.
He says that there is a sizeable market for the Kannada-dubbed version but requires a lot of effort and publicity to make it a success. “The Kannada-dubbed version of Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy collected over Rs 2.5 crore gross in two weeks, thanks to Kichcha Sudeep’s casting in the film. Vijay’s ‘Master’ (Kannada-dubbed version) also collected Rs 90 lakh gross in two weeks across the state” claims Pai.
Film critic Shyam Prasad claims that the lack of publicity for non-Kannada films is the reason behind the poor show of Kannada dubbed films in the state. Shyam said that he is not surprised that the Kannada-dubbed version of non-Kannada films has not found its audience.
“Filmmakers are unable to reach the audience due to their poor promotions. It is not just non-Kannada films, even Kannada filmmakers are making the same mistake. Only movie buffs and people associated with the entertainment industry are aware of these versions of films getting released. Even among them, it’s only a few who do, and not all of them. Filmmakers must learn to promote their films in such a way that it reaches citizens living in every small town and village,” says Prasad.
‘Karnataka has highest opening after TN’
Tony, the distributor of PS1, disagrees with the opinion that Mani Ratnam’s team has not done enough to reach the audience. He claims that Karnataka is witnessing the highest opening for PS1 after Tamil Nadu. He states that the advance booking for PS1 in Karnataka is much more than the Telugu speaking states which usually draw a bumper opening for Tamil films. “I think the makers of PS1 have promoted the film well. If it was not the case, the movie would not have received such overwhelming response in Karnataka” says Tony.
Several distributors point fingers at exhibitors and insiders for stopping the market of Kannada-dubbed films to grow. Meanwhile, exhibitors say that at the end of the day, it all boils down to business. Exhibitors are of the opinion that audience love to watch a film in its original language as they can connect with the situation and storyline of the film.
‘The fight for dubbing in Kannada not futile’
So, does this mean that the fight for dubbing in Kannada was a futile exercise? Vasanth Shetty, a columnist and pro-dubbing activist, disagrees.
Shetty claims that exhibitors and insiders are misleading people into believing that dubbed versions of non-Kannada films do not have a market for their vested interest. He claims that the dubbed version of SS Rajamouli’s ‘RRR’ ran into packed houses for nearly three weeks earlier this year.
He asserts that filmmakers are not fools to spend money on dubbing films in Kannada if it does not bring them business. Shetty holds that the filmmakers will make up their money by releasing the Kannada-dubbed version on OTTs even if the theatrical run fails to bring them business.
The Kannada film industry’s aversion to dubbing dates back 50-60 years and was done out of concern for artistes in the Kannada film industry, who feared that they would lose their jobs if more dubbed projects found their way to Karnataka. The state film industry lost their battle in 2012, but they seem to be on a better wicket even a decade later.
PS: 1 is the first part of the two-part historical fantasy drama. The film stars Vikram, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Jayam Ravi, Karthi, Trisha, Aishwarya Lekshmi, Sobhita Dhulipala, Prabhu, R Sarathkumar, Vikram Prabhu, Jayaram, Prakash Raj, Rahman and R Parthiban.