'Robot' may lead a northern migration

Tamil films, stars gradually finding a Hindi-speaking audience

MUMBAI -- The success of Rajnikanth-starrer "Robot" in Hindi-speaking regions has opened doors for filmmakers from south India to tiptoe outside their comfort zones.

"Robot," billed as India's most expensive film with a budget of 1.5 billion rupees ($33.8 million), netted around 600 million rupees in the first three days of its release. A fifth of this was from the Hindi-speaking market, an unusually high amount for what is essentially a dubbed film.

"Of course, a Rajnikanth film is a whole other story, but yes now producers might think about marketing their films more aggressively in the Hindi-speaking market, especially if there is a recognizable face in the film," said Tamil film producer Murali Manohar, who played a part in
"Robot's" distribution and marketing strategy.

"Robot" screenings in Chennai resembled a wedding, with fans bathing a Rajni statue in milk and praying before going in to watch the film -- all this before 5 a.m., which is when the first show began on Oct 1.

Although both the Hindi and Tamil film industries are huge in their own right, they generally stay out of each other's way.

Bollywood films don't do as well in south India as they do elsewhere and vice versa. Each has its own audience and neither ventured into the other's territory till now.

"A lot of it has to do with mentality. They think, let us make money here first, then we will tackle the Hindi-speaking market," said "Robot" director Shankar.

"But, as I discovered with three of my films, it is more about the fact that we don't prepare enough. If we do it right, there is a whole other world waiting to be explored," he said.

"Robot's" success may soon change things.

Ajay Vidyasagar, COO of Sun Networks, said in an interview in August that "Robot's" marketing blitz in non-traditional markets was part of an experiment that would determine whether the company could do the same with other films as well.

"Every year, around 20-25 dubbed southern films, mostly Tamil and Telugu, are released in theaters here but no one has even heard of them because there is absolutely no marketing involved," says trade analyst Vajir Singh.

"Now, with a lot more southern stars acting in Bollywood movies the situation might change."

Industry sources said Rajnikanth was paid 300 million rupees for the film, which was dubbed in Telugu and Hindi, and some of the best technicians in Hollywood were brought on board for the special effects.

While Bollywood actors, especially those that didn't make it in Mumbai, have migrated down south for greener pastures, not too many southern stars have ventured up north in the last 10 years.

Now with southern actors like Surya and Vikram acting in Hindi films, audiences would recognize a familiar face when they see these stars on a Tamil film poster.
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