From Baahubali to Spyder, decoding south Indian cinema's newfound love for bilinguals

Haricharan Pudipeddi

Oct,09 2017 12:14:44 IST

In the last few years, the southern film industry has warmed up to the idea of bilingual projects like never before. The success and wide reach of SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali franchise (made simultaneously in Tamil and Telugu and dubbed in Hindi), which blurred the lines between the industries, allowing more regional filmmakers to transcend linguistic boundaries with universal content.

While the general argument is that bilinguals are made to appeal to larger audiences (which has been true in most cases), the lesser known fact is that shooting bilinguals is cost-effective, even it if means double the effort, from a production point of view.

rana daggubati in baahubali

Rana Daggubati in a still from Baahubali: The Beginning

According to an industry veteran, who does not wish to be named, bilinguals help in recovering the production cost even before release. “Imagine how much it would cost to make a film like Baahubali again in another language. Since they made it as a bilingual and thanks to the excellent pre-release buzz, they could recover most of the investment even before release. This explains the recent spurt of bilinguals since the release of Baahubali. It’s no longer a trend; it’s the way to go and it needs to be embraced.”

Explaining further how it is cost effective from a production point of view, he said, “When you’re making a true-blue bilingual, you’re actually making two films at the cost of one and it makes more sense when you have a star on board. In a bilingual scenario, you don’t have to pay anybody twice but you can extract double the work from them.”

The other reason for growing popularity of bilinguals is the willingness of stars and directors to expand their market. AR Murugadoss’ Spyder, made in Tamil and Telugu with Mahesh Babu in the lead, is the best recent example. While clarifying he was not hell-bent on launching Mahesh in Tamil, Murugadoss told Firstpost“It’s no secret that Mahesh enjoys a very strong fan base even outside Andhra and Telangana. Since he is very fluent in Tamil, we decided to make Spyder as a bilingual. More importantly, the story has a universal appeal and it could even be made in more languages. It’s a very humanistic story and we believed it could appeal to audiences from any regional background. Hence, we discussed the idea of making a bilingual and even Mahesh was excited about the plan.”

(Also read: Spyder to be remade in Hindi; Will it be Mahesh Babu's long awaited Bollywood debut?)

Mahesh Babu in a poster for Spyder. Image courtesy Twitter/@ARMurugadoss

Mahesh Babu in a poster of Spyder. Image courtesy Twitter/@ARMurugadoss

Last year, a yet-untitled bilingual project with Allu Arjun, which would mark his foray into Tamil filmdom, was announced and it was to be directed by Linguswamy. Although the project is yet to take off, amid rumours that it has been shelved, it created quite a buzz in the industry.

During the launch press meet of the film, Arjun said, “Chennai has been an integral part of my life. I spent 20 years of my life here. I have been carefully planning my Tamil debut. This film has a very strong subject like Paruthiveeran and I’m thankful to director Linguswamy for bringing this project to me.”

Some films are made as bilinguals purely because their stories deserve to be told to wider audiences. The best example one could think of is the upcoming biopic Mahanati, about the legendary southern actress Savitri, who was popular in Tamil and Telugu industries. “She (Savitri) was one of the most popular stars across southern industries in her heydays. The idea was to make it as a bilingual from the scripting stage and when Dulquer (Salmaan) came on board, we decided we’d release it in Malayalam as well. We’re actually making it as a trilingual since Keerthy (who plays Savitri in the film) also knows Malayalam,” the film’s director Nag Ashwin said.

Dulquer sees this as an opportunity to penetrate into a virgin market. “I wasn’t sure about doing a film in Telugu because I don’t know the language. However, I was moved by the faith the team had in me. Also, there has always been this desire to be part of a period film. In Malayalam, we don’t have those kinds of budgets. Mahanati is being made on a massive scale, and I’m lucky I was offered this project.”

Another popular reason why bilinguals are made is because of the national appeal of a story. Rana Daggubati’s The Ghazi Attack, the story of the mysterious sinking of PNS Ghazi, a Pakistan deployed submarine during the 1971 Indo-Pak war, is the most appropriate example. It’s one of the few regional films to be shot simultaneously in Hindi.

“We decided to make it in Hindi because it’s an important story every Indian deserved to know. Although made as a bilingual and also dubbed in Tamil, this was a national film. The story was about India and Pakistan. It was set in Visakhapatnam, which made it a Telugu film,” director Sankalp Reddy said, and added that casting becomes very crucial in these kinds of projects.

“The familiarity of actors is crucial for a regional film to appeal to audiences in another state. In The Ghazi Attack, we roped in actors such as Taapsee (Pannu), Kay Kay (Menon) and Atul Kulkarni because they’re well known to Telugu and Hindi audiences as well,” said Reddy.

Kay Kay Menon and Rana Daggubati in The Ghazi Attack

Kay Kay Menon and Rana Daggubati in a still from The Ghazi Attack

The upcoming biopic on Indian shuttler Pullela Gopichand, featuring Baaghi-fame Sudheer Babu in the lead, will be made in Hindi and Telugu. Sudheer feels it is necessary to make the film in Hindi as well because Gopichand was a national icon. “He represented India and his success story will appeal to audiences across languages. Thanks to the popularity I earned through Baaghi in Bollywood, I believe I can do justice to the role in Hindi too. I’m very kicked about the project,” Sudheer said.

It is not surprising that bilinguals have become the order of the day. At the same time, it also needs to be accepted that Indian film industry has evolved and so has its audience. So much so that a bilingual film, when dubbed into a third language, is accepted and celebrated. “Baahubali was shot in Telugu and Tamil and was dubbed in Hindi. But it was accepted nationally and was not seen as a film featuring a bunch of Telugu actors because of its good content and overall experience it offered the viewers,” said Rana.

Updated Date: Oct 09, 2017 12:14 PM