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Multi-Lingual Challenge

Despite a glut of Hindi language releases during the last three weeks – many of them boasting decent pedigree and face value – the highest grossing film in each of these weeks was not a homegrown product but a Hollywood import. Justice League topped the charts in the week that just ended on November 23, while Thor Ragnarok ruled the roost in both the preceding weeks ending on November 9 and November 16.

While this would have been sensational news a few years ago, we have now grown quite accustomed to Hollywood often stealing a march over the once impregnable Hindi industry. Nor is the competition to Hindi cinema emanating from Hollywood alone. In addition to both instalments of Baahubali performing spectacularly – in their original Telugu as well as the dubbed Hindi, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam versions – we keep witnessing other regional language films too often outperforming the numbers of even hit Hindi films. The Tamil Endhiran, the Malayalam Drishyam, the Kannada Mr & Mrs Ramachari, the Marathi Sairat and the Punjabi Chaar Sahabzaade, to name a few.

This week, we are examining how the composition of the national box office – in terms of the revenue contribution of various language-based film industries – has evolved over the last few years. Check out the table below:

Year Hindi Hollywood~ Tamil Telugu Kannada Malayalam Punjabi Others^
2009 86.08 7.2 1.52 1.36 0.07 0.09 0.12 3.54
2010 81.11 8.13 4.13 2.71 0.27 0.19 0.86 2.55
2011 65.74 19.46 4.66 4.92 0.44 0.27 1.25 3.21
2012 66.01 21.43 2.85 2.16 0.24 1.01 2.13 4.07
2013 67.53 19.71 3.82 3.03 0.17 0.94 1.12 3.67
2014 66.02 21.25 4.03 3.24 1.07 0.78 0.55 3.08
2015 61.32 18.31 5.97 3.12 2.57 1.35 0.27 7.19
2016 72.69 10.23 2.1 11.12 1.54 0.98 0.28 1.02
2017* 68.57 19.22 2.84 2.93 0.24 0.49 1.81 3.8
AVERAGE 70.62 16.1 3.55 3.84 0.73 0.68 0.93 3.51

All figures as percent contribution to All-India domestic box office – multiplexes only

*Up to November 17, 2017

~Includes collections of dubbed versions and all formats

^Includes Marathi, Bengali, Bhojpuri and Gujarati films

First off, it is important to bear in mind that the figures above pertain only to collections from multiplex properties and do not include revenues from single screen theatres. However, with multiplexes being by far the dominant contributor to the total box office – and the extent of that dominance is increasing each year – we get a more than fair sense of the overall picture from the data.

While the numbers may fluctuate year-on-year, the overarching trends in the various language groupings are fairly easy to discern.

The most pertinent of these is the fact when you look at the earliest numbers in the table (the 2009 break-up), and compare them with those of this year, the per cent contribution of every language-based industry has grown except for Hindi films.

The growth in the share of the Punjabi and the four South Indian language industries is in multiples of what it was a decade back. While that is aided somewhat by the low base effect i.e. the often exaggerated percentages thrown up when dealing with small numbers, there is no doubt that all of these regional production hubs are on an upward trajectory.

Also on the path of rapid ascendancy is the share of Hollywood films in the overall revenue kitty, and there is certainly no low base effect in operation here. In fact, with the collections of Hollywood films in India being more than the combined takings of other language-based groupings bar Hindi, there is no doubting who the most formidable competitor to Hindi cinema is when it comes to vying for a piece of the audience’s wallet.

While the data above brings out quite vividly how Hollywood is relentlessly reducing the lead that Hindi cinema has over it, the extent of the catch-up is actually even more pronounced than that reflected in the table. To appreciate the why and how of that, we need to remember that this it not an apples-to-apples comparison given the significant difference in the quantum of releases for both groups of films. As below:

Year Hindi Releases Hollywood Releases
2009 91 60
2010 150 74
2011 128 67
2012 149 55
2013 174 53
2014 195 56
2015 210 60
2016 226 70
2017 219 52

*Up to November 17, 2017

As is clearly evident, the number of Hindi releases annually has more than doubled during the period under review, while the output level of Hollywood releases in our market has remained more or less static. In effect, over the last decade, despite a more than 100-per cent growth in its production, Hindi films have seen a 20-per cent decline in their share of the national box office. In stark contrast, Hollywood films have grown their share of the pie by more than 100 per cent despite maintaining a virtual status quo on its release count.

Long story short: While the Hindi film industry still contributes the lion’s share to the all-India theatrical revenue stream, the extent of that domination is being persistently chipped away by not only Hollywood’s rapid rise in our market, but also by virtually every regional film industry. For Hindi cinema to hold on to its pride of place in the national pecking order, it will have to – quite literally – mind our language(s)!

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