They definitely don’t drive content but South-dubbed movies could be a hit niche for satellite Hindi channels, feels Sameer Rao
Sunday afternoons are such a perfect time for the family to get together and watch a Hindi movie on television. Everyone’s home, there’s usually a big family lunch and, for most months, the weather is terrible outside! What better than to have the whole family sit around the television set, enjoying a blockbuster family entertainer or a rip-roaring comedy?
As the channel head of STAR Gold, my scheduling choice for one Sunday afternoon some months ago was the Akshay Kumar action-comedy Chandni Chowk To China, which had only just premiered on satellite television a few weeks earlier. CC2C was pitted against a hit comedy but an older release, Phir Hera Pheri, on Zee Cinema. SET Max, I thought, had a slightly odd choice for family viewing – a little-known title called Meri Jung – The One Man Army. I was cautiously optimistic about leading the ratings for the slot for that week.
A week later, the verdict: CC2C – 1.2, Phir Hera Pheri – 1.3, Meri Jung – 1.6. The one-man army had mowed us down! What had happened?
For those who haven’t heard of it, Meri Jung – The One Man Army is a Hindi dubbed version of Mass, a 2004 Telugu film starring superstar Nagarjuna.
According to the story description on IMDB, Mass is about a mystery crusader, who frees the city from the evil reign of a crippled gangster, Satya, and his dreaded son, Shatru (Rahul Dev).
One day, soon after a new resident Ganesh (Nagarjuna) moves into city, Shatru receives a call from a man who calls himself Mass, who refers to four specific dates within the month, when Mass will humiliate, frighten, and then kill Shatru. The rest of the film follows the protagonist’s action-filled strategy to fulfill his promise and ultimately reveals the reason for his arrival in the city.
Meri Jung and a few other dubbed South Indian titles are delivering ratings for broadcasters, despite their lesser-known cast, lack of promotion and no wide theatrical release. In the absence of solid consumer research, one can only assume why it seems to be working.
* A relatively simplistic good vs evil formula. The subjects that work are primarily in the action genre. The storytelling is simple and pacy and holds the audience throughout with a combination of action and comedy tracks.
* Good production values with outstanding action sequences.
* Actors have some audience following either because of their track record in Hindi cinema or a single-screen release of dubbed versions of their films.
Hindi cinema in the 1970s through to the 1990s also followed a very similar formula, when many of our leading heroes of that time were primarily ‘action’ stars. However, over the last decade, Hindi filmmakers have veered away from this formula and moved on to more diverse genres and subjects. While some subjects (notably, in the comedy genre) have rated well, many theatrical hit films of the past decade have not repeated their performance in terms of high and consistent ratings on television.
The divergence between theatrical and satellite performance appears to be primarily because of the nature of content consumed on ad supported satellite television by an estimated 70 million audience.
Several titles which make compelling viewing in cinema halls may be unwatchable on the small screen with variable picture quality, noisy ambient conditions and huge ad breaks. And some subjects may be simply too complex or disconnected from the social and cultural context for people outside the big cities to even want to watch. A simple action or comedy title can be consumed in segments and enjoyed despite all the noise and interruptions that make up household television viewing.
Can South dubbed titles make it big on Indian television? I look back at the experience on another category – Hollywood dubs. Some genres have worked and some titles (such as Jurassic Park) have rated very well because of the inherent strength of their content.
But can Hollywood dubs become the mainstay of a Hindi movie channel? Experience suggests that, as with Hollywood, South-dubbed titles work as variety and not as a programming driver on television. But, as with most things on television, you never know…
Sameer Rao is the General
Manager, STAR Gold.
The views expressed in this
article are his personal views
and do not necessarily reflect
the views of his organisation.