At a time when more and more big-ticket projects are being released with a pan-India intention, releasing across several Indian languages and blurring the lines of outreach, it has become crucial to understand where the term comes from and exactly what comprises a film that can call an entire nation its target audience. At the recently held Producers Adda and ahead of the release of films such as RRR and Radhe Shyam – billed as major pan-India projects – Karan Johar (whose upcoming production Liger too belongs in a similar league of films) answers the pertinent question.
Anupama Chopra: What exactly is a ‘pan-India film’? Liger is being marketed as a pan-India film. What is it?
Karan Johar: I think this terminology started with Baahubali. The real crossover cinema has to be in the country itself. We have incredible talent in the South. And Baahubali showed that it could open doors across the country. Look at the way the first film did. It made Rs. 112 crores with an unheard-of cast – nobody knew anything. SS Rajamouli’s previously released film had earned Rs. 1 crore when it was made as Makkhi. That’s why he had so many trepidations. Pan-India became like, ‘Let’s not call it a Hindi film, a Bengali film, a Marathi film, let’s call it Indian cinema.’ But that only happens when it is a massive event film, because you know you are getting bang for your buck when you see the visual.
This pan-India thing is not going to work all the time. Let’s not believe that every mega star in the South and every mega director is going to be able to travel across the country. Baahubali just had that scale, it was the first. It almost had that Amar Chitra Katha quality in its storytelling and a mythical value.
Similarly, I believe RRR is going to open massively. If you read Ormax Media’s tracking number, it’s close to Rs. 30 crores for day 1 in Hindi – just Hindi. That’s huge. That is pan-India screaming right at you. They don’t know Jr. NTR in Hindi, they don’t know Ram Charan. They are Gods and demigods in Telugu cinema, but they are not known here. But who do we know? We know Rajamouli. We know he is a brand. And still, Rs. 30 crores is a huge Hindi number. I don’t even want to know what the Telugu numbers would be like. It could very well be a day 1 of 100 crores. It could be much more, and even larger worldwide.
Pan-India is when certain elements fall into place brilliantly and beautifully, but it’s not going to happen with every film. We can say five languages, but I can dub my film in any language. I can dub it in Italian and Spanish too, but it’s not like they are not going to work in Italy or in Spain. I can keep adding languages, but pan-India is a phenomenon that we cannot diminish or dilute. It exists – the proof is lying in the pudding. Look at the tracking number, it is higher than any Hindi film right now.
I remember Prabhas [coming to my office] when the first [Baahubali] film had released. My office has seen a lot of movie stars walk in and out for narrations, readings, etc. There was pandemonium in my building for Prabhas – people from outside, inside, there were like 500 people in the lobby because Prabhas had come for press for Baahubali. That means, the real impact is also coming from satellite. What is happening is, a lot of the South films, that are dubbed in Hindi, many of them are actually doing very well on satellite. For example, Allu Arjun is a mega-star in the South. His last film, Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo, was one of the biggest Telugu hits. When Pushpa released, it opened to Rs. 3 crores in Hindi. You’d say it’s not a big number, but then even a lot of Hindi films have not opened to those numbers in the pandemic. But Allu Arjun did, in a film called Pushpa, which was not marketed and just released with a poster and digital information. People want to see it because they know Allu Arjun from his Telugu dubbed films in Hindi. There is the satellite that is transferring some stardom, even percolating it, in the North markets from the South. That’s what pan-India is.
I think the cinema that is made down South is incredible. If you look for nuance, you have Malayalam cinema, if you want scale and massiveness, you have Telugu cinema, and if you want good content, you have Tamil cinema. If you see The Great Indian Kitchen or Nayattu, or anything made in the Malayalam industry in the last few years, it’s fantastic. The stars there are such good actors, right from Fahadh Faasil to Dulquer Salmaan. I hope we can use this pan-Indianness and engulf talent from everywhere.