Photo: ATMUS Entertainment's offer for Mahesh Babu's SPYder premieres on September 26th.
In the last couple of years, the overseas market has grown by leaps and bounds and is arguably the biggest source of revenue for Telugu movies outside of the twin Telugu states. There are a host of distributors in the movie market such as Bluesky, Nirvana, ATMUS, US Telugu Movies, Classics, Cinegalaxy, Jollyhits, GreatIndiaFilms, and more. Preiovusly the Telugu market was very small in USA for Telugu films.
The first movie to open up the market was Mahesh Babu starrer Athadu which was the first time people in America really opened their eyes towards Telugu movies in America. Previously, films used to be released in about 8 centers and scattered across the US, usually with prime locations in the Bay Area, Dallas, and Edison New Jersey, where a Telugu community is dominant and high in numbers. After Athadu, the market expanded and paved way for the industry hit Pokiri, which collected about $350,000 back in 2006. This is a resounding number considered the amount of prints that were released back then.
It was then that Mahesh Babu started to assert his control on the US Box office and now remains the most popular Telugu star in the US.
I remember I used to watch a Telugu movie with my family maybe once a year or twice a year because of the scarcity of locations that screened the movies. 10 years later with the emergence of technology nd digital streaming, you can watch every Telugu movie at will without having to go to the theater.
Now let's get to the point. Now that Telugu movies now release in at least 90+ locations for a medium range hero such as Naga Chaitanya or Sharwanand, distributors are having to shell out exorbitant amounts of money to acquire the rights. In recent years here are some of the prices distributors have shelled out to acquire big cinema rights.
SPYder- 23.5 crores ($3,525,000)
Mahanubhavudu- 3.25 crores ($487,500)
Jai Lava Kusa- 8 crores ($1,200,000)
Katamarayudu- 11 crores ($1,650,000)
Agnythaavasi- 21 crores ($3,150,000)
Brahmotsavam- 13 crores ($1,950,000)
Saaho - 42 crores ($6,300,000)
Vineya Vidheya Rama - 6.7 crores ($1,005,000)
NTR Part 1 Kathanayukudu - 9 Crores ($1,350,000)
Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy 18 crores ($2,700,000)
All of these films listed above are disasters in the overseas market. Producers are quoting ridiculous prices due to the star power or hero name and they believe it's worth to sell the film for such a huge price.
In recent years, Brahmotsavam, Sardaar Gabbar Singh, Katamarayudu, and SPYder have been films that have left deep holes in distributors pockets and failed to recover even 50% of their investment. The films and the content in them were so bad, that audiences outrightly rejected them and just gave a big thumbs down to the movies and essentially boycotted them.
Due to this change in audiences tastes, massive stars like Mahesh Babu and Pawan Kalyan are slowly losing their grip in the overseas market. With Pawan Kalyan and Mahesh both delivering back to back disasters in the overseas market, stars like Nani and Vijay Deverakonda are growing in strength with each passing film.
Gone are the days where a star could single handedly pull a film. Now it's about the content and quality of the movie. Not only Telugu, but even Hindi superstars Shahrukh Khan and Salman Khan delivered disastrous results with Jab Harry Met Sejal and Tubelight earlier in 2017 and the audience outrightly rejected them.
With the exception of Baahubali 2, Fidda, Arjun Reddy, and Ninnu Kori, every single Telugu film that has released in the USA market has been a disaster. Jr.NTR has come up with 3 consecutive 1.5 million films but one cannot deny his movies released during dry periods and there was unprecedented hype around them, thereby exterminating any effect on the collections regardless if it got bad talk or not. But the films he has been doing are definitely better than what Pawan Kalyan and Mahesh Babu have been doing. What is the solution? Well it's difficult. And there are probably 2 options:
1) Dont buy the rights- If someone were to tell you I'll sell you something for $2 million but I can't guarantee that you'll get your money back, would you do it? Obviously not. This is something the distributors do not understand. They must be blindly trusting the name of the hero and director and believing that it's worth that much money but in reality, you have no clue as to how the movie has turned out and this puts you under pressure for the film to deliver. While it's hard to say that we don't want to bring this big Telugu movie to the USA audience, I think it's a risk worth taking so that you don't go broke. Another thing I've understood is that producers are very adamant with their pricing and they do not care that the overseas distributor incurs severe losses if the film flops.
2) Renegotiate the pricing- It;s simple business tactics. Low amount spent + big money earned= Huge profit. To my knowledge only 3 movies in the recent past have been bought for low prices and reaped profits for the distributors. They are Pellichoopulu, Fidaa, and Arjun Reddy. All of these movies featured relatively small stars but the content of the movie clicked with the audience and the distributors laughed all the way to the bank. Distributors should try to renegotiate the pricing and make sure both parties understood each other's situations and then sell the rights. because let's be honest here. These prices are ridiculous and not even Mahesh Babu or Pawan Kalyan in a film with Rajamouli would be able to collect $7 million regardless if it was good or not.
3) Stop selling movies to OTT platforms before the release of the movie - Due to the emergence of Amazon Prime specifically and increaisng ticket rates and technology (WhatsApp groups), the life of a Telugu movie in the overseas market is literally 3 days if it's not good. But folks have become so accustomed to waiting for a movie even if it has unaunimous hit talk on Prime because the logo usually plays before the opening credits or talk spreads like wildfire saying movie isn't so good and you can wait for it on prime. Even star hero movies can fall victim to this. For Telugu people, the theater experience is a collecticve viewing experience and these OTT platforms want to kill the theater business and culture. Not only is this killing the theatrical business model, but it also limits exposure for the cinema especially if people like Suresh Babu and Allu Aravind are selling their movies on Aha, Sony Liv, or Zee5. Nobody uses these platforms to begin with and while you might get a good deal, it severely limits the exposure of the film especially if it has good content. Which leads people to pirate the movie and then producers cry about piracy. Just think first and you'll realize why it's happening. But bottomline, analyze the theatrical perofrmance of the movie and then sell the movie to OTT if possible so you can reap the maximum amount of revenue. Also stop marketing the poster with a Prime or Netflix logo on it that also makes folks lazy and wait for it to come on OTT.
Just a thought distributors, just a thought.
-Teja Rao, Telugu movie fan