When it comes to southern cinema in 2014, small was big. Low on budget but high on creative content was the order of the day.Offerings like Yaamirukka Bayamey and Karthikeya not only set the cash registers ringing but also spelt profit for the investors in the southern filmdom, which otherwise registered a mere five percent hits out of about 500 releases.
"A successful film is one which benefits every investor - from a producer to distributor to theatre owner. All these stars' films are sold at exorbitant prices, hence it becomes extremely difficult for distributors and other investors to make profits," said trade analyst Trinath.
AR Murugadoss-directed Tamil actioner Kaththi raked in over Rs 100 crore ($16 million) on an investment of about Rs 70 crore. Likewise, Rajinikanth's Lingaa, said to be a Rs 80 crore movie, collected about Rs 100 crore in its opening weekend worldwide.The most profitable Tamil films of the year were Vella Illa Pattathari, Aranmanai, Yaamirukka Bayamey, Thegidi, Goli Soda and Maan Karate.
"Except Aranmanai, all other films were made under the budget of Rs 10 crore, but they managed to collect nearly double the amount invested in them at the box-office. These films have benefited all the investors because they didn't have to spend too much on acquiring their rights," Trinath said.
Horror-comedy Aranmanai, said to be a Rs 12 crore movie, earned Rs 22 crore.Other notable Tamil hits included Manjapai, Sathuranga Vettai, Kathai Thiraikkathai Vasanam Iyakkam, Mundasupatti and Naaigal Jaakirathai.
"Audiences are backing creative content. A case in point is the success of low-budget films such as Sathuranga Vettai. Who would've expected a film like Naaigal Jaakirathai featuring a dog in lead role to do exceptionally well," asked distributor Arvind Nambiar.
According to Nambiar, the biggest Tamil hit in terms of return on investment is Dhanush's Vella Illa Pattathari. Made on a budget of Rs 8 crore, including promotional costs, the film collected a whopping Rs 53 crore.
It has been a bad year for Telugu movies. With almost all the biggies biting the dust, it was sleeper hits like Karthikeya, Oohalu Gusagusalade and Run Raja Run that maintained the footfalls.
The biggest Telugu hit was Karthikeya by debutant director Chandoo Mondeti.The Akkineni family's Telugu family drama Manam was a successful venture because of the low cost involved.
"Since the film featured actors from three generations of the Akkineni family, it didn't cost them much. It collected about Rs 40 crore worldwide and celebrated a 50-day run at the box-office. Moreover, the makers solely enjoyed the success because they had released the film on their own," a leading producer said.
"The Telugu industry suffered huge losses due to big films such as Govindudu Andarivadele, Heart Attack, Rabhasa, Power and Aagadu. These films may have opened to big numbers, but they failed to turn profitable," he added.
Malayalam cinema has pushed the envelope content-wise. At the box-office, the films did fairly well compared to Telugu and Tamil industries.The biggest Malayalam hit of the year was Anjali Menon-directed Bangalore Days.
"Most Malayalam films are produced under the budget of Rs 10 crore. Rarely will you find a film made on a higher budget," Nambiar said.
Bangalore Days, about three cousins from Kerala who move to Bengaluru, raked in nearly Rs 50 crore on an investment of Rs 9 crore.
"Not only was Bangalore Days a profitable venture, it was also the most widely viewed Malayalam film in recent times. Since it released worldwide with English subtitles, it opened to overwhelming response. In Mumbai, the film ran for nearly five weeks," Nambiar said.
According to trade sources, Bangalore Days even beat Malayalam thriller Drishyam at the box-office.
The second biggest hit in the language was comedy Vellimoonga.
"Even the trade experts didn't expect Vellimoonga to do so well. It turned out to be a surprise hit. Made under Rs 5 crore, it went on to mint over Rs 20 crore at the box-office," Nambiar added.Other Malayalam hits included Ring Master, How Old Are You and 7th Day.
Bangalore Days and How Old Are You featured women in prominent roles. While the former was directed by Anjali, the latter was the comeback film of actor Manju Warrier, who played the lead.
In Kannada, star-studded films such as Maanikya and Power were money spinners. Both the films were remake of Telugu films Mirchi and Dookudu, respectively.
"The Kannada industry plays safe by betting on successful remakes. Hence, the chances of box-office disasters are low. There are exceptions, but it's been an average year for the industry with not too many flops," said distributor Sudharshan Hegde.
Both Maanikya and Power, estimated to be made on Rs 15 crore and Rs 30 crore, collected over Rs 50 crore at the ticket window.
Other Kannada hits included Ugramm, Chandralekha and Gajakesari.
In a nutshell, while small made it big, it was a disappointing year for southern biggies.
* Mere five percent hits of about 500 releases.* Biggies like Lingaa, Kaththi, Veeram and Aagadu struck gold at the box-office, but couldn't qualify as successful ventures.
* Except for Aranmanai, all other films were made for under Rs 10 crore, but managed to collect nearly double the amount invested in them.
* Biggest Tamil hit in terms of return on investment was Dhanush's Vella Illa Pattathari. Made for Rs 8 crore it collected a whopping Rs 53 crore.
* Akkineni family's Telugu family drama Manam was a successful because of the low cost involved