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Priyanka, John, Akshay, Madhuri... what draws these Bollywood stars to regional films?

A number of Bollywood actors are producing films in regional languages, as it expands their storytelling space. The rewards are substantial in terms of critical and audience appreciation.

bollywood Updated: Aug 25, 2018 16:47 IST
Juhi Chakraborty
Juhi Chakraborty
Hindustan Times
John Abraham,Madhuri Dixit,Riteish Deshmukh
Bollywood stars Mahuri Dixit Nene, John Abraham, and Priyanka Chopra are all producing regional language films.(Photos: Yogen Shah; Raajessh Kashyap/HT)

What regional language cinema lacks in budgets and star power, it more than compensates for with amazing stories. And top Bollywood actors, who’ve climbed the heights of fame thanks to their mainstream vehicles, are now drawn to regional language films for precisely this reason. The interesting thing is that the Bollywood biggies — such as John Abraham, Priyanka Chopra, Akshay Kumar, and Madhuri Dixit Nene — aren’t starring in these films but are backing them as producers.

John, who has scored back-to-back Bollywood hits with Parmanu and Satyameva Jayate, has launched his maiden Marathi production, Savita Damodar Paranjape. Madhuri is producing a yet-untitled Marathi film, which will be a family entertainer. Priyanka, now a global star thanks to her Hollywood success, started by producing a Bhojpuri film, followed that up with Punjabi and Marathi films, and is also producing Sikkimese and Assamese films. Akshay Kumar has turned presenter for the Marathi film, Chumbak. Bollywood actor Riteish Deshmukh also made his debut as a Marathi film producer in 2013 with Balak Palak, and his second production, Mauli, is under way.

“Regional cinema is far more superior to the traditional commercial cinema for a reason. It’s because they don’t have the [big] budgets, so the only thing they have is the content. That’s why you find the best of content coming out of Marathi and Malayalam cinema,” says John, who has also produced Hindi films.

On his Marathi venture, he says that for him, content is everything and if he sees that a film is best suited to be made in a non-Hindi language, then he’d go ahead and do it. “That’s precisely why I decided to make Savita Damodar Paranjape in Marathi,” he says, adding that as a producer, one should have a proper thought process that would help the growth of regional cinema.

“All films should be given equal opportunity. So as a producer, I’ll study the distribution system, try and understand the target audience, and make sure that effective and good regional cinema gets released. Our audience is very well-equipped to read subtitles, too. So, why should I not back regional cinema?” asserts John.

Top Bollywood producer-director Karan Johar is in this club, too — after presenting the Hindi version of SS Rajamouli’s blockbuster Baahubali films, he also turned presenter for Madhuri’s Marathi acting debut, Bucket List.

Madhuri had announced her untitled production venture via a tweet: “We are very excited to step into the new role of movie production. It’s a Marathi family entertainer and we have a lovely team on board.”

These actor-producers are also tasting immense success with their regional ventures. Priyanka’s Marathi production, Ventilator (2016), won three awards at the 64th National Film Awards. Her other credits as producer include the Bhojpuri film Bam Bam Bol Raha Hai Kashi (2016), the Punjabi film, Sarvann (2017), and the Sikkimese venture Pahuna - The Little Visitors (2017). There are other Marathi films in her production kitty as well.

Talking about her decision to turn producer, Priyanka had earlier said, “Life is transient and I am a creative person who constantly looks for new outlets. I’ve been writing a lot and I’m producing films; I like to evolve in different directions... My focus is on small-budget movies. It’s a great time for filmmaking and there’s interesting stuff coming my way.”

Priyanka’s mother and Ventilator co-producer Madhu Chopra tells us, “After Priyanka visited the Northeast for [the biopic] Mary Kom, she realised that there are so many original stories in every region and language. Hindi films have used such stories, though the regions didn’t benefit from that.

“Priyanka felt compelled to bring these stories alive through her company, PPP (Purple Pebble Pictures). Not just the regional writers, but she also encourages mostly local talent – be it the lead actors, cast and crew. She has showcased the regional films with a pan-India release, so that they get a wider viewership.”

Actor Ajay Devgn has also dabbled in regional cinema production, his first being the Marathi film, Vitti Dandu (2014).

Filmmaker Ravi Jadhav, who directed Balak Palak, says that such names coming on board as producers are helping regional cinema reach a pan-India audience. “The experience that they bring along is so huge. It helps to market the films, to take the films beyond the Marathi-speaking belt. In the case of Balak Palak, with Riteish’s help, the film reached out to a national audience. A lot of non-Marathi people also watched the film. It opened up a different kind of market,” says Jadhav.

On the main reason for Bollywood actors to venture into regional films, Jadhav says, “First of all, the content is very rich; and second, the audience is also ready.”

Calling this a positive trend, trade analyst Taran Adarsh says, “It’s great that many names from Bollywood are getting into regional cinema. Films in regional languages are doing so well, and there shouldn’t be any [division]. Films are films — whatever the language.”

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First Published: Aug 25, 2018 16:46 IST