Telugu cinema is at an inflection point. It is at a stage where it presents itself as a fine case study for an enthusiastic marketing strategist.

The background is as following.

  • Traditionally confined to the borders of Telugu states, its market expanded rapidly in recent years to not just neighbouring states such as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka but also to overseas.
  • This has sliced its core audience into different segments each with its own distinct likes and dislikes. Its predominant rural and semi-urban audience want one kind of mass-masala cinema but its city centric / neighbouring states’ audience want a slightly more refined version and its foreign patrons want best-of-the world cinema.
  • This divergence of tastes is leading to a situation where being attractive to one segment is leading to losing out on the others.
  • While revenues have grown over the years because of the addition of new geographies, costs too have spiraled up. There is a constant need to earn more revenues and also to improve on its content.

Tollywood’s marketing problem can be summed up as following: How to make a movie which takes all its audience along without really losing out on one particular section ?? In short, what are the product attributes which make a universal winner.

Tollywood seems to have done a pretty good job in finding the solution. And this is why I say so. Look at the following.

  • Its core rural / semi-urban audience can no more give it the profits. So junk  them. After all, their share in total collections has been consistently coming down. So a basic masala theme too is being dealt with some finesse to cater to city-slickers. Ex: Srimanthudu ( basically a story of a hero taking on a village mafia but several other polished sub-themes are added such as adopting a village, rural development etc)
  • Overseas revenues are now contributing very substantially. Add up. Add up !! Oopiri is the 17th Telugu film to cross a million dollar mark in USA and all the 17 have come only in the last 4-5 years, with Dookudu being the 1st to achieve this feat. ( SEE details HERE). So even “written-on rock and enshrined” mass masala heroes have become NRIs in their latest films. Ex: Pawan in Attarintiki … and surprise..surprise.. Jr NTR in Nannaku Prematho. ( Read HERE our earlier article – Global Andhrite is changing Telugu film discourse)
  • Tamil land offers a lot of synergy and it is a big market too. So seduce it. Heroins like Tamannah, Samantha, Shruti Hassan and character artists like Prakash Raj, Nasser etc can be part of films that cater to both states. Yes, the heroes are different. But why not bring in other reputed names from across the border to make a film much more acceptable? So Eega can have the Kannada hero Sudeep, Bahubali can have Satyaraj in a pivotal character and of course Sudeep too( besides common names like Anushka, Tamannah, Ramya Krihna, Nasser etc). Oopiri can have Karthi. Going forward, you will have Mohanlal in Janata Garage ( Jr NTR’s upcoming film). Tamil films have done the same too. Guys like Suman and Jagapathi Babu have been villains and even K. Viswanath was part of a few Tamil films.
  • Now the next hurdle, which is – how to take it really national ?? Don’t worry. Conquer it. Bahubali was a real trend setter. Its Hindi dubbed version alone collected more than 100 crs making south Indian directors aware of their need and greed to cater to national cinema. After all they have the technical finesse to make great cinema but were constrained by limited reach. So Rajamouli takes the services of the brand and distribution muscle of Karan Johar to take his cinema national. ( Noted Tamil director Shankar goes one step further and signs Akshay Kumar for Robot 2)

All these developments in Telugu cinema are changing the very look of it.

Gone are the days of Rayalaseema villains, gone is “overboard masala” and the very rustic look and feel that defined Telugu cinema for many decades is now gone. It is all being replaced by technical finesse, amazing VFX, stylish-suave heroes, foreign locales and NRI stories. In short Telugu cinema is now running after universal themes which have to cater to not just Hyderabad, Vizag and Rajamundry but also to the 3C axis of Tamil cinema ( Chennai, Chengalpattu and Coimbatore) and of course to the aavakai hungry but pizza eating NRIs.