2021: The Year of Restoration & Regional Duality

08 Jan,2021


By Shailesh Kapoor


We are out of the dreadful 2020 and into a new year. A date change doesn’t mean much in the present. But history is segmented by years and decades. And 2021 will stand out in history as an unusual year. If 2020 was the year of disruption and setback, all hopes are pinned on 2021 being the year of restoration and comeback. The next few weeks will be fascinating, to see how the recovery story actually unfolds.


The Indian media and entertainment sector is on its comeback trail too. Revenue challenges apart, the television industry is running like 2019. Once again, off-screen news is dominating on-air magic. This time, the off-screen news is centered around the ongoing Mumbai police investigation into peoplemeter tampering. That’s a story that could have long-term ramifications, or turn out to be a case of much ado about nothing, depending on how the investigation progresses.


The year of the pandemic was a big shot in the arm for the digital entertainment sector, especially streaming and gaming. Paid subscriptions have seen unprecedented jumps, and the streaming content landscape is looking healthier than ever before.


But it’s the theatrical business that’s still trying to stand back on its feet. Theatres opened in October 2020, but the road has been a difficult one so far, with only about 15% regular theatre audience having revisited a theatre. While the fear of the pandemic is a factor, a bigger factor is the absence of mainline content itself. Producers, especially Hindi, have been reluctant to release their films, playing a cautious wait-and-watch game. It’s a strategy that’s arguably too conservative for its own good.


But things are going to look up soon. The South film industry has been more forthcoming, with a huge Tamil release (Master) lined up for release next week. The teaser for one of the biggest pan-India films of the year (KGF Chapter 2) dropped yesterday. We are set for some real, big-ticket action at the box office in the regional markets in early 2021.


But it’s not just the regional markets that will see audience flocking the theatres for these entertainers. KGF Chapter 2 and RRR are huge films for the Hindi market too. It will be an irony of sorts if the post-pandemic revival of Hindi cinema comes via dubbed version of South Indian films. And that’s a very distinct possibility as of now.


Which brings me to a trend that’s likely to become even bigger in 2021: Breaking of regional boundaries in the content marketplace. This trend is manifesting itself in different ways across sectors. In television, remakes and adaptations of regional shows into Hindi and other regional languages are on the rise, and it seems like Star Plus’ new content mantra in particular. In streaming, it’s the idea of making originals available in multiple language feeds, and most platforms, especially Disney+ Hotstar and Amazon Prime Video, are taking this up on priority. And in theatrical, the doors that Bahubali opened will be broken altogether by the next line of big regional films releasing in 2021.


The interesting facet of this trend is that it is shaping up in a era of growing regionalism. Pride around one’s culture, history and language continues to be on the rise at a pan-India level. It’s a more localised interpretation of the idea of nationalism, which is on the upswing globally, not just in India. The successful of 2019’s only Hindi blockbuster, Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, finds its roots in this trend.


On the face of it, the two (acceptance of regional content and burgeoning regional pride) may seem contradictory. But that they are developing in parallel as growing trends is a statement about the fascinating reality that India is. The next year or two will see this duality unfold in full force, and it’s an exciting journey to witness.

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