Dubbed & Delivered: K.G.F, Doctor Strange & more

13 May,2022

 

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

Shailesh KapoorThe success of K.G.F: Chapter 2 has emerged as the big entertainment headline of 2022 so far. The film has gone on to do exceptional box-office in multiple markets, including overseas. In the Hindi language, the film is now the second biggest domestic grosser of all time, after Bahubali 2: The Conclusion.

 

Both K.G.F: Chapter 2 and Bahubali 2 are films from southern parts of India, made originally in Kannada and Telugu respectively. RRR, another Telugu film, is also a big grosser of this year. By the time 2022 ends, we may have seen a few more of their ilk.

 

Doctor Strange: In The Multiverse Of Madness released last week to opening collections in India that no Hindi film has been able to achieve since the pandemic started. A large share of the film’s collection has come from the language-dubbed versions, i.e., Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.

 

Can one call this the breaking of the ‘language barrier’? Technically, that will be an inaccurate description, because the language of consumption is the local language of comfort, not the language in which the content has been originally been produced.

 

In our yet-unreleased report titled ‘The Ormax OTT Audience Profiling Report: 2022’, a typical paid streaming audience (SVOD) is watching content in 2.3 languages. But if you include the languages in which dubbed or subtitled versions are being watched, this number doubles to 4.6. The equivalent numbers are 1.8 and 2.3 for AVOD audiences. The big difference is the D-word: Dubbing.

 

Dubbed content has been around in India for two decades now, with Hindi movie channels thriving on Hindi-dubbed versions of South Indian action films. These films found a core audience (typically men in the smaller towns and the lower socio-economic strata) over time, and the ratings from this core group fueled more acquisition and programming of such content over the years. Licensing fees of South Indian dubs have seen upward revision to the degree of 10X, perhaps even more, over the last 15 years.

 

But South dubs on Hindi movie channels were treated with a touch of condescension by the cosmopolitan audience, which includes the media fraternity, ranging from advertisers to Hindi-language content creators. “Set Max” (as Sony Max is popularly called) entered the pop culture for its love for such films, along with its love for Sooryavansham, a Hindi film that has its origins in the South of India too. There were ratings, but a perception of legitimacy, if one can call it that, was missing.

 

Things started to change around 2015, for two parallel, unrelated reasons. The first reason was the Bahubali franchise. The first Bahubali film that year raised the bar on South Indian dubbed content overnight, and by several notches. Around the same time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe had started building a loyal teenage and youth fanbase in India, leading to dramatic growth in Hollywood box office in India, which has multiplied by a factor of 3 from 2014 to 2019.

 

The next big boost came during the pandemic, when streaming consumption skyrocketed, and a large section of audience started sampling content (both films and series) in non-native languages, via dubbing or subtitling options. This included not just Indian languages and English, but also other foreign languages like Korean, Spanish, German, etc. The Spanish series Money Heist was the most-watched Netflix content in India in 2021, ahead of all Indian series and films. Money Heist was available to watch in English, Hindi, Tamil & Telugu in the India market.

 

Dubbing has unlocked a world of content that was hitherto inaccessible to the wider Indian audience. The possibility that the next big content wave may come from an unexpected part of India, or the world, is now a real one.

 

It doesn’t make the task of content creators any easier. The Hindi film industry has been facing an identity crisis of sorts, as it sees Hollywood and South Indian films outperform, while big-ticket Hindi films struggle to find audience in their native markets, let alone down South in the dubbed versions.

 

But the audience is not complaining. And that’s why, you can expect a lot more action on this front in the coming times.

 

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