The best regional films that India has to offer may be lying unexplored on your phone, but do you care to watch? I remember while growing up, every Sunday afternoon, my grandmother would watch the regional film being played on Doordarshan, almost like a weekly ritual. Sometimes I would join her, struggling to catch up the subtitles, plot, acting and visuals of the film simultaneously. Sometimes the film would cross the barriers of language and leave an impression, other times, I would just give up midway. Years later, I adopted my grandmother’s ritual, this time with OTT, and I am glad that I did so.
You may be wondering, why should you bother with homegrown regional content, when you have the latest season of Money Heist waiting for you? If you have to bear with subtitles, then why not put that effort into watching award-winning South Korean films like Parasite, or a French romance set in 1960s or maybe a women-centric Israeli film?
So here are five reasons why you should watch more regional films:
1. It’s all about content: Well, not always. Please don’t grab me by my neck and force me to watch the mindless “South Indian” films where the hero walks in slow motion, beats fifty goons with his bare hands and the heroine is a creep who anonymously calls the hero and stalks him all in the name of crush. While nuanced films which deal with sensitive subjects have always been around, the last decade or so have seen regional film industries churn out gems that are beyond Bollywood’s imagination.
For instance, the Hindi film Mimi was adapted from the 2011 Marathi film on surrogacy titled Mala Aai Vahhaychy! Tamil language film Visaranai, released in 2015 revolves around the subject of police brutality, while Assamese film Village Rockstars (2017) narrates the big dreams of a little girl from a small village. These films won laurels both internationally and nationally for their unique stories.
2. Where Bollywood dare not go:
Another quality that a lot of regional films have displayed in the last few years is picking up subjects that still intimidate Bollywood. I cannot think when Hindi cinema will even find the courage to make a film like Prithviraj Sukumaran’s Kuruthi, which has such a direct commentary on interfaith clashes.
Even when films are remade in Hindi, controversial angles of the story are often mellowed down to make them more palatable. For instance, when the Marathi film Sairat was remade in Hindi with a glitzy debutant star cast as Dhadak, the caste angle of the story was almost glossed over, with the focus resting on the honour-killing angle and class divide. Can you name any Hindi films that boldly portray the subject of caste-based oppression like Tamil films Kaala, Asuran or Karanan do?
A mention also needs to be made about Bengali films whether by Satyajit Ray, Aparna Sen or Rituparno Ghosh who gave women agency irrespective of their age in films like Mahanagar, Noukadubi or Bariwali. Women in these films are free to make choices even sexual ones such as in Paromitar Ek Din or Parama.
3. Showcasing stories that we can identify with: The only argument I can make on picking regional films as opposed to foreign language films is that of relatability. Regional films give us stories that matter to us, on subjects that we may be able to relate to, and featuring characters that we can identify with. How else can we describe the word-of-mouth publicity that films like Sairat or The Great Indian Kitchen have received? Wasn’t Kabir Singh already being sought after by viewers long before its release, because of Arjun Reddy’s popularity? We may not endorse the film, or what is stands for, but we can’t deny its connect with the young viewers for sure.
4. There’s that grand scale too: Move over Sanjay Leela Bhansali, regional films, especially southern ones, know a thing or two about opulence too. Grand sets, classy costumes, and intricate jewellery are not exclusive to Bollywood. We all enjoyed Bahubali series by SS Rajamouli and couldn’t stop marvelling at the sheer scale of his project when his films came out. Another film worth mentioning here is Mahanati starring Keerthy Suresh, which brought the 50s and 60s era of the southern film industry to the silver screen, alongside a stellar string of cameos by many popular Telugu actors of current times.
5. You’re missing out on a lot of talented actors: Southern films have a notorious status for their outlandish action sequences, but the same actors that we see as cliched stars of the South have numerous National Awards and praiseworthy performances to their names. Dhanush has won the National Award for Best Actor twice, Prakash Raj, the actor who is often seen as a clownish villain in Hindi and southern films, has won multiple National Awards for his performances in films like Iruvar, Dhaya, Kanchivaram etc. Similarly, many talented regional actors don’t find the recognition that they deserve due to the language barrier.
It is a pity that the stardom and talent of regional stars is often lost on us unless they venture into Bollywood. It happened to seasoned actors like Revathy, Mammootty, Kamal Haasan decades ago. The trend continues with actors like Dulquer Salmaan, Samantha Akkineni, Sai Tamhankar, Jisshu Sengupta and many more, who were recognised by Hindi speaking audiences only when they did a project in that language.
Views expressed are the author’s own.