While Bollywood has been churning out cost-effective and successful women-centric subjects spearheaded by actresses like Kangana Ranaut, the late Sridevi, Vidya Balan and Alia Bhatt in the last few years, Nayanthara, Jyotika, and Anushka Shetty have been the torch-bearers of female-led films down South. Now, women-centric films have become the latest fad in Tamil cinema with Amala Paul, Hansika Motwani, Kajal Aggarwal, Trisha, Samantha, Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, and Oviya headlining a bunch of female-centric scripts. However, the doubts over the box-office potential of women-centric films hang in the air among distributors except for a few ambitious projects.
The box-office success of Mahanati, which features Keerthy Suresh in a stellar titular role of legendary yesteryear actress Savitri, has boosted the spirits of exhibitors in the states Andhra Pradesh and Telangana " which have traditionally welcomed Anushka Shetty's efforts in carving out a niche for herself in the industry.
Mahanati, directed by Nag Ashwin and bankrolled by Vyjayanthi Movies, has been declared a blockbuster film by the trade. When the movie was under production with a bevy of stars like Keerthy Suresh, Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Dulquer Salmaan and Vijay Deverakonda, there were strong doubts over the project's box-office returns since the budget was pegged at nearly Rs 22 Cr.
Most of the women-centric productions in Tamil and Telugu operate on a tight budget to ensure that the film proves to be a profitable venture for the stakeholders. However, Mahanati, with its grand production values and magnificent period set-pieces, has changed the tide. In 12 days (as of 21 May), the movie has grossed over Rs 54 crore worldwide " with the worldwide share approximately standing at Rs 30 crore " against its pre-release theatrical valuation of over Rs 21 crore.
The Tamil version Nadigaiyar Thilgam too has grossed nearly Rs 2.4 crore with a theatrical share of Rs 85 lakhs. In the United States, Mahanati has touched the $2 million mark and is currently the eighth highest-grossing Telugu film stateside with $2.26 million gross, and only behind the Baahubali series, Rangasthalam, Bharat Ane Nenu, Srimanthudu, A Aa, and Khaidi No 1.
"Mahanati is surely a one-off phenomenon. While it's true that audiences mostly look for strong content, one cannot write off the fact that star-presence still plays a significant role in Tamil cinema. Nayanthara and Jyotika are the only two heroines who can command a huge fan following in Tamil Nadu and have a box-office clout for their films. Although Anushka Shetty's Bhaagamathie was a super-hit in Telugu states, the film could not pass muster in Tamil Nadu," a distributor told Firstpost on the condition of anonymity.
Now, a spate of heroine-led productions is underway in Tamil. Jyotika is gearing up for the shooting of Radha Mohan's Tamil remake of Hindi super-hit Tumhari Sulu. Oviya has completed the shooting for 90 ml helmed by Anita Udeep. Amala Paul is currently part of forest-based adventure thriller Adho Andha Paravai Pola. Varalaxmi Sarathkumar has completed Velvet Nagaram, a thriller drama directed by debutant Manojkumar Natarajan. Samantha Ruth Prabhu has wrapped up the shooting of U-Turn remake in Tamil and Telugu. Hansika has reportedly signed a women-centric thriller directed by debutant Jameel. And, there's the official remake of Queen in four south Indian languages: Kajal Aggarwal for the Tamil version, Tamannaah for the Telugu version, and Parul Yadav and Manjima Mohan are part of the Kannada and Malayalam version.
However, unlike their male counterparts, who have the luxury of getting repeated opportunities and offers despite consecutive failures, one box-office dud costs the heroines dearly. Trisha Krishnan, one of the most popular heroines in Tamil cinema, currently has a bevy of women-centric films such as Mohini, Garjanai, 1818 and Paramapadham Vilayatu at various stages of production, waiting for release. One of the main reasons: Her last Tamil-Telugu bi-lingual horror Nayagi was a disaster at the ticket window.
Another big-budget female-centric film currently under production is the widely-publicized multi-lingual Veeramadevi, which pitches Sunny Leone in the titular role of a warrior princess. The period war epic is tipped to be made on a whopping budget of Rs 100 crore.
"There's only a limited market for women-centric films in Tamil because of the absence of multiplexes in large numbers. Bollywood's success rate in the genre is high because the presence of multiplexes in the north pales in comparison to Tamil and Telugu. However, a lot of theaters in B and C centers are seeing constant renovation across Tamil Nadu. The change is not so far," the distributor added.
With new avenues opening up for ancillary rights including Amazon Prime Video and Netflix who, mostly, eye content-based films instead of relying on star-power, there's a compelling glimmer of hope for heroine-based productions in Tamil and Telugu. And the fact that the satellite and digital rights of Mahanati are in great demand and the movie has grossed over Rs 50 crore just in theatrical ticket sales should encourage the exhibitors to support the genre.