Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel introduced RRR as a Bollywood and social media users slammed him. Hollywood sees India as a vital market for its films but doesn’t know the Indian film industry.
By Latha Srinivasan: RRR director SS Rajamouli and his actors Ram Charan and Jr NTR have travelled around the world promoting their Telugu film over the last year. Every step of the way, they explained why RRR is a Telugu film and how Telugu cinema is part of the Indian film industry. On the big D-Day, the night of the Oscars, host Jimmy Kimmel in his introductory speech called RRR a Bollywood film erasing all the regional film industries in India in that single line. Despite the fact that the Oscar Awards is extensively researched and rehearsed, why would Jimmy Kimmel make this statement?
One of the biggest issues that has plagued the Oscar Awards is the lack of representation and with this year’s ceremony, it is evident that the Academy – and Hollywood – have a very myopic view of Indian cinema. Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan represent Indian cinema globally but particularly the Hindi film industry since they are defined by their work there. While Big B and King Khan are loved across India, they don’t represent any of the regional film industries. And unfortunately, the West seems to believe that Bollywood is all of Indian cinema.
The regional film industries, especially Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam, have a large diaspora living abroad in the US, far East and the Middle East. The overseas markets for South films is big and they contribute at least 20 per cent of the gross box office. Take RRR, for instance. The Telugu blockbuster released in Japan in October 2022 and has grossed nearly Rs 75 crore at the box office till now. This is no small feat and RRR is now the biggest Indian film in Japan. It beat Superstar Rajinikanth’s Tamil film Muthu to take the number one spot. And the top three films in Japan are not Hindi films but RRR, Muthu and Baahubali. The Bollywood film, 3 Idiots, occupies a distant fourth position in terms of box office collections.
Coming to the Telugu cinema market overseas, the United States, thanks to its large Telugu NRI community, has always been the biggest market (75 per cent of overseas income) for Tollywood. Any Telugu film that collects over USD 2 million is a blockbuster and many Telugu films have done roaring business there in recent times. With director SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali films and RRR, not only did the market expand considerably for Tollywood in the US, but in other regions too.
While Hollywood doesn’t choose to be cognizant of what comprises the Indian film industry, it is very aware that India is a big market for its films. India is, in fact, now one of the top 5 markets globally for Hollywood films. In 2022, Hollywood films reportedly made between Rs 1200 to Rs 1300 crore at the Indian box office. Movies like Avatar – The Way of Water, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunder, Top Gun: Maverick and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, were superhits among the Indian audience.
With three Oscar nominations for India – Naatu Naatu from RRR, All That Breathes and The Elephant Whisperers – coming from three different Indian languages (and two wins), isn’t it time for Hollywood to wake up and realise that there’s more to Indian cinema than just Bollywood? Perhaps Jimmy Kimmel’s gaffe can now put the spotlight on this issue in Hollywood and give Indian cinema the due respect it deserves.