Overseas market for Tamil & Telugu films : A Comparison

A discussion that comes up quite frequently in social media in the last few days among movie Box Office fans about which movies have a better market abroad. Tamil films or Telugu films? This post tries to answer this question. I have tried to put together as much details for your understanding as possible.

Tamil films have a much bigger and geographically wider market abroad compared to Telugu films. An average tamil film enjoys almost twice the market that of a Telugu film in dollar terms. The reason is Tamil diaspora is huge and spread all over the world. Tamil is an official language in Sri Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia. Apart from this a huge numer of tamil people from Sri Lanka have migrated to Canada, UK, France, Australia and other European countries. Cities like Toronto, London and Paris have
large and established tamil community. There is a significant tamil population in the US and Gulf countries.

Telugu market is mostly concentrated in the US though it releases in Europe, Gulf & other countries it’s still a small part of the overseas market. About 75%-80% of telugu overseas revenue comes from US alone.
The overseas market has grown significant for telugu films only in recent years. Though many telugu films were being screened abroad in the late 1990s it was not a regular feature and had a late release and it was mostly limited to big films only. It was only after 2000 it became a overseas release became a regular feature and the market seen big strides since 2005. The producers also took notice of a big potential market in the US.  Tamil films enjoy a much smaller market in the US alone. Except for films with Rajinikanth or Kamal Hassan other films don’t make anything to be comparable to telugu films. Since US BO figures get published in social media more often it tends to create an impression among telugu movie buffs that tamil overseas market is tiny compared to telugu since they don’t make anything significant compared to telugu films. However, for Tamil films, US is just a small territory among the overseas markets and there are many such small markets across the globe which I will write in the next few lines.

Tamil films have a market in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), Malaysia and Singapore since the early days of tamil cinema. After Tamil people in Sri Lanka started migrating to Europe, Canada in big numbers after the Civil war broke out in Sri Lanka in 1983. The surging tamil population in these countries created a demand for tamil movies. Since late 1980s tamil films are being screened in these countries but only after 1990 it became a more regular and organized business. For instance, the much hyped Rajinikanth starrer Thalapathy released simultaneously across 8 countries along with India for 1991 Diwali. Though the release in newer markets was limited outside the traditional strong market of SL, SG and Malaysia.

Similarly, Tamil films started to getting screened in Gulf countries and the US since the 1990s. The US however was a small market for tamil films. Many tamil films used to get screened in the US after it finish it’s run in Canada as the latter was more prominent market.

Here is a break up of where the overseas BO collection for Tamil films comes from

Malaysia: 35%-40%
Singapore & Sri Lanka: 25%
Canada, UK, France, Australia & Europe: 20%-25%
Gulf Countries & USA : 15%-20%

This is only to give a rough picture of BO collection for a typical tamil film. Actual numbers might vary a bit. Medium budget films get slightly more revenue from established markets such as Malaysia, Singapore & SL than as shown here.

        In recent years (after 2005), this market outside the traditional strong markets in South Asia, it has seen wide expansion and today even small, medium budget films release in Europe and North America in good numbers. Thanks to digital technology and social media. By 2004-05, Rajinikanth and Kamal Hassan’s films were releasing with as many as 70 to 80 physical prints and in about 20 countries across the globe. Other big budget films were releasing in over 50 prints or more.

Take for instance, the Rajinikanth starrer Chandramukhi (2005) with 82 prints for the Overseas market and here is the print count for each territory. Please note that prints is not the same as screens/theatres. The same physical print can be used screened in many theatres across many locations especially in places like the US.

Malaysia: 37 Prints, Singapore: 2 prints,  Sri Lanka: 9 prints

USA: 8 prints,  Gulf Countries: 6 prints , UK: 5 Prints,  France: 3 Prints

Rest of Europe: 6 prints (release in Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Norway).

Canada: 4 prints,  Australia & NZ: 2 Prints

Around this time, biggest Telugu films were not getting released with more than 10 prints. Chiranjeevi Starrer Andarivadu release months after Chandramukhi did, had 12 prints including 9 prints for the US. This was the widest overseas release at the time. Other big ticket telugu films at the time had about 6-8 prints only. For Stalin, released in 2006, the print count went up to 29 with 18 prints for the US, 6 prints for Gulf, 2 each for UK and Australia and 1 for Singapore.

For Sivaji the print size grew even bigger as they. It had 145 prints for the Tamil version for overseas market. Few more prints were added subsequently on demand from distributors.

Getting physical prints costs lot more money and distributors wouldn’t get more prints unless there is a good market for films. Since 2009, Digital prints have made it’s way and they are lot more cheaper and even when there is a limited market it is feasible to get digital prints and release the film simultaneously. This is to say that in spite of higher inital costs for prints, tamil films were having a wider release because it had a market feasible enough to invest so much.

Now coming back to BO numbers to get a real picture of how big the two markets are. Let’s look at the telugu industry first. The numbers I give are not exact and are only for rough idea and comparison. The biggest grossing telugu films abroad have been films like Dookudu, SVSC and the recently released Attarintiki Daredi. Dookudu and SVSC have grossed nearly $2.5 million overseas and nearly $2 million from the US alone. Attarintiki Daredi is reported to have touched $2 million mark from all overseas markets already and in all likely hood gross $2.5 million. few other films Telugu films have crossed the $1 million dollar mark. But these are all big budget films starring top stars or with top league directors. Coming to medium budget films or better to call it, tier-2 films like recent Balupu which starred Star hero but not a frontline top actor. It grossed $500K in the US and an estimated $650K to $700K at best in the overseas markets.

Now let’s compare how a medium budget Tamil film grosses. Since tamil films enjoy decent markets in many countries, only few markets figures are reported. Raja Rani which released last weekend is a medium budget film starring Arya, Nayantara directed by a new comer. It was co-produced by Fox Star studio and hence they released the film’s BO details in overseas markets. So the numbers are reliable.

Here is the BO numbers of the film Raja Rani posted by a noted Trade Analyst Taran Adarsh.

**Opening weekend total* is $800,000
**Australia-NZ-others $56,131 Malaysia-$230,110  Singapore-$75,980 UK:£55,023($90,000) USA:$168,390 UAE:$180,472

* This doesn’t include figures from Sri Lanka and other small, scattered markets in Europe. Roughly these must have contributed $150K-$200K. which makes the opening weekend total nearly $1 million dollars!!

The trade verdict for Raja Rani is Superhit. By all likelihood, this film is likely make around $2 Million dollar in it’s full run in all the overseas markets. Tamil films enjoy much longer run in the established markets. Rough estimate how much it can make in full run based on past trends.

Aus-NZ-others $80K Malaysia-$650K Singapore-$200K UK:£110K($180K) USA:$240K UAE:$300K. Europe:$150K, Sri Lanka: $170K

So, medium budget, non-star film can rake in almost 3 times as much as Balupu. Or take Mirchi which stars one of the topline stars like Prabhas and had a bigger star cast and one of the biggest hits this year. The film’s US collection is around $800,000 and with other territories it could have managed to $1 Million dollars at best. Compare this to a medium budget flick like Raja Rani which already touched this mark in 3 days and likely to make nearly twice.

Now Let’s take big budget star film Singham-2 or Thuppakki to compare with AD or SVSC.
Here is the BO collection from major markets whose numbers are available in public domain
for Singam-2:

Malaysia:$1.8mn. UK: $310K, USA: $350K including non-reported. Australia: $130K

These alone add upto $2.6mn

For other market,s by adding a conservative estimate for other major markets like Singapore ($600K), SL($500K), Canada ($250K), Europe($300K) and Gulf ($500K).  It takes the total figure well above $4.5 Million!!

      For those wondering if the estimates were too liberal, just compare the numbers Reported by Taran Adarsh for Raja Rani for opening weekend alone and this film. The numbers I used here are very conservative and at the lower end.

Simlarly Vijay’s Thuppakki has made $1.73 Million in Malaysia alone. $335K in UK, $150K in France. About $370K revenues reported in the US.

Take comparable numbers in Canada, Gulf, Sri Lanka, Singapore and other markets. The total will be in the same range of as that of Singham i.e around $4.5mn or could be even more
That’s nearly twice as much as SVSC, Dookudu made or AD can make !!

Films starring superstars like Rajinikant and Kamal Hassan make much more in the overseas markets. The overseas figures for films like Endhiran and Sivaji are just mind boggling. More on that later!!

P.S: The BO figures shown here are numbers available in social media and web and can be easily available to verify. The print counts and other details are obtained from internet and reliable sources at the time. Few minor errors might exist.

Please feel free to leave your comments on this.


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