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It's not stars that woo the NRI Tollywood audiences, but the directors of movies.
In a film industry like Tollywood where the stars of the film determine its box office fate, the tables turn when the same Telugu films hit the overseas market. For all the NRI Tollywood fans, it's the director of the movie that draws them to the theatres. Filmmakers like Trivikram Srinivas, Sreenu Vaitla, Rajamouli, Sekhar Kammula and Krish, have a huge fan following overseas.
"No one knows the cast of movies like Life is Beautiful, but Telugu people, who live abroad, want to watch the movie because of director Sekhar Kammula," says Sudhakar Reddy, one of the overseas distributors, who has recently even bought the distribution rights of Baadshah, starring NTR Jr. Despite the fact that the star's last film, Dammu, didn't do exciting business, sources claim that a pricey `4.5 crore was shelled out to buy Baadshah's rights — the highest ever in NTR's career — only because Sreenu Vaitla of Dookudu fame is directing it.
"People here only want entertainment and they swear by the family entertainers that these directors make. Trivikram Srinivas and Sreenu Vaitla have made a huge mark overseas," says Anil Sunkara, producer and overseas distributor. His film Dookudu is touted to be the highest grosser overseas till date. This strong fan following for Tollywood directors started when Sekhar Kammula released Anand. "It was a huge hit abroad," says Saikiran Adivi, an assistant director, who worked with Sekhar for a couple of films.
After Happy Days went on to become a big hit in the market there, even Godavari ended up doing good business overseas, despite an average opening in India. "What I have observed is that most Telugu people living away from home want to watch movies which give them a glimpse of life back home. Realistic movies that show village life, and family bonds helps them relive their college days. And Sekhar Kammula captures all this beautifully," says Saikiran talking about how the director has become a brand in himself for Telugu fans abroad.
Small directors too enjoy the appreciation of these fans. "I have directed Vinayakudu and Village lo Vinayakudu and both films have done great business overseas. People there also buy DVDs of these movies to stock up their Telugu movie collection in their homes. Now directors are fast waking up to the vast potential that the overseas market offers and are making movies that will cater to their tastes," says Saikiran. Surprisingly, movies featuring top stars that set the box office ringing in AP, don't necessarily work abroad.
While Balakrishna's Simha was a blockbuster here, it did not impress the overseas audiences. A flop like Khaleja, however, enjoyed good business outside India, thanks to its director Trivikram Srinivas' clean brand of family entertainment that is appreciated there. "It's true that the overseas market depends on only the directors," says Anil Sunkara. The list of recent examples can go on. Though Pawan Kalyan is the flavour of the season, Puri Jagannath's latest Cameraman Ganga Tho Rambabu, which fared well here, was not successful overseas. Meanwhile, Allu Arjun, who never enjoyed much popularity with Telugu audiences outside of India, enjoyed an overseas hit in Julayi, because it was directed by Trivikram Srinivas.
"The audiences here don't look at the star cast of the film before making a decision to watch it. They want to know who the director is and head to the theatres to catch their signature style. They don't even bother reading reviews, once they know that their favourite director is helming the project," says Sudhakar Reddy, a film distributor in the US.
Rajamouli may be a biggie in the AP market, but the Telugu audiences in the US started warming up to him only post Yamadonga. when he started making entertainers with less violence. While his Magadhaeera did well, his recent hit Eega is one of the top grossers overseas. "The Telugu audiences here prefer watching lighter entertainers. They don't want to watch movies with violence or serious subjects," adds Sudhakar Reddy.