The success of the Telugu movie Pushpa: The Rise in Hindi has stunned almost everybody but Manish Shah.

He has a ready explanation for why Sukumar’s crime thriller brought audiences back into the cinemas despite the coronavirus pandemic and why lead actor Allu Arjun has become hot property among Hindi speakers.

“We have never had an action movie of this scale in many years,” Shah said. “It was rustic and had the jungle in the background. The songs were great. The action was mind-blowing. The locales were fantastic. The dialogues were extraordinary.”

Manish Shah should know: his company, Goldmines Telefilms, holds the rights to Pushpa in Hindi and has supplied the writers and dubbing artists for the Hindi version. However, Shah’s insights into Pushpa’s sensational sweep go beyond his financial involvement in the project.

The movie’s continued hold on the box office despite being available on Amazon Prime Video has validated Shah’s decades-long investment in the cinema from the southern states.

Pushpa: The Rise (2021).

Shah set up Goldmines in 2004. Alongside acquiring the rights of Hindi films for television and satellite channels and YouTube, Goldmines began acquiring non-Hindi titles, especially from Tamil Nadu and undivided Andhra Pradesh.

“We were initially dealing only with Hindi movies,” Shah explained. “We were buying the IPs [intellectual property rights] and negatives of such producers as Mushir Riaz, J Om Prakash and Rose Movies,” Shah said. “These movies were shown on Doordarshan, satellite channels and on YouTube and overseas and did extremely well.”

Bring back the rowdies

According to Shah, the problem was that in the 2000s, the Hindi film industry was not producing the action films that could appeal to the widest possible spectrum of viewership.

“With the multiplex culture coming in, moviemaking shifted to films that catered more to these multiplex crowds,” the 50-year-old producer told “Sholay, Mohra, Wanted – we weren’t making films like these anymore.”

That gap was being filled by Tamil and Telugu filmmakers, who continued to roll out slicker versions of 1980s template fare at a time when Hindi filmmakers were broadly veering towards greater realism and more personal subjects.

“I wanted to experiment and see if we could break the regional divide,” Shah said. “I selected three stars who had some amount of presence in the Hindi market – Nagarjuna, Chiranjeevi and Rajinikanth. All of them had appeared in Hindi movies on and off.”

The Telugu film Mass, starring Nagarjuna, was Shah’s first dubbed venture. “It had good production values, it was a super hit [in Telugu] and the theme was excellent,” he said. “I dubbed the film and I gave it to Sony [Television]. It worked. We got other movies by Nagarjuna, Chiranjeevi and Rajinikanth. Then we started looking at upcoming stars.”

These included Baahubali director SS Rajamouli’s hits Magadheera and Chatrapathi. “There was no looking back,” Shah said.

Sivaji: The Boss in Hindi.

Such acquisitions as Chiranjeevi’s Indra – The Tiger, a cult hit in Hindi, continue to reap profits on television and YouTube, Shah said. He also has the rights for Sooryavansham (1999), a faithful remake of the Tamil melodrama Suryavamsam. The Amitabh Bachchan starrer, which seems to be playing on television whatever the time of day, isn’t just a cult film but a “super-cult film”, Shah said.

Shah cultivated advisors who would tip him off on the latest buzzworthy Tamil or Telugu release. He largely stayed away from Malayalam movies – “intellectual and not mass” – and ignored mainstream Bengali productions, which he reasoned were mostly remakes of southern films anyway.

“I would go to Hyderabad and Chennai, have people sit next to me and explain the film to me, try to understand the USP [unique selling proposition] of the movie,” Shah revealed. “For instance, I watched [Raghava Lawrence’s] Kanchana. That was a different genre, a horror-comedy. I liked it and bought it and it worked big time. It was even remade in Hindi as Laxmmi Bomb. The Tamil film Kaashmora was a flop in Tamil but a hit in India.”

‘Larger than life’

Shah was actively seeking movies with a “larger than life presence”, the kind of whistle-inducing stuff that Hindi directors seemed too embarrassed to make any more.

Hindi cinema has become dependent on the revenue earned from the higher ticket rates charged at multiplexes, Shah said. Single-screens cinemas, which charge less for tickets, are gradually shutting down all over the country, he added.

The Hindi film industry makes a distinction between “mass and class” viewers and productions aimed at “the public” (synonymous with the single-screen crowd) and the “gentry” (the more affluent sections). This distinction is mirrored by the class background of many film practitioners, who are increasingly disconnected from popular taste, Shah claimed.

“Most of our directors live between Andheri and Bandra,” Shah said, referring to the suburbs in northern Mumbai where shooting lots and post-production facilities are located. “The directors think that India too lives between Andheri and Bandra and watches Netflix and Amazon. You don’t expect them to make action movies, they find it downmarket.”

Lessons from the small screen

Shah’s theories are based on his vast experience in television. He has produced serials for television networks and run an equipment rental business. In Shah’s book, Tamil and Telugu films work just as well on the big screen as they do on the small screen.

“Television is repeat viewing, not one-time viewing,” he pointed out. “You are looking for movies that have a big canvas, good action and good comedy. These have been missing from Hindi movies.”

The February releases Badhaai Do and Gangubai Kathiawadi are “not movies you can watch with your families”, Shah declared. “In India, 90% of the homes are single-television homes. The entire family sits to watch a film. They are not comfortable watching such kind of movies.”

Viewers behave differently in a theatre from the way they do at home, Shah pointed out.

“When you go to watch a movie in the theatre, even if you don’t like it, you won’t walk off,” he noted. “If the movie picks up within half an hour or towards the interval, you come out saying it’s a very good movie. At home, you’re watching a movie while eating food or cutting vegetables. If you can’t get their attention in the first 10 minutes, you will change the channel.”

Shah’s Goldmines Telefilms also has a YouTube channel, which has a little over 65 million subscribers. On YouTube, as on television, the action and comedy genres work the best, Shah said.

The producer-distributor has a full set-up to bridge the distance between the South and the Hindi-speaking territories.

“I have my own writers, dubbing artists and visual effects,” Shah said. “I am personally involved with every film. When I watch a movie, I make my own notes. I go through the writing and dubbing and make changes if necessary. When you write dialogue in Hindi, you have change it to Hindi sensibilities.”

Some of the dubbed releases are trimmed for length, while others get new titles. The Nayanthara starrer Dora, about a car possessed by the spirit of a loyal dog, was rechristened Kanchana The Wonder Car. Soodha Kavvum, the Tamil black comedy starring Vijay Sethupathi, became Rummy The Great Gambler.

Manish Shah had hoped to cash in on the Pushpa craze and release the Hindi version of Trivikram Srinivas’s Telugu-language Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo in cinemas on Republic Day. Since Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo is being remade in Hindi as Shehzada with Kartik Aaryan, the theatrical release was called off.

Instead, Shah will premiere the movie on February 6 on his own channel Dhinchaak TV, which is available on such direct broadcast satellite platforms as Tata Play and Dish. (The original Telugu film is on Netflix.) Shah has also dubbed Mersal, starring Tamil star Vijay.

In place of Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo, Shah will give Hindi viewers Rangasthalam, made by Pushpa director Sukumar in 2018 and starring Ram Charan as a hearing impaired crusader against corruption. The film is targeting a February release.

The Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo problem is likely to repeat itself for dubbing specialists like Shah. Several popular films produced in the South are being remade in Hindi. Most recently, the Tamil movie Vikram Vedha, whose Hindi dub is available on the Goldmines channel, has been retooled with Hrithik Roshan and Saif Ali Khan.

Shah is well placed to leap into the remaking business himself, but he says he doesn’t have the time or inclination. “My hands are full,” he said. “I am focusing more on broadcasting than movie-making.”

Manish Shah with Allu Arjun. Courtesy Goldmines Telefilms Instagram.

Also read:

Behind the rise of the Hindi dub of Telugu crime drama ‘Pushpa’, a long journey of hits and misses

‘Pushpa – The Rise’ review: Lots of style and a bit of substance

Why no one can ever deny having watched ‘Sooryavansham’