Baahubali 2 and Local Kung Fu 2 are both sequels, but any similarity between the two movies ends there. SS Rajamouli’s period epic is a multi-crore sequel to the 2015 blockbuster, while Kenny Basumatray Local Kung Fu 2 is a low-budget follow-up to the cult Assamese martial arts comedy from 2013.

Should the two movies be competing with each other at the box office then? This is what has happened in Assam – and is also taking place in other states – with the April 28 release of Baahubali 2. The Telugu drama about warring cousins has been dubbed in Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam and has been released on every available screen across India, with no contest in any language. Previous releases have been yanked off screens to meet the gargantuan demand for Baahubali 2 even when these films have been doing well – as was the case with Local Kung Fu, which was released on April 19.

“The film was running to almost full houses in the weekend,” said Kenny Basumatary. “I understand that Baahubali is a big film and there’s a lot of money riding on it, but couldn’t we be given a few screenings at least? The movie was picking up. Why would anyone make Assamese movies if we are not even given a chance to recover the amount we invested?”

Local Kung Fu 2.

In a state where emotions run high against people perceived as being non-Assamese, the idea that a local movie has to make way for a non-Assamese production has sparked off a familiar debate. Basumatary issued a video asking for support against the “outsider lobby”, which was shared widely on social media. The local media has also been reporting the issue, and there’s even the inevitable petition demanding that the state government should intervene to protect the interests of local filmmakers

“I know this is how capitalism works, but there needs to be some sort of special protection to protect diversity and democracy,” said Local Kung Fu’s executive producer Durlov Baruah.

Special protection for a struggling industry?

The Assamese film industry rolls out 40-odd movies a year. An even smaller number registers any semblance of commercial success in a market dominated by Hindi cinema, and it is impossible for a low-budget Assamese film to compete with something on the scale of Baahubali.

Protectionism is the only way out, Basumatary said – Assam needs to implement the same law that prevails in Tamil Nadu and Maharasthra, where cinema hall owners are required to reserve a certain number of screenings for local language productions.

In January, a similar incident snowballed into a major political controversy. Assamese film Shakira Ahibo Bokul Tolor Bihuloi was allegedly removed from screens to accommodate the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Raees despite doing well. The movie’s director, Himanshu Prasad, wrote a letter of complaint to Paresh Barua, the chief of the outlawed insurgent group United Liberation Front of Assam. Barua, who is believed to be hiding somewhere in Myanmar, appeared on a local television channel and issued a warning to hall owners. The threat didn’t work with exhibitors.

For local cinema owners, a potential blockbuster from Mumbai is an opportunity to make more money than they would from local titles. Chinmoy Sharma, owner of the iconic Anuradha Cineplex in Guwahati, denied abandoning Local Kung Fu 2 in favour of Baahubali. “The simple truth is that we were booked two months ago for Baahubali,” he told “This is how it works for a big release, and Baahubali is probably the biggest of the year, even bigger than, say, a Salman Khan movie.”

Baahubali 2.

Sharma also denied pressure from any “outsider lobby” to cut down on screenings for Assamese films. Local Kung Fu 2 was released on a Wednesday rather than a Friday, as is the usual practice, to get a couple of extra days of business.

“We have done all that we could for Local Kung Fu 2,” Sharma said. “We removed a movie mid-week just to accommodate it – a Wednesday release is unheard of in Assam. We even went out of our way to give a night show to the movie.” The producers of Local Kung Fu 2 should have simply postponed the release to get a better run, he added.

Was Local Kung Fu 2 really running to “near full houses”, as claimed by its makers? “Well, in the weekend it definitely did well,” Sharma said. The film lost momentum in the first few days of the second week, and waned dramatically on Monday and Tuesday, he said. The average occupancy during the first week at Anuradha Cineplex was a little less than 30%.

Local Kung Fu 2 was performing well by local standards, but it would not have been able to withstand Baahubali, said another exhibitor who operates several cinemas across the state. “The whole talk about an outside lobby is just rubbish,” said the exhibitor, who didn’t want to be named as he believed the issue had spiralled into one about Assamese pride. “This is a purely business decision and has nothing to do with the film being Assamese.”

There is no doubt, however, that Hindi films do get a longer rope. “Yes, there are occasions we have to run a flop Hindi cinema in almost empty halls in the second week,” the exhibitor said. “That is because the same distributor has the rights for a potential blockbuster, so that’s something we just have to do.”

Taking on Bollywood

Basumatary’s demand for a special policy to protect Assamese cinema from big ticket Bollywood releases has found quite a few supporters in the Assamese film industry. “Assamese films that receive good attention should be given some amount of protection by the government like in Maharashtra,” said filmmaker and movie critic Utpal Borpujari. “Most Assamese films don’t have very big promotion budgets. It is basically word-of-mouth, so maybe movies pick up a little late. A second-week run is therefore important.”

Jatin Bora, actor and chairperson of the state-run Assam State Film (finance and development) Corporation, said that he was pained by the plight of Assamese filmmakers. “These days even before a film is released, its premature death is foretold,” he said. The state is discussing a reservation policy for Assamese films along the lines of Maharashtra, he claimed. “I have had a meeting with the culture minister, and we will certainly come up with a policy soon.”

That, however, may be easier said than done. According to a member of the Assam Film Hall Owners’ Association, the government had convened a meeting a few months ago to discuss a reservation policy. The meeting ended in a stalemate, with the association telling the government that it wasn’t in the “business of charity”.

A reservation policy will backfire in Assam, said the association member, who wished to remain anonymous. “Most Assamese films have no takers,” he said. “There have been days when even in semi-urban and rural areas, where you’d expect Assamese films to do well, the halls have not had more than 10 people. We have been able to run Assamese films only because successful Hindi films offset the loss.”

Most Assamese films released since 2016 failed to gross more than Rs 3,00,000. Many theatres across the state have had to shut down because they didn’t even earn enough to pay their employees.

At Anuradha Cineplex alone, the average attendance for 11 out of 18 Assamese films screened over the last financial year was below 10%. The highest footfalls were for the Assamese film Gaane Ki Aane – 45% in the first week and less than 18% in the second week.

“Assamese films have a severe quality problem that needs to be addressed first,” the association member said. “Forcing cinema halls to screen Assamese movies that no one wants to watch would mean there won’t be any halls left to even screen good films like Local Kung Fu 2.”