The Walt Disney Company was founded in 1923 and is currently estimated to have assets worth ~$80 billion. Not only is it listed as one of the world’s most prominent brands, it has completely redefined children’s and family entertainment, from its iconic movies and short films to its theme parks.
Meanwhile, family friends of mine still struggle to find Telugu movies that their young children can watch and relate to. If studios can be so successful in producing quality films for children in the U.S., then why can’t studios do the same in India?
The Success of Eega
An S.S. Rajamouli film about the murder of a lover boy reborn as a housefly to avenge his death, Eega released to rave reviews and was an instant hit with the Telugu audience, especially overseas. While people continue to say that the movie didn’t do as well financially, Wikipedia claims that it has collected a total box office of $21 million. Taking into account that it is was a bilingual release that was later dubbed in various other languages, and received many prestigious international nominations and awards, I would find it hard to believe that Eega was not a commercial success. Even when I watched the film in theaters, I remember children laughing at the expressions that were masterfully crafted into the animation by Makuta Effects.
Think Bigger Than Films Alone
Even if Eega hadn’t achieved massive collections at the box office, the fact that it was well received by the audience, and especially by children, means that it could easily be a financial success with marketing and licensing. The character of the Eega and it’s image is a product of the film and this means licensing fees for the sale of any form of merchandise that is branded with the charming housefly. This is one of the biggest benefits of creating children’s films that is often overlooked.
Traditional films don’t have characters that can be easily translated into a brand. Rajamoulli is a gem at this (go watch Baahuballi and then read the upcoming comics, etc.). Children’s movies tend to have unique concepts and characters that can easily be branded onto extensions, ranging from games to lunch boxes. If children can really connect to a character from a film, they will have a tendency to associate themselves with that character, which means there is a benefit for producers of goods that children normally consumer, such as school supplies or clothing, to associate their goods with those characters. If utilized correctly, children’s films can possibly earn more in this manner than normal films do in box office collections, making them an overall bigger financial success.
Benefits for Kids
How effective is educational media? Fairly effective. Research shows that certain educational TV shows have been proven to improve children’s abilities in school. So why do we not have any TV shows that are the Telugu equivalent of Sesame Street, let alone good TV shows that can parallel any of the TV shows that are produced in the Western part of the world? One main reason is that TV shows/serials are primarily seen by middle-aged women in India, so there is not enough demand for these types of shows. On top of that, Telugu TV shows don’t make the same amount of money as English TV shows simply because there is a greater audience for these shows. My argument here is that in recent years, Telugu cinema has advanced considerably. Animation has made great strides, screenplay is becoming more diverse and the reach of Telugu cinema is expanding (think Baahuballi). If movies can make this kind of progress, I hope that in coming years the silver screen will follow suite.
This may not be as important back in India, but I grew up in the U.S. along with many other Telugu NRI kids. Many children who are used to Hollywood films and TV shows grow up disliking Telugu cinema. Having more children oriented Telugu films can help change this by giving kids something that they can connect to in their mother tongue.
Why Others Have Failed
Disney has made multiple attempts at producing films in India. While it has had limited success in the North, Disney’s Telugu movie, Anaganaga O Dheerudu, failed to gain the desired response despite a star cast, good production values and large budget and a music score by multiple notable Indian music directors. This failure is mainly due to the disconnect between Western and Eastern notions of children’s movies. To create a successful children’s film in the East, it isn’t simply enough to repeat the same formula while adapting it to Indian culture. Children in India are used to seeing all types of films; they will not be satisfied by the same fairy tale stories that are told in many of Disney’s movies. Children’s movies should have stories about children or young adults, with realistic characters that they can relate to.
We are experiencing a major shift in Telugu cinema. Commercial entertainers are failing at the box office as the audience is starting to crave diversity and authenticity. The overseas market for Telugu cinema seems to be growing every year. If more people involved in the industry, such as the writers, put an effort into creating children oriented stories and films, we can start moving in the right direction with regards to children’s entertainment as well. I’ve seen and scrolled past hundreds of Telugu short films on YouTube but I can’t recall one that was oriented for kids. I don’t think this is because children’s films cannot be intense or creative; it just requires a more out of the box approach to story writing and film making.
Let’s not forget an important sector of the audience. Remember, we were all kids at one point too!
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