Insider’s guide to the South Indian International Movie Awards

The annual South Indian International Movie Awards are back in Dubai this weekend to celebrate the best in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam cinema. Here is our insider’s guide to the four regional film industries.

Actress Sridevi. AFP photo
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The annual South Indian International Movie Awards are back in Dubai this weekend to celebrate the best in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam cinema. Here is our insider's guide to the four regional film industries.
The Tamil film industry, based primarily in Chennai, is the biggest producer of South Indian cinema.
The industry, which in its early years thrived on mythological and historical dramas, now makes a range of films that are popular not only in Tamil Nadu, but as far afield as Sri Lanka, Singapore, Japan and the Middle East.
The biggest megastars include Sivaji Ganesan (the first), Kamal Haasan and Rajnikanth.
But Rajnikanth is unarguably the industry's biggest celebrity. Formerly a bus conductor, he started out playing the anti-hero. Bairavi (1978), in which he played the lead role for the first time, proved to be a turning point in his career, but it was Mullum Malarum (Thorns Also Blossom, 1978) that brought him stardom.
His best known movies include Muthu (1995), Thalapthi (Commander, 1991), Baasha (1995), Enthiran (Robot, 2010) and Sivaji (2010).
The multifaceted Kamal Haasan, who made his big-screen debut as a child actor in 1960, has acted in Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi and Bengali films. As a director, Vishwaroopam (2013) is his most well-known film, a sequel to which is under production.
While Rajnikanth and Haasan are hailed as the icons of Tamil cinema, actors Vijay (Ghilli, 2004; Pokkiri, Rogue, 2007), and Ajith Kumar (Aasaai, 1995; Kadhal Kottai, 1996, which went on to win three National Awards) are not far behind, with some of their films breaking the 100-crore rupee (Dh57.5 million) mark at the box office.
This is also the industry in which Bollywood actress Sridevi got her first break, as well as two of Hindi cinema's biggest female stars: Priyanka Chopra with Thamizhan (2002) and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan with Iruvar (1997).
Celebrated directors include Mani Ratnam (Roja, Rose, 1992; Mumbai, 1995; Iruvar, The Duo, 1997; Anjali, 1990) and S Shankar, reportedly India's highest paid director, (Sivaji, 2007; Anniyan, Outsider, 2005), and have also remade their box-office successes in other languages.
One to watch out for is Gautham Menon (Minnale, Lightening, 2001), an up-and-coming filmmaker whose intelligent, stylised films are very popular with the youth.
The Telugu film industry, based in Hyderabad, is the record-breaker of the South Indian cinema industries.
It holds the Guinness world record for the world's largest film production facility (Ramoji Film City, Hyderabad), the most expensive film made in India (Baahubali, 2015), and the highest number of films by a female director (Vijay Nirmala, 44 movies). It is also responsible for the third-highest-grossing film of all time, the recently released Baahubali.
As with most film industries in the region, mythological and fantasy dramas were mainstays of the early years, of which N?T Rama Rao was the biggest icon, and some of his films – including Mayabazar, 1957; Missamma, Miss Madam, 1955; Seetarama Kalyanam, 1961 – are cult classics.
Current stars include Chiranjeevi's son Ram Charan and Nagarjuna. Rana Daggubatti, who began working in the industry as a visual-effects co-ordinator, is being touted as the next big thing, especially after his role as the anti-hero in Baahubali.
S?S Rajmouli, fresh from the success of his latest film, Baahubali, is his most popular yet, has revolutionised the use of special effects in the local industry. His first blockbuster, Magadheera (Great Warrior, 2009), hit the jackpot at the box office, earning more than a billion rupees.
His subsequent film Eega (Fly, 2012) – which had mixed reviews – not only earned more than 1.25bn rupees, but was also a huge hit at international film festivals.
It won multiple awards, including one for Best Hero (for the main character, a fly), at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.
The Kannada film industry, based in Bangalore, really began to grow in the 1970s and 1980s – the age of parallel cinema, a glorious era that saw the rise of directors such as Girish Karnad (Kaadu, Forest, 1973) and B V Karanth (Chomana Dudi, Choma's Drum, 1975), while the actors that dominated the scene at the time were Rajkumar and Vishnuvardhan.
Affectionately nicknamed Rajanna, Rajkumar won multiple national awards for playback singing and acting, along with the Dada Saheb Phalke Award and the Padma Bhushan.
Some of the most popular Kannada films include Kaviratna Kalidasa (1983), Mayura (1975), Bandhana (1984) and Apthamitra (Close Friend, 2004). Renowned singer S?P Balasubrahmanyam, who has sung more than 45,000 songs in several languages, got his break in the Kannada film industry. Even though he was a singer, Vishnuvardhan insisted on popular playback artist Balasubrahmanyam singing for him in his movies.
While Vishnuvardhan and Rajkumar were both revered – the former's fans even built him a temple – it was the latter that the masses seemed to be most fanatical about: when Rajkumar died of a heart attack in 2006, there were widespread riots in Bangalore, and many fans had to be stopped from committing suicide.
The late 1990s saw the rise of director and actor Upendra Rao, best known for the blockbusters A, 1998; Upendra, 1999; and Super (2010).
One of the industry's most-loved actresses is Umashree. She has starred in more than 400 films, and is known for her excellent comic timing. She won Best International Actress in 2008 at the Osian Cinefan Festival of Asian and Arab cinema for Gulabi Talkies.
Girish Kasaravalli, a parallel cinema director, is known for sensitive portrayal of social issues. He has won 13 National Awards and the Padma Shri. His most notable films include Ghatashraddha (The Ritual, 1977), Tabarana Kathe (Tabarana's Tale, 1987) and Naayi Neralu (Shadow of the Dog, 2006).
Based mostly in Trivandrum and Cochin, the Malayalam industry has seen huge changes in the past few years.
From commercial comedies and one-man-show movies, filmmakers have come a long way, and have graduated to telling "real" stories that the audience can connect with.
Some of the most iconic films to come out of Mollywood include Chemmeen (Prawn, 1965); Chinthavishtayaya Shyamala (Shyamala Lost in Thought, 1998); Ustad Hotel (2012); Drishyam (2013); Premam (2015); Salt N' Pepper (2011); and North 24 Kaatham (North 24 Miles, 2013).
Mohanlal (Vanaprastham, The Last Dance, 1999; Drishyam, 2013), and Mammootty (Mrugya, 1998; Ambedkar, 2000), are its biggest stars, though the younger generation – Nivin Pauly (Premam, 2015; Bangalore Days, 2014) and Mammootty's son Dulqer Salmaan (Neelakasham, 2014; Ustad Hotel, 2012) – are thinking out of the box, starring in youth-friendly, bilingual films that have a wider appeal. Directors Bharathan (Chamaram, 1980; Chilambu, 1986), and A?K Lohithadas (Bhoothakannadi, 1997; Joker, 2000), are industry giants, although in the past few years, Anwar Rasheed (Rajamanikyam, 2005; Ustad Hotel, 2012) has garnered audience and critical acclaim for his simple stories about everyday life, all set to beautiful music. Top actresses include Shobhana, who has also appeared in a few Bollywood films, and Manju Warrier – both well known for their dancing skills.
Unlike the Tamil and Telugu film industries, Malayalam films operate on small budgets.