From a biopic on legendary southern actress Savitri to a hard-hitting film on caste-based discrimination and a moving drama centered on events that follow an untimely death, southern cinema ventured into uncharted territories in 2018 with content that not only stood out, but also made an impact at the box-office.
The year just ending is definitely a step-up in terms of content in southern cinema and the success of films such as "96", "Pyaar Prema Kadhal" and "Sudani From Nigeria" assured that content triumphed over star power.
Well-known distributor B. Sakthivelan of Sakthi Film Factory said it's been a better year for Tamil cinema vis-à-vis 2017.
"Overall, it's been a good year for Tamil cinema. The success of good films with strong content has led to increase in market size. This year also witnessed the launch of new multiplexes which have helped the industry boom," Sakthivelan told IANS.
He added that despite the piracy threat, audiences have lapped up content-rich films.
"Piracy will always remain a threat but this year audiences didn't let down any film with good content. The best examples are films such as 'Chekka Chivantha Vaanam', 'Pariyerum Perumal', '96' and 'Ratsasan' which released around the same time and ran successfully in theatres for a good number of weeks," he said.
While "Chekka Chivantha Vaanam" emerged as the biggest grosser in Mani Ratnam's career, both "96" and "Ratsasan" were adjudged hits by the trade.
The biggest blockbusters were Vijay's "Sarkar" and superstar Rajinikanth's "2.0", which is still running in cinemas.
Other notable Tamil hits were "Kolamavu Kokila", "Pyar Prema Kadhal", "Imaikka Nodigal", "Tamizh Padam 2" and "Tik Tik Tik".
According to Deepak Kodela of popular box-office portal AndhraBoxOffice.com, it's been a decent year for Telugu filmdom.
"Last year, we had 'Baahubali 2', so you can't better that. The problem with Telugu releases this year was that most of the films were not able to earn profits like last year. Three genuine blockbusters were 'Rangasthalam', 'Mahanati' and 'Geetha Govindam'," Kodela said.
While Mahesh Babu's "Bharat Ane Nenu" and Jr. NTR's "Aravinda Sametha" registered big numbers, they didn't emerge as big hits.
Both "Bharat Ane Nenu" and "Aravinda Sametha" saw minor losses and the films had decent success.
Other notable hits were "Chalo", "Taxiwaala", "Goodachari" and "RX 100".
Independent producer Sethumadhavan, who actively follows Malayalam cinema, said it's been a decent year overall for the industry.
"The industry didn't witness groundbreaking success. There hasn't been a game-changer film in terms of numbers. However, the quality of content has been steady and some interesting subjects continue to get made and gain acceptance. Be it 'Sudani from Nigeria' or 'S Durga', which finally managed to find a release, these films were received well," Sethumadhavan told IANS.
He also pointed out that Nivin Pauly's period drama "Kayamkulam Kochunni", which starred Mohanlal in an extended cameo, emerged as one of the biggest hits of the year.
"It's too early to talk about Mohanlal's 'Odiyan', which just released last week. It has opened to big numbers but it has to be seen if it will emerge as the next 'Pulimurugan'," he said, and added that this year also witnessed a few surprise hits.
"Films like 'Joseph' and 'Eeda', which had no major expectations when they released, went on to be received very well. 'Ee Ma Yu' is another film which fetched major awards and was also commercially successful," he said.
Over the last few years, Malayalam cinema has been able to find wide release outside Kerala and Sethumadhavan believes that is a good and welcome trend.
"It was surprising to see 'Odiyan' release in markets like Jamshedpur' and 'Ranchi' among few other places. In the Gulf, Malayalam films have mostly had deferred release, usually two or three weeks after their release in Kerala and other places. However, 'Odiyan' had a simultaneous release in Kerala as well as the Gulf, which is a healthy trend," he said.
For the Kannada industry, 2018 saw a record number of releases as over 200 films hit the screens, according to independent producer and film critic Harish Mallya, who actively tracks Kannada cinema.
"Each week, there were five releases and these films struggled to find screens to have even a decent run. On the flip-side, this year saw an increase in the number of people watching Kannada cinema outside Karnataka and this trend is growing rapidly," Harish said.
In terms of content, he said the output has been mostly mediocre.
"Content-wise nothing really stood out this year. One of the biggest hits of the year was Rishab Shetty's 'Sarkari Hiriya Pratamika Shale', which enjoyed a 100-day theatrical run and registered good numbers. 'Gultoo' is another film that made lot of noise. It's a film on data theft and cyber crimes and Bangalore's IT crowd lapped it up," Harish said.
He also added that "Humble Politician Nograj", a political satire, saw small success due to its quirky content. On the other hand, "Ayogya", a regular commercial film, also did good business.
"Shivrajkumar's 'Tagaru' is one of the very few star films that did really well this year. This was an experimental film with non-linear narration and it worked wonders. Despite being a star, it was gutsy of Shivrajkumar to take up this project," he said, adding that "The Villain", starring Sudeep and Shivrajkumar, was one of the star-studded big duds of the year.