Despite giving innumerable gems to Indian cinema, the Kannada film industry was lesser known out of all South Indian film industries to non-Kannadigas. It was often overshadowed by the much bigger Tamil and Telugu industries whose scale, budget, and literally everything else were too huge in comparison to Kannada cinema. On the other hand, Malayalam cinema with its incredible quality had established itself in the country quite some time back. So, to any random person, Kannada cinema was the most unknown when compared to others.
I remember in my previous workplace, nearly everyone discussed cinema, and Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam films were discussed by all but nobody apart from us Kannadigas spoke about Kannada cinema. Even when KGF Chapter 1 had released and become a nationwide blockbuster, while doing my MBA, I had to correct a friend who spoke about it as a Telugu film. I had to politely tell him that it was a Kannada film and not a Telugu one. But in 2022, I guess the story has changed completely. Today not only is Kannada cinema known to everyone in the country but rather cherished and celebrated by all those who love movies.
While this year has seen Bollywood get a huge reality check with numerous big budgets, big starrer films crashing at the box office and getting smashed by the fans and critics alike, Kannada cinema on the other hand has had its best year in a long, long time. This year’s highest-grossing Indian movie is a Kannada one, a historical landmark for sure. KGF Chapter 2 broke all records at the box office. It became the first Kannada movie to cross ₹1000 crores — a huge achievement. Not only this, it is just the second Indian movie after Baahubali 2 to make ₹1000 crores from Indian market alone.
The hype for the film was consistent ever since it was announced that KGF would have a sequel. Its teaser, trailer, etc broke all kinds of viewership records and the Rocking Star Yash starrer was a rocking blockbuster that took the box office by storm. Yash was not just a superstar in Kannada cinema anymore but now he was a national superstar and is arguably the biggest superstar in the country right now.
While KGF 2 smashed all records, another Kannada movie — 777 Charlie melted the hearts of cine lovers across the country. A heartwarming story about the bond between a lonely factory worker, portrayed superbly by Rakshit Shetty and his pet dog Charlie, it was much appreciated by everyone. It had a limited release initially but then was soon released all over the world. While the Kannada version was digitally streamed on Voot, other versions were streamed on Amazon Prime Video and became widely watched on both platforms.
Then came the movie that took not just Karnataka but the whole of India by storm. Made on a modest budget of ₹16 crores and shot entirely in Kundapura, Udupi district, Kantara turned out to be a truly divine blockbuster. Initially, it was released in Kannada but it achieved such an overwhelming response from viewers that soon by word of mouth and through the power of social media, everybody wanted to watch it. So, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, and Hindi versions were all released into the theatres and it became a nationwide phenomenon.
Themed around the Hindu ritual of bhoota kola that is widely practiced in the Tulunaad region of Karnataka and the Kasargod district of Kerala, Kantara — whose translation means a divine forest touched the hearts of people across the country. It became the highest-grossing movie ever in Karnataka, beating even the monstrous hit that was KGF 2.
Together, KGF 2, 777 Charlie, and Kantara were recognised among the 10 most popular movies of the year by IMDb — Internet Movie Database, one of the most popular websites used by movie lovers across the world. In a list that has been rightly dominated by movies from the Southern part of India, it’s incredible to see that three of these 10 are Kannada movies. It was heartening to see Kannada actors like Yash and Rishab Shetty being invited to national media conclaves and taking part in them, something I don’t recall seeing before.
Apart from these three, other movies like the beloved Puneeth Rajkumar’s last two movies — James and Gandhada Gudi, Sudeep’s Vikrant Rona, and many others were successful at the box office. What’s interesting to know is that till 2018, no Kannada movie had crossed ₹100 crores at the box office. But since then, 5 other movies have crossed the magical mark and all these 5 — James, 777 Charlie, Vikrant Rona, KGF 2, and Kantara belong to the class of 2022.
In a year where most big-budget Bollywood movies floundered, Kannada cinema notched up a new all-time high. What 2022 has shown is that Kannada cinema is no pushover and it is here to stay. As a Kannadiga and as a cinephile, I wish to see this incredible growth of Kannada cinema continue for years to come.