Deccanwood: An Indian film industry taking on Bollywood

As Bollywood expands to global markets and genres many, unable to connect, seek local alternatives that speak to them.

Abrar Khan
Deccanwood actor and director Abrar Khan believes that the growing industry is sustainable [Abrar Khan/Al Jazeera]

Many of India’s regional language filmmakers fear being swallowed up by the dominant Hindi language film industry, Bollywood.

They have, therefore, created their own fan bases and industries. There are Kollywood, the Tamil language film industry, Tollywood, the Telegu film industry, and many other woods. 

But one film industry is boldly reaching out to the same market as Bollywood – and it isn’t doing too badly.  

The Hyderabad Deccan Urdu film industry, also known as Deccanwood, had its first cinema film release in 2005. Since then, many local films have been produced in Hyderabad and released alongside Bollywood productions.

The Deccanwood industry caters to the same Hindi-Urdu speaking audience as Bollywood, but it offers a local dialect that seems to appeal. 

 A Deccanwood film starring famous Hyderabadi actor Gullu Dada [Abrar Khan]
A Deccanwood film starring famous Hyderabadi actor Gullu Dada [Abrar Khan]

Starting out small

Abrar Khan began working in Deccanwood part time when it was just starting. “In 2010, I made my first video, Hyderabad Diaries,” Khan, who also works as an administrator at a manufacturing plant, told Al Jazeera.

The 28-year-old said that after receiving rave reviews from fans, he started the Hyderabad Diaries Channel on YouTube. It features a short weekly comedy video on everyday life in Hyderabad.

“The number of views were very low but the reviews were mostly positive,” Khan said. “But soon the views started increasing as did the positive reviews and now it’s the most subscribed Hyderabad YouTube channel.” 

Khan, who directed a full Hyderabad feature film a few years ago, said that the audience was what motivated him to shoot weekly episodes of Hyderabad Diaries.

Actor-director Abrar Khan speaks about Hyderabad Diaries and Deccanwood

“I love filmmaking, that was the reason I started. But our audience loved our work, that was the reason I continued to do it,” he said.

Khan is excited about his latest film, Dubai Return, which is scheduled to be released during the Muslim Eid al Fitr holiday. The short film is the story of a young thug and a greedy mother who wants a rich overseas Indian groom for her daughter, but gets more than she bargained for.

Khan said that initially it was very difficult to balance work with shooting films, but with time he learned to juggle the two.

Movies are not a new passion in the Khan family. Khan’s father, Adnan Sajid Khan, also known as Gullu Dada, is the most famous Deccanwood hero.

Outside audiences 

Hyderabad films are not only popular in Hyderabad, but with overseas Hyderabadis as well.

Salem al Kaseri, an Indian living in Qatar, said that he has been watching Hyderabad films for more than a decade now.

“Bollywood films fail to capture the Hyderabad Hindi/Urdu dialect and the subtle comedy that is so inherent in this language,” said Kaseri, who works as a manager at a motor vehicle company.

“I am not saying that my passion for Bollywood is dying. It’s ever growing. But I feel Hyderabad films are a more humorous and expressive version of Bollywood.”

Kaseri added that he feels proud to support the Deccanwood industry. “The Hyderabad film industry is from my city. When I support it, I feel I am supporting one of my own. Bollywood is so huge that sometimes I fail to identify with it any more.”

Khan agreed that Bollywood had become too large to cater to the preferences of local audiences.

“Bollywood cannot provide the essence of Hyderabad, such as the Hyderabadi language. They cannot capture the culture as perfectly as we can … It’s like a French cook trying to make Bagaara Khaana Daalcha [local Hyderabad dishes]; it just doesn’t work,” he chuckled.

Deccanwood: Is the industry sustainable?

But not everyone appreciates the Hyderabad movies.

Muznah Madeeha, a social researcher in Qatar, said that she identifies more with Bollywood films than local Hyderabad films.

 Aziz Naser is the most celebrated actor-direcor in Deccanwood [Abrar Khan]
Aziz Naser is the most celebrated actor-direcor in Deccanwood [Abrar Khan]

“Bollywood films showcase the NRI [non-resident Indian] culture nowadays, and that’s who I am,” said Madeeha, a mother of two who has been living outside India for more than 20 years.

Still, the industry is growing, and Khan is confident that it is sustainable.

“I believe this industry has a lot of seriously untapped potential. With a healthy budget and some insanely talented directors like Aziz Naser [a noted Hyderabad film director], I think we can give many mainstream movies a run for their money.”

Khan explained that the average production cost for a Hyderabadi film was between $35,000 and $75,000, and that profits can be big.

“Revenue always depends on the final product, as we don’t get to release our films in a lot of theatres. The opening weekend collection is comparatively very low compared with films from other industries. But if the film is a hit with the public, then let me tell you there are Hyderabad movies which have earned as much as $300,000.”

For this local Hyderabad film industry, run by part-time actors and producers making films in the same language and genre as Bollywood, the future seems promising.

Source: Al Jazeera