Small was big down south. Low budget films, which were high on creative content, emerged as the real winners in 2014. Offerings like "Yaamirukka Bayamey" and "Karthikeya" not only set the cash registers ringing but also spelt profit for the investors in the southern filmdom, which otherwise registered a mere five percent hits out of about 500 releases.
Biggies like "Lingaa", "Kaththi", "Veeram" and "Aagadu" managed to strike gold at the box-office, but they couldn't qualify as successful ventures.
"A successful film is one which benefits every investor - from a producer to distributor to theatre owner. All these stars' films are sold at exorbitant prices, hence it becomes extremely difficult for distributors and other investors to make profits," trade analyst Trinath told .
A.R. Murugadoss-directed Tamil actioner "Kaththi" raked in over Rs.100 crore ($16 million) on an investment of about Rs.70 crore. Likewise, Rajinikanth's "Lingaa", said to be a Rs.80 crore movie, collected about Rs.100 crore in its opening weekend worldwide.
The most profitable Tamil films of the year were "Vella Illa Pattathari", "Aranmanai", "Yaamirukka Bayamey", "Thegidi", "Goli Soda", and "Maan Karate".
"Except 'Aranmanai', all other films were made under the budget of Rs.10 crore, but they managed to collect nearly double the amount invested in them at the box-office. These films have benefited all the investors because they didn't have to spend too much on acquiring their rights," Trinath said.
Horror-comedy "Aranmanai", said to be a Rs.12 crore movie, earned Rs.22 crore.
Other notable Tamil hits included "Manjapai", "Sathuranga Vettai", "Kathai Thiraikkathai Vasanam Iyakkam", "Mundasupatti" and "Naaigal Jaakirathai".
"Audiences are backing creative content. A case in point is the success of low-budget films such as 'Sathuranga Vettai'. Who would've expected a film like 'Naaigal Jaakirathai' featuring a dog in lead role to do exceptionally well," distributor Arvind Nambiar questioned.
According to Nambiar, the biggest Tamil hit in terms of return on investment is Dhanush's "Vella Illa Pattathari". Made on a budget of Rs.8 crore, including promotional costs, the film collected a whopping Rs.53 crore.
It has been a bad year for Telugu movies. With almost all the biggies biting the dust, it was sleeper hits like "Karthikeya", "Oohalu Gusagusalade" and "Run Raja Run" that maintained the footfalls.
The biggest Telugu hit was "Karthikeya" by debutant director Chandoo Mondeti.
The Akkineni family's Telugu family drama "Manam" was a successful venture because of the low cost involved.
"Since the film featured actors from three generations of the Akkineni family, it didn't cost them much. It collected about Rs.40 crore worldwide and celebrated a 50-day run at the box-office. Moreover, the makers solely enjoyed the success because they had released the film on their own," a leading producer said.
"The Telugu industry suffered huge losses due to big films such as 'Govindudu Andarivadele', 'Heart Attack', 'Rabhasa', 'Power' and 'Aagadu'. These films may have opened to big numbers, but they failed to turn profitable," he added.
Malayalam cinema has pushed the envelope content-wise. At the box-office, the films did fairly well compared to Telugu and Tamil industries.
The biggest Malayalam hit of the year was Anjali Menon-directed "Bangalore Days".
"Most Malayalam films are produced under the budget of Rs.10 crore. Rarely will you find a film made on a higher budget," Nambiar said.
"Bangalore Days", about three cousins from Kerala who move to Bengaluru, raked in nearly Rs.50 crore on an investment of Rs.9 crore.
"Not only was 'Bangalore Days' a profitable venture, it was also the most widely viewed Malayalam film in recent times. Since it released worldwide with English subtitles, it opened to overwhelming response. In Mumbai, the film ran for nearly five weeks," Nambiar said.
According to trade sources, "Bangalore Days" even beat Malayalam thriller "Drishyam" at the box-office.
The second biggest hit in the language was comedy "Vellimoonga".
"Even the trade experts didn't expect 'Vellimoonga' to do so well. It turned out to be a surprise hit. Made under Rs.5 crore, it went on to mint over Rs.20 crore at the box-office," Nambiar added.
Other Malayalam hits included "Ring Master", "How Old Are You" and "7th Day".
"Bangalore Days" and "How Old Are You" featured women in prominent roles. While the former was directed by Anjali, the latter was the comeback film of actress Manju Warrier, who played the lead.
In Kannada, star-studded films such as "Maanikya" and "Power" were money spinners. Both the films were remake of Telugu films "Mirchi" and "Dookudu", respectively.
"The Kannada industry plays safe by betting on successful remakes. Hence, the chances of box-office disasters are low. There are exceptions, but it's been an average year for the industry with not too many flops," distributor Sudharshan Hegde told .
Both "Maanikya" and "Power", estimated to be made on Rs.15 crore and Rs. 30 crore, collected over Rs.50 crore at the ticket window.
Other Kannada hits included "Ugramm", "Chandralekha" and "Gajakesari".
In a nutshell, while small made it big, it was a disappointing year for southern biggies.
* Mere five percent hits of about 500 releases.
* Biggies like "Lingaa", "Kaththi", "Veeram" and "Aagadu" struck gold at the box-office, but couldn't qualify as successful ventures.
* The most profitable Tamil films of the year were "Vella Illa Pattathari", "Aranmanai", "Yaamirukka Bayamey", "Thegidi", "Goli Soda", and "Maan Karate".
* Except for 'Aranmanai', all other films were made for under Rs.10 crore, but managed to collect nearly double the amount invested in them.
* Biggest Tamil hit in terms of return on investment was Dhanush's "Vella Illa Pattathari". Made for Rs.8 crore it collected a whopping Rs.53 crore.
* Akkineni family's Telugu family drama "Manam" was a successful because of the low cost involved