Bigger, better, bolder

Bigger, better, bolder

Bigger, better, bolder

2013 is definitely a year to cherish as it marks the centenary milestone of Indian cinema. Looking back, we note that every decade of the 100 years of Hindi films has had its unique highlights. The last decade has been no exception, writes Roshmila Bhattacharya, tracking the 10 defining changes that have marked Bollywood in this period.

A week into 2013, Saif Ali Khan who was gearing up for his big-ticket franchise, Race 2 (2013), when quizzed on his chances of crashing the Rs 100-crore club quipped, “I hope by the time this interview comes out, the numbers would have gone up to Rs 200 crore.”

The star-producer wasn’t being flippant. His Race 2 may have fallen short of scoring a double century, but Ranbir Kapoor’s Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013) came tantalisingly close, and Shah Rukh Khan’s Chennai Express (2013) steamed past the milestone with crores to spare.

Kaun banega crorepati?

Chennai Express, with a domestic gross of Rs 224.10 crore in its fourth week, has shattered 3 Idiots’s (2009) four-year record to become the all-time biggest grosser. But Aamir Khan is expected to hit back before the year-end with his action thriller Dhoom 3, unless Hrithik Roshan does it earlier with his Diwali dhamaka, Krrish 3. Bollywood’s badshah was recently quoted as saying that today records are made to be broken.

Now that Rs 200 crore is not just an idiotic fantasy, even a Rs 500 crore club seems feasible in view of India’s 1.27 billion population, many of them being movie buffs, escalating ticket prices, more shows, multiple screens, newer markets overseas, bigger budgets and better promotions.

Marketing, the new success mantra

Today, even the once publicity-shy stars are willingly going on a promotional blitz across the country and around the world. A sizeable budget is allotted for publicity and advertising that continues even post the film’s release. Sunny Deol who didn’t give many interviews for Gadar—Ek Prem Katha (2001) was ready to give them now for his upcoming Singh Saab The Great because he has understood that it’s imperative now to promote his film to reach its target audience. “The competition is so intense that if you don’t, all your hard work can go to waste. The industry has changed drastically in the last decade, right from the way a film is made to the way it is promoted,” he avers.    

Bhushan Kumar recently showed us how a Rs 8-crore sequel could be turned into a Rs 80-crore blockbuster with clever marketing. He incorporated two new tracks, Ankit Tewary’s Sunn raha hai and Mithoon’s Tum hi ho, into Jeet Ganguly’s nine-song album, took 7,500 spots on TV every week to play the songs and the promos on the loop, ensured that they ruled the FM charts and on YouTube, and eventually whipped up enough curiosity to take moviegoers into the theatres to watch his film.

“My father (Gulshan Kumar) had also used music as a promotional tool for the original Aashiqui (1999),” informs the head honcho of the music label T-Series and the co-producer of the superhit Aashiqui 2, insisting that good music can aid promotions, guarantee a strong opening, and bring in a repeat audience.

Music, though, is just one promotional gimmick. Special appearances on hit TV shows, live concerts, contests, merchandise, and even a promised cash reward to sit through a horror film with steady vitals, are other ploys to help sell a film. 

Both entertainment &infotainment bank profits

The good news is that the falling rupee hasn’t stopped people from watching movies. And  filmmaker Shoojit Sircar is encouraged by the fact that both potboilers and off-beat players are working commercially. His Madras Cafe (2013) ended its second-week run with a domestic gross of almost Rs 43 crore despite being more ‘infotainment’ than ‘entertainment’.

“Not so long ago, we believed Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani, Mrinal Sen and Tapan Sinha kind of cinema was lost forever. But today, thanks to the TV boom that has exposed people to different kinds of content, there is a distinct division in the audience in terms of the kind of films they want to watch,” says Sircar, reassured by the fact that while the so-called parallel cinema of the ’70s did not make money, his Vicky Donor (2012) and a Madras Cafe have been earning propositions without being formulaic.

“This encourages filmmakers to take risks rather than play safe. Every actor and technician today wants at least one film in his/her portfolio that may not reach the Rs 100-Rs 200 crore benchmark, but will be remembered as good cinema,” asserts the filmmaker.

Mainstream biggies open to experimentation

National Award winning producer-director Madhur Bhandarkar agrees that both filmmakers and artistes, even those in the mainstream who were earlier apprehensive about breaking the stereotype, are more open to experimenting with “different” films now. “Kareena Kapoor did an Agent Vinod (2012) and a Heroine (2012) in the same year, and commercial actor John Abraham is investing his earnings in an unconventional Madras Cafe,” says Bhandarkar, explaining that multiplexes have brought in a more informed audience with evolved tastes and deeper pockets.

Horror gets classy

The sedate ’50s belonged to the socials while the swinging ’60s were musically-inclined, the ’70s simmered with deep-rooted anger against the system, the ’80s fluctuated between factory-produced sambar family dramas and double-meaning comedies, the ‘90s saw the return of romance, but by the turn of the century, all the genres had mixed up. Today, any story interestingly told and slickly presented works, even horror.

Yes, horror that was once equated with C-grade Ramsay flicks, is playing in multiplexes. It’s been elevated with A-list stars and snazzy SFX, even though the core content still taps into jaadu tona (black magic) and ropes in tantriks to hold the climax captive. 

Vikram Bhatt’s latest production, Horror Story, which opened on Friday the 13th, is a one-night-adventure of seven spooked-out friends. It has no songs or sex. “I wanted to make a Hollywood kind of horror film that would bring families to the multiplexes even if I had to sacrifice sexuality for that,” reasons Bhatt.

Film ke special effects

Horror, he admits, is yet to be seen as aesthetic art. It doesn’t get good reviews or stars, but it has definitely evolved in its storytelling and technique. Bhatt has moved into alien territory with India’s first Creature flick and after his pioneering efforts with 3D and stereophonic sound, he now hopes to introduce the genre to Dolby atmos sound and the IMAX format.

Anubhav Sinha’s debut production, Warning, also promises a sea change in techno wizardry. A horror film, it has been filmed and not converted in 3D, in and under water for 42 days. A qualified engineer, Sinha has seen stories that revolved around great characters diversify to rely on technology to explore new spaces. And unwilling to lag behind, he set RA.One (2011) in the unreal setting of a computer game and Warning in the complex setting of a sea. And then he used SFX to make this new space more believable.

“Earlier, our technicians were not good enough to even try anything new, but today they are good enough to learn something new and we having lost the fear of technology, are ready to explore strange new worlds,” says Sinha.

His observations are borne out by the promos of Krrish 3 and Dhoom 3 that promise to boldly go where Hindi cinema has not gone before.

Sex no longer a dirty picture 

Talking of the bold, sex in Hindi cinema has graduated from Govinda-Karisma’s dirty dancing to a National Award-winning The Dirty Picture (2011). Today’s youngsters, used to SMS joke and MMS clips, are not as outraged by Ekta Kapoor’s ‘cool’ comedy and Indra Kumar’s Grand Masti. The conservatives may well dub the Masti sequel pornographic, but its producer-director would prefer to describe it as an adult sex comedy.

The filmmaker who once specialised in family dramas like Dil (1990), Beta (1992) and Raja (1995) has changed with the times to experiment with a comic caper on the lines of American Pie (1999) and The Hangover (2009) “because no one in India knows how to make a film like that”.

While he stopped short of showing his actors perform sex on screen, his ‘married’ hero openly says that he is ready to sleep with another woman. “If he’d said the same nine years ago in Masti (2004), I would have got a lot of flak. I’m still getting some, mostly from the critics, but not as much as before,” Kumar laughs.

The rousing reception to the lip-locked Shuddh Desi Romance that makes a case for live-in relationships over loveless marriages, gives one reason to believe that India is growing up, even though Ormax Media’s research findings show that 77 per cent of young Indian women still think it is wrong to kiss on the first or second date and 44 per cent young men concurred with them.

On the subject of live-in relationships, 80 per cent parents still believe that sex before marriage is unacceptable and fostered only by ‘loose characters’. Only 51 per cent youngsters disagreed with them on the first count, with 68 per cent reiterating that live-in relationships are usually born purely out of lust, and 72 per cent insisting that they would end in a break-up.

However, despite this rather regressive mind-set of the majority, ‘serial kisser’ Emraan Hashmi has managed to graduate from the B-grade bracket, move out of single screen into multiplexes with films like Shanghai (2012) and Ghanchakkar (2013) and even snagged the role of a Pakistani in a Hollywood movie, White Lies, being directed by an Oscar winner, Danis Tanovic, without losing out on the mandatory kiss.
However, as Veena Malik, the bold, new heroine from Pakistan asserts, “Sex without content won’t sell.”

From make-believe to believable action

Nor will action without emotions, insists John Abraham. The actor is eager to return to a space he is comfortable in with the hardcore, hand-to-hand combats of the ’70s and ’80s, the kind we saw in plenty in the Manya Surve fictionised bio-pic, Shootout At Wadala (2013). However, he’s choosing his projects with care, aware that the audience wants action that’s real and intelligent enough to differentiate between convincing and computer-generated imagery (CGI).

Vidyut Jamwal, who took on a pumped-up Abraham in the cop drama, Force (2011), recalls while being expected to take down a 6 feet 7 inches Black actor flown down from London in the film, he managed to use a kalaripayattu tackle to make the impossible possible. “You can pound 10 men to pulp single-handedly, provided it looks believable,” says the  army officer’s son who, in this year’s Commando, dug deep into his arsenal of martial arts skills to come up with an array of mind-boggling kicks, punches and jumps, every one of them pulled off by him alone with CGI, wires or doubles.

The world in a lunchbox

Being on the Cannes jury this May exposed Vidya Balan not only to the best of world cinema, but also offered a window to how the West perceives Indian cinema in its 100th year. She was heartened by the interest in her DVDs, particularly The Dirty Picture (2011) and Kahaani (2012). “The rise and fall of Silk, an item girl, a concept I had to explain, caught their fancy. But it was Kahaani they connected with most as it is shorn of all the colour, melodrama and song-and-dance that foreigners associate with Indian cinema,” says the actor.

Her views were reiterated by the overwhelming reaction to Irrfan Khan’s The Lunchbox (2013), at festivals abroad. The last time an Indian film drew such appreciation was Aamir Khan’s Lagaan (2001). The sport-centric period drama almost brought home an Oscar.

Twelve years later, The Lunchbox is being touted as a contender for next year’s Academy Awards. And there the similarities end because while both films are rooted in Indian soil, Aamir’s film is set in the 19th century, fictionalised village Champaran, in pre-partition India, while The Lunchbox is being ferried through bustling 21st century Mumbai.

Lagaan was a spectacle, bursting with colour, song-and-dance and filmi romance, and stretched to almost three hours. The Lunchbox is almost drab in comparison, devoid of colour but not charm, and winning hearts across the globe even though only 10 per cent of the film is in letter-written English.

“My film is a local Indian story, but the conflicts are universal and it is honest to every moment, which is perhaps why it resonated with so many people across so many countries and continents,” muses the film’s debutant director Ritesh Batra, still bemused by the standing ovation at Cannes and the rave reviews that have followed him back.

Expanding on that thought, Aayushmann Khurrana says, “Today, the more local you go, the more global you reach. Vicky Donor had a strong Punjabi influence, Kahaani was heavy on Bengali, The Dirty Picture and Chennai Express were South to the core, while  English-Vinglish was about a desi Maharashtrian in videsi America. Yet, for all their local colour and regional lingo, these films managed to make an impression everywhere, perhaps because of their global content connect,” the actor-singer points out.

Fusion beats

He sees a similar fusion happening in the music of our cinema. “We’ve made the jump from the dhol and the peti (Indian drums) of the ’90s to European drum beats and world music,” says Khurrana. “But the overall melody in our songs hasn’t changed and remains very desi. I believe that we are truly living in the golden age of Hindi cinema.” Touche!

Says Bhushan Kumar, “Music has evolved over the last decade. Melody remains the same, but audience tastes have changed and you can experiment with quirky lyrics and new talent. Also, the audience today is majorly digital, new media enables them to buy and listen to any song with one click!”

Bollywood has definitely come a long, long way.

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