Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Ab Hamar Film Hit Hoi

Ab Hamar Film Hit Hoi

The flavour of the season is Bhojpuri. These small films rake it in where the mega-budget ones flop.

Moti, Raj, Gagan, Swarn would have been long dead. These decrepit Delhi cinema halls had resigned themselves to imminent obsolescence when fancy multiplexes with their city-slick fairy tales had begun driving the Bollywood bazaar. But in the last couple of years, these old-world cinema paradisos have been given a new kiss of life by the success of fringe cinema of a largely unknown kind—Bhojpuri films.

This formidable phenomenon has been enjoying a great run at the margins of the Indian box office. Top heroes are Ravi Kishan (with 12 films in hand) and Manoj Tiwari Mridul (acting in another half a dozen), the most sought after heroine is Naghma, the big producers are Bollywood playback singer Udit Narayan and Mohanji Prasad and the recent megahit is called Panditji Batai Na Biyah Kab Hoi. Made at Rs 60 lakh, it has been running for more than 50 days in Patna and has earned four times more than the blockbuster Bunty Aur Babli. "These films have been doing well right under our noses yet people don't know they are there," says Naghma. Currently about 30 Bhojpuri films are under production. Around 16-odd films get released every year, boasting a success rate of 98 per cent. Bollywood, in comparison, musters only about a 10-12 per cent success rate. "It's boom time," says Kishan. "Our market has emerged," adds Narayan.

The bull run for Bhojpuri cinema began last year with Manoj Tiwari's Sasura Bada Paisewala. Bought by the distributor for a modest Rs 10-15 lakh, it garnered about Rs 2 crore in Bihar and eastern UP. It was followed by another hit, Daroga Babu I Love You. "In these areas, these films have been doing much better than any big star cast Hindi film," says distributor Sanjay Mehta. So much so that even the video rights for these modest films are going for as high as Rs 20 lakh. "You can call it the Laloo phenomenon of cinema," says Mehta.

Bhojpuri cinema came to life way back in 1961 with Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo, Balam Pardesia was the big hit of the '70s. Since then the industry has faced several ups and downs and has now got reborn in a new, glamorous avatar. Here's how:

Bhojpuri films are now regularly shot abroad. Narayan's production Kab Hoi Gauna Hamar was the first such film which was shot in Mauritius. Recently three films—Babul Pyaare, Dil Diwana Tohar Ho Gayi and Ganga—wrapped up an extended schedule in London. This week saw the release of Firangi Dulhania which isn't just shot abroad but also boasts of a Ukrainian actress, Tanya, in the lead role, a first for Bhojpuri films.

Big daddy Bollywood is courting Bhojpuri. Thespian Dilip Kumar is producing a film with Ravi Kishan in the lead role, Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini are acting in Ganga, Raj Babbar stars in Babul Pyaare and Rati Agnihotri appears in Mat Bhulaiye Mai Baap Ke. Ajay Devgan has already done a guest appearance in a Bhojpuri film. Famous choreographer Saroj Khan is turning director with Dil Diwana Tohar Ho Gayi, action director Tinnu Verma is filming a remake of Mera Gaon Mera Desh and failed Bollywood heroines like Hrishitaa Bhatt and Preeti Jhangiani have found a new career in them.

Bhojpuri films are also getting corporate backing. Vijay Mallya's film production unit is reportedly producing three Bhojpuri films. So is Ektaa Kapoor's Balaji Telefilms and AB Corp.

Big Hindi films, like Namak Halal, are now being dubbed and re-released in Bhojpuri. A fight is on to get the dubbing rights of 30-40 films including Sholay and Deewar. Last heard, Fox was rumoured to be dabbling with the idea of dubbing Hollywood films into Bhojpuri.

What works for Bhojpuri films are tight budgets and disciplined filmmaking.The budget is normally in the range of Rs 30-40 lakh with the bigger ones getting made in about Rs 60-80 lakh.The production also get wrapped up in three months flat. "There are no star tantrums on the sets, no indiscipline, no waste of time, no juices and sandwiches from 5 Star hotels. We mean business," says Kishan. However, with the recent spell of success the budgets are getting a lot more liberal. Kab Hoi..., for instance, was shot with Rs 1.5 crore, huge by Bhojpuri standards.

The most significant shift is how the market for Bhojpuri films has gone way beyond Bihar and eastern UP. "The territory has started to grow," says Mehta. These films are doing well in Jammu, Kashmir, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Panipat, Kurukshetra, Noida and Gurgaon which have a sizeable population of the migrant labour from Bihar. "It's the belt along the GT Road where the Bihar labourers have settled down," says Mehta. There is an estimated 40 lakh Bhojpuri-speaking population in Mumbai, 18 lakh in Punjab and about 8 lakh in Delhi. Bengal and Nepal are emerging as the next big markets.

Bhojpuri films tend to do very well in the industrial areas like Badarpur or the theatres in Thane in Maharashtra. Hindi films run for about three weeks there while Bhojpuri ones go on for 6-8 weeks. Recently Bandhan Toote Na completed 100 days in Bombay. "That's a dream run even for mainstream Bollywood," says Kishan. Mehta says about a dozen hole-in-the-wall theatres in Delhi depend entirely on Bhojpuri films for survival.

Bhojpuri films have also created a committed subset of loyal viewers within the growing nri audience. The films have found huge following in the diaspora in Fiji, Mauritius and the West Indies where, years ago, Biharis had gone as indentured labour. Udit Narayan thought of producing Kab Hoi... when he went for a show to Mauritius. "It was a small India. It was good to see how people had kept the Bhojpuri culture alive," he says. So through his period film, Kab Hoi..., set a century ago in Mauritius, he looked at the clash between the Britishers and sugarcane plantation labourers.

But at the very basic, the resurgence in Bhojpuri films has been because of mainstream Bollywood itself. In its quest for niche urban crowds and NRI audiences, Bollywood has steadily moved away from the non-metro masses. "The audience which pays Rs 20 for a film ticket is getting neglected, his sensibility is getting ignored," says Mehta. "A guy who wants to eat home-cooked food is being offered dishes from a five-star hotel, they are wasted on him," says Kishan. So, the thrust is towards homegrown subjects and a sense of rootedness, not technicolour fantasies. Much like the family socials of the '60s, the concerns are largely to do with marriage and family. "Devar, bhabhi, gauna. There's a native, Rajshree touch to these films," says Vinod Mirani, editor, Box Office. "Sindoor, mangalsutra and lots of emotions. We sell our culture and tradition than sex," says Kishan.

Another popular genre is the Govinda-David Dhawan kind of risque comedies complete with double entendres. But they have now begun experimenting with newer subjects. A satire on the political system, Banke Bihari MLA, is under way. "Soon we will have our own Manmohan Desai and Yash Chopra brand of cinema," says Kishan. Ironically, then the migrant labourer from Bihar and his Moti cinema hall will have to look for another kind of cinema to connect with.
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