February 24, 2006
Bollywood?s top production houses, busy wooing the cash-rich urban multiplex crowd, have turned their backs on the entertainment needs of the hinterland masses. So, on the sidelines of the mainstream movie business in India, Bhojpuri films, dormant for long, have bounced back big time with a string of hits cranked up by a parallel industry that plays the game by its own rules and on the strength of its own ?superstars?.
The rise and rise of Bhojpuri films is mofussil India?s revenge against Bollywood?s continuing apathy towards the rural yarns that were once commonplace in Hindi cinema (Naya Daur, Ganga Jamuna, Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Sholay, et al). Contemporary Mumbai films cater to the urban audience and the stories that they narrate are culled from the consumerist fantasies of an upwardly mobile fan base. It is not surprising at all that the poor old village has dropped out of the picture almost completely.
So, for wide sections of urban Indian filmgoers, among whom there are pockets of migrant labourers in need of daily doses of recreation, as well as for small-town and rural audiences, average Bollywood storylines only serve to further the disconnect that exists between their traditional cultural moorings and aspirations on the one hand and the fast-changing, alien environs in which they are forced to live and work in the big cities on the other. Bhojpuri films, which have never aspired for critical acclaim and have been content to thrive on box office support, have successfully filled that vacuum.
Since Vishwanath Shahabadi made the first Bhojpuri film, Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Charaibo, in 1961, triumphs for this fringe genre have been far and few between. The only really big Bhojpuri successes that spring to mind are Ashok Jain?s Dangal and Nazir Hussain?s Balam Pardesia, both made and released in the late 1970s. But the scenario has changed completely in the last two years.
With films like Sasura Bada Paisawala (starring crooner-actor Manoj Tiwari and Rani Chatterjee) and Panditji Bataai Na Biyah Kab Hoyee (featuring the reigning superstar of Bhojpuri cinema, Ravi Kishan) smashing box-office records especially in the northern and eastern parts of the country, this regional filmmaking stream is on an unprecedented roll. Other successful releases like Bandhan Tute Na, Mayee Re Kar De Bidaai Hamaar, Ganga Mile Saagar Se, Firangi Dulhaniya, Mayee Ka Bitwa, Dulha Milal Dildaar, Ghar Dwaar and Dharti Putra have given Bhojpuri cinema the sort of fillip that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago.
So big are Bhojpuri stars today that an upcoming film is even named after Ravi Kishan himself. The film is directed by Bollywood?s Amol Shetge and co-stars Zarina Wahab. Ravi Kishan the star plays a double role in Ravi Kishan the film. Has big bad Bollywood ever heard of anything to match that?
Bhojpuri films work because they are shot at breakneck speed, with budgets always kept on a tight leash. In an era in which mainstream Bollywood concentrates primarily on slick, glossy NRI romances, thrillers and skin flicks, these films hark back to the simple and emotionally effecting spirit of the 1970s Rajshri Films productions. None of these Bhojpuri films come remotely close to being great cinema, but they do manage to connect with their target audience owing to their simple-minded, uncluttered approach to storytelling, which hinges on the conventions of old-school Mumbai films, many of which have been discarded by mainstream Bollywood moviemakers themselves.
Acceptance of Bhojpuri films as a commercially viable proposition is now complete. A large number of such quickies are currently under production on locations in Mumbai, and parts of Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand.
That Bhojpuri films have well and truly arrived was demonstrated late last month, when an NGO in Mumbai hosted the first-ever Bhojpuri Film Awards night. The event honoured the best of Bhojpuri cinema produced in 2005. Among the most talked about entries at the awards was Kab Hoyee Gawana Hamaar, produced by singer Udit Narayan. Parts of the film were shot on foreign locales.
Balaji Telefilms? Ekta Kapoor has tied up with one of Bhojpuri cinema?s best-known producer-directors, Mahesh Pande, to make not one but two films in the course of 2006. The first, Hum Baal Brahmachari Tu Kanya Kunwari, is set to roll in April. The second venture, starring Ravi Kishan, is likely to go on the floors in October.
Actor-producer-director Tinnu Verma, the winner of the Best Male Villain award for his performance in Dharti Putra, has just launched yet another Bhojpuri film, Pandit, starring Ravi Kishan and Naghma. The man who sounded the clapperboard at the muhurat of the new film was none other than Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor.
Despite all the successes it has achieved of late, Bhojpuri cinema will probably always continue to be Bollywood?s poor country cousin. But it has now reached a pitch where it will be seen and heard on its own terms. It is now clearly a full-fledged industry capable of running on its own steam.