In defence of Dabangg, not Chulbul Pandey

September 23rd, 2010

Fearless Chulbul Pandey doesn’t need to be defended, least from a pen-pusher. He has the brawn to beat the guts out of an army of lesser mortals  like me. And then he has the guts to try similar stuff on screen that he (the actor and not the character) did last year with Wanted . Salman Khan has rocked the Box Office this season. Paeans have been sung and reels of newsprint dedicated to praise the ‘real’ macho man of our generation.

Then what is the point of writing this blog post claiming to defend Dabangg?

Actually I have not yet recovered from onslaught of Dabangg hysteria of the last one month (20 days pre-release and 10 days of post-release celebration). The film has been in news: First, Salman invited a controversy by putting his foot in mouth by making a politically incorrect statement on the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai and then Zandu Balm caused pain to the makers of the movie this week.

It might be needed to reiterate that Dabangg has received the best opening in the history of Indian cinema and despite the controversies managed to sail well in the first two weeks at the Box Office. For the record, the occupancy rate for the film across most theatres where the film opened was over 80 per cent (both multiplexs and single screens). In the first week the occupancy in multiplexes was around 55 per cent, which is considered good as the film recovered its cost and made money for producers and distributors in the first 5 days of its release.

However, a voice that was lost in the din of Dabangg’s  success ran parallel to the whistles and cheers, though too low in magnitude to be noticed. “Haven’t we seen Salman do that before?” the voice asked. No one denied that the songs were good and the packaging was rather sleek (a runtime of nearly 2 hours and almost perfect action sequences) but the voice could be spotted in multiplexes in the second week when the occupancy fell below 45 per cent.

People might argue that Dabangg is a film for the single screen audiences. To put the argument in perspective, today when the film industry declares a film as hit it mostly relies on the collection from multiplexes. India might have over 10,000 screens but today context more than 60 per cent of domestic theatrical revenues for Hindi films come from multiplexes, which are just over 800 in number in India. So a Hindi film producer can not claim to make a hit film if he intends to cater to only single screen audiences.

The case might be different in south India, but that is for later  discussions when Rajnikanth’s Robot releases.

It is indeed true that Dabangg could not have been the hit it became had it not been on Salman’s rippling muscles, but we must also not forget the brawny films he did in the early and mid nineties — Kurbaan, Veergati, Auzaar, Suryavanshi — and this year’s Veer, which were all flops.

There are talks of a sequel to Dabangg and your guess would be as good as mine on how it would fare on the Box Office. Last year we had Wanted and this year we grooved with Munni in Dabangg but I sincerely hope that Salman does not limit himself to the brawn genre as underneath those muscles he has a funny bone which too we would like to see like an Andaaz Apna Apna.


Media caught in the crossfire in Peepli village

August 13th, 2010

“Some people become doctors, some engineers and we are journalists. If you cannot handle this then you are in the wrong profession,” says one of the lead characters in Peepli Live to a fellow journalist. Director Anusha Rizvi, who has been a TV journalist, certainly could not ‘handle it’ any more and therefore came up with a story which chronicles the shoddy state of the electronic media in India. The core issues in the film are the urban-rural divide and migration of farmers to cities but what stays with you after you have walked out of the cinema hall is Rizvi’s take on the functioning of the electronic media.

Peepli Live does not boast of a ‘hatke’ storyline or a complicated plot. People in the electronic media might already have seen half the film at their workplaces but Rizvi’s treatment is novel. The plot is simple and the promos have already given it out — it is the story of a farmer in debt who contemplates suicide to get compensation from the government, the national media picks up the story from a local newspaper and it balloons into a political issue.

The film uses black comedy to great use as Aamir Khan, who is the producer of the film along with UTV, has known from his previous experience of 3idiots that Indians are more receptive to serious content on celluloid if it is interspersed with comedy. The film makes statements on the political system, the media and the plight of 70 per cent of Indians.

There are statements in the film which you can not miss. The modern banking system is likened to unorganised moneylenders willing to auction/usurp a farmer’s land unable to repay his debt in time. The film suggests that in spite of government’s ‘debt-waiver scheme’ farmers do not have any respite, or these schemes are indeed false promises. Shallow opportunist politicians, the in-fighting in political parties and caste-based politics have been hinted by Rizvi as malignant tumours.

The film makes it amply clear that corporate houses running TV channels are more concerned about TRPs and sensationalism than true journalism. While reporters of the so-called national media treat what they do as mere jobs, Rizvi suggests that a stringer in some remote corner of the country might be more honest to the profession as he puts his heart into it.

The jokes are mostly on the electronic media and Rizvi has even used scatological humour to get the laughs. But the attempt is not just to get the chuckles but it makes one ponder over the state of affairs. There are a few very emotional and touching moments in the film, some shots of rural poor have a Pather Panchali feel — especially the ones of the character of Hori Mahato, the farmer who sells mud for a living.

I felt that a song in the film has a similar feel to the background score of award winning film The Constant Gardener, which brought back vivid images from the Ralph Fiennes-starrer as how lowly the developed world treats citizens of the African nations. For me, the crux of Peepli Live, the urban-rural divide, was beautifully portrayed by that one song.

Business wise the film will make money for the distributors as it has been marketed well. Satellite and music rights of the film have already fetched the producers more than the cost of the film. However, since the film uses explicit language, its fortunes are limited to being an adult film. It does not have a great repeat value as the in-your face realities might make the average multiplex audience retch.

Peepli Live is a film made by an ex-journalist with a lot of heart and has the journalistic fervour intact. An average urban Indian, alienated from the majority of his fellow citizens, should watch this film to check the harsh realities about the land as All izz not Well in our villages.

Truth is bitter, neither khatta nor meetha

July 26th, 2010

This Friday it was proved again that there is no substitute for good content. According to trade pundits, response to the Akshay Kumar-starrer Khatta Meetha has been mixed and on opening day the film had around 50 per cent occupancy across theatres.
In comparison two small Bollywood films, Udaan and Tere Bin Laden, which released last Friday with relatively less fanfare, are catching up on the back of good content.
“Tere Bin Laden is a success story. It has collected approximately Rs 5.61 crore in the first week. The returns from theatrical and non-theatrical avenues should ensure profits to its distributors and also its producers,” said film trade analyst Taran Adarsh.. According to industry estimates, the cost of the film is Rs 6 crore.

Debutant director Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan which opened to low occupancy, has also picked up, say exhibitors. “Both Udaan and Tere Bin Laden had occupancy rates of around 55 per cent during the opening weekend but considering they are small-budget films, they are doing well,” said Devang Sampat, Cinemax India president – sales, marketing and operations.
“Udaan collected Rs 2.50 crore in the first week. The cost of the film is around Rs 5 crore. The satellite rights have been sold to Colors for Rs 3.5 crore. Sale of music rights to T-Series and home video rights to Disney together will fetch around Rs 75 lakh. The theatrical revenue from India will be around Rs 1.5 crore and other rights and overseas revenue combined will fetch another Rs 50 lakh. The recovery is around Rs 6.25 crore, which means a 25 per cent return on investment, said Adarsh.
Udaan was the only Indian film to be officially selected for the prestigious 63rd Cannes Film Festival this year.
Vishal Kapur, CEO, Fun Cinemas, said, “Word-of-mouth publicity for both Udaan and Tere Bin Laden has been very strong and the number of people watching the film has gone up in the week.”

Meanwhile, Hollywood director Christopher Nolan’s Inception leads at the box office. “Inception opened much better than the three Hindi films (including Lamhaa starring Sanjay Dutt and Bipasha Basu), with a 75 per cent occupancy, during the opening weekend,” Sampat said. Distributed by Warner Brothers India, Inception, released in English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, collected approximately Rs 9.6 crore in its first week.

Sampat says one of the reasons for the Leonardo Di Caprio-starrer doing better than the Hindi films is because of its wider release. “The dubbed version of the film has garnered good collections,” said Sampat.

Lamhaa, a big-budget film, has been another victim of average content. The film had a wide release but managed to collect around Rs 8.5 crore. At its present rate, the film will entail huge losses to its producers.
Whether or not films have big stars and irrespective of picturesque locales, Hindi film audiences seem to be embracing good content. It is a sure positive for independent film-makers.

Raajneeti is a lot more than a modern-day Mahabharata

June 4th, 2010

Fact: Raajneeti is a work of fiction and has very little resemblance to the life of Mrs Sonia Gandhi.

Fiction: Raajneeti is a work of fiction if you can call Ved Vyas’s Mahabharata a work of imagination.

Disclaimer: Without any intentions to hurt anyone, I do not consider Vyas’s creation an absolute factual chronicle. Director Prakash Jha, in Raajneeti, is no doubt inspired and has indeed used the great classic as the backdrop of his film but his adaptation is novel.

Raajneeti can be catalogued in the political thriller genre and anyone who loves this genre would appreciate the intrigue factor of this film. The film begins on the ghats of Varanasi and sets the mood and the tone with the silent tears of Bharti (Nikhila Trikha). You know what to expect from this tale on Indian politics: compromises, deaths, murkiness, violence and at the end deep pain and sorrow.

The film delivers all of that and keeps the curiosity factor kicking with twists in the tale. The film’s story is of a joint family in Indian politics and the infighting for the top post.

I hate giving out the story of a film before someone has seen it, however, I would definitely share my take on Jha’s marketing strategy with the choice of actors and some low points in the film.

Director Jha has a repertoire of good work but with his latest, he has also proved his skills as a smart strategist too. Firstly, his choice of actors for the characters of Sara (actor Sarah Jean Collins) and Indu (Katrina Kaif). It looks like Jha knew from the scripting stage that Katrina’s accent and foreign roots would create enough buzz around the film, linking the character to Mrs Gandhi. There is little similarity between Indu’s character and Mrs Gandhi’s real life except for a brutal assassination. Since there is no incident in the film that justifies Kaif’s strange Hindi accent, you wonder about Jha’s intentions for casting her for the role of this typical Indian girl.

You might also wonder why Sarah Jean Collins finds so-much prominence in the film’s posters when she has almost the same or less screen time than actors who play more important characters in the film. Another well-used strategy creating a mirage between reel and real.

One lesson the film-makers of Raajneeti seem to have learnt from the Kites debacle is the art of sub-titling. Raajneeti has some dialogues in English and, thankfully, the subtitles are in Hindi (yes, even in multiplexes whose audiences are not expected to know to read the language). This will surely help the film in Hindi belts.

The film has a few sequences which look like direct lifts from Coppola’s Godfather but then, don’t intriguing stories have some similarities?

A low-point in the film is the conversation between Sooraj Kumar (Ajay Devgn) and Bharti (Trikha) which takes you back to the days of Mahabharat, B R Chopra’s magnum opus on Doordarshan in the late 1980s. Especially when Bharti speaks the cult line, “Tum mere jyeshtha putra ho.” Devgn even wears ear-rings to make sure the audiences do not have any difficulty to associate his character with the epic warrior.

I also hoped that there was lesser violence in the second half of the film but then the war of Mahabharata went on for 18 days.

As far as business is concerned, the film is expected to find audiences in both muliplexes and single screens. The film does have a repeat value as it has excellent performances. Lovers of serious stuff on 35mm will like this fare.

Kites might soar overseas, unlikely in non-metro India

May 21st, 2010

There are huge expectations from Kites, the industry expects it to soar high enough to mitigate the losses it has booked due to the string of duds since the beginning of this year. There is huge money riding on it as Reliance Big Pictures is reported to have bought the distribution rights of the film for over Rs 100 crore. The film has the country’s most handsome man (arguably) and one of the most stunning (unarguably) Latin beauties paired against each other. Will it rise up to the occasion?

Before giving my verdict on the film let me tell you a few things. Kites is not a Hindi film. It is not a film by Rakesh Roshan with humongous doses of drama. Kites is director Anurag Basu’s attempt to tell the world that the modern Indian film-maker can adhere to Western standards and do without the song-dance sequences. (NB: I strongly feel that dance, Bollywood style, is our USP and we should not shy away from it.)

Kites is a English-Spanish film which obviously does not target the non-English speaking India. Rather it focuses on the audiences outside of India and they could be of any nationality, not necessarily the NRIs and the diaspora. It makes one feel like asking that while Hollywood is aggressively looking at newer markets like India and China why are our big film-makers grossly ignoring the domestic market?

The answer perhaps lies in basic economics. According to a Pricewaterhouse Coopers report, the average theatre ticket price in the US is $6 (Rs 270) while it is around one-tenth of that at Rs 25 in India. In other European markets like the UK and the Germany it is around $8 (Rs 360). After Karan Johar’s My Name Is Khan went to 40 countries, Kites is expected to follow suit. (NB: It is disappointing that economics has taken so much over creativity and that too in the name of universal theme; guess 3idiots had a universal theme too.)

A visible change that has happened in the DNA of film-makers wanting to pluck the low-hanging fruits in the overseas markets is their reluctance to have song and dance sequences. While songs are being relegated to the background, the dance has become western. How we would have loved to see Hrithik lip-synch Rajesh Roshan’s melodies and shake a leg in Hindi-film style instead of cart-wheeling in a Western dance competition in the film.

Kites is a love story and the visuals of the film are mind-blowing, the storyline doesn’t digress and the film maintains its pace which is average. Hrithik’s international looks are well used and the way his close-ups are filmed it feels like the film is an “entry fee” Senior Roshan has paid for a new career for his son in Hollywood. Basu is a great student of his craft and in places the lighting looks similar to Wong Kar Wai’s classic technique and the scene when Hrithik eliminates his enemies resembles to Tom Hanks’ Road to Perdition.

The film might make money, it might also turn out to be a hit but this kite is more likely to soar outside India. After a brilliant film like Life in a Metro, it was expected of Basu to not just limit himself to the multiplex and the metro audiences.

Badmaa$h has some cheeky gyaan on cash

May 13th, 2010

The dollar in the title doesn’t give away much except that it is another tale of greed and the youth’s desire to get rich quick. But the latest offering from the YRF stable has that and some more. In fact, Badmaash Company chronicles, within the limits of a Bollywood commercial potboiler, the Indian economy post liberalisation of early 1990s with some credence.

You get to know that the movie will give you some gyaan on the economy when you see the headline, Reform and Liberalisation, fit for an edit piece and in font size bigger than the masthead, on the front page of country’s most read English daily.

The film is set in the ‘Bombay’ of 1994 and the plot delves into the kind of unscrupulous techniques people could employ to make money. Extremely high import duty on things like shoes gives the characters in the film an opportunity to find ways to make gains through dubious means.

This is one film from the YRF stable with a good storyline and the moves made by the characters meet with a logical conclusion.

The film moves from talking about a liberalised world to hinting at the asset bubble in the US and in a too simplistic manner shows how people made money by borrowing from too-keen-to-lend banks.

However, at the end of the movie where the director wants to convey that good should triumph over evil and honesty is the best policy, there is a major lapse.

The protagonist says that he would now make money only by “seedhaa” ways but participates in insider trading and even walks away unscathed by the SEC. Looks like the US market regulator in the 90s was as lax as its Indian counterpart.

I went to watch the movie after having read different opinions of critics ranging from it being worth a 1 star to 4 star on their rating scales. Many of them said that it was a mishmash of Bunty Aur Bubbly and Rocket Singh—Salesman of the Year, both YRF films.

Though there are some similar nuances it would be unfair to compare the films.