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Bollywood goes one step forward, two steps back
Priyanka Khanna, Aug 21 [ Sun, Aug 21, 2005 ]
  • New Delhi, Aug 21 (IANS) The Indian box-office witnessed the release of two films belonging to the new and old schools of filmmaking, making the contrast between the two genres both very apparent and very painful.

    On one hand was the done-to-dead escapist fare of "Barsaat" and on the other was "My Wife's Murder", with its gripping story woven round a thought-provoking story.

    That the crowds were thronging to watch "Barsaat" and giving a cold shoulder to "My Wife's Murder" and the Aug 12 release "Mangal Pandey: The Rising" was saddening.

    Filmmaker Suneel Darshan has mastered the art of churning out melodramatic emotional dramas that are a far cry from reality. He launched Bobby Deol in another film also named "Barsaat" some 10 years ago and used the same actor and title for his latest venture. Barring the heroines, he changed little.

    Darshan is confident of making a killing at the turnstiles, and in all likelihood he will.

    Indian audiences, whose senses have been numbed by years of watching sub-standard products for mass consumption, will find the film with its buxom lead actresses - Bipasha Basu and Priyanka Chopra - a good return for investment but the casualty will be the hope that Bollywood has changed.

    "Barsaat" hits the marquees after a series of contemporary Bollywood films that have broken free from formulaic constraints of the designer flick.

    Its impending success will be a shot in the arm of Mumbai filmmakers who feed off the fact that decades of mediocrity has made people's cinema literacy inversely proportional to the quantum of films produced.

  • Recent commercial success of critically applauded films like "Page 3", "Sarkar", "D", "Parineeta", "Paheli" and "Black" and full-fledged nationwide theatrical distribution of small, non-mainstream Hindi films had given hope that after patronising films for over 100 years, India was finally set to emerge as a land of good cinema.

    When films like Onir's movie based on an HIV-positive person - "My Brother Nikhil" - and Sudhir Mishra's Emergency-era tale "Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi" managed to hold their own long enough to be declared commercial successes without the presence of leading stars, they raised hopes that the Bollywood hit formula was dead.

    Undoubtedly, more and more meaningful cinema is finding space and funds for wider exhibition but the formula still rules. A reason could well be that the new school of filmmaking is heavily reliant on support from the established old industry horses.

    "Matrubhoomi" was backed by industry big-wig Bonney Kapoor, "My Brother Nikhil" was distributed by the mighty Yash Raj Films and "Hazaaron Khwaishein..." was a Pritish Nandy Communications product.

    "When the funding is coming from big daddies of Bollywood who continue to treat films like products rather than a form of artistic expression, no real change is possible," said an industry observer.

    The continued grip of mediocrity is evident even in the works of harbingers of change like Ram Gopal Varma, Yash Chopra and Karan Johar.

    Varma's Factory has churned out scores of films, including "My Wife's Murder", but none have come close to cinematic masterpieces like "Pyaasa", "Do Bigha Zameen" or "Awara".

    They have the style but not the soul. As long as filmmakers peddle films as mere products and not works of art, the fear of the return of formulaic films will continue to loom large.

    The ongoing renaissance of Indian cinema might go the way the New Wave Cinema of the 1960s, warn film observers.

    Maverick filmmaker Varma has developed his own formula for movies. He is satisfied with films having queer storylines and good packaging but steers clear of more evolved cinematic fare.

    Though as the number of multiplexes is expected to cross the 200-mark in the next few years, the clamour for a wider variety of films is bound to increase. Whether this will bring in new formulas or unleash true fervour for meaningful, couture or avant grade cinema remains to be seen.