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Small is BIG!

Published on : June 10, 2011
Small is BIG!


Small is safe, fresh is the latest formula and segmentation is the new reality of cinema. Once UTV unleashed Spotboy to find the likes of “Aamir” and “Dev. D”, today Balaji is pressing ALT for “LSD” and “Ragini MMS” and Fox Star is gorging on “Stanley Ka Dabba”. Reliance Big Pictures is gaining more positive press for “Well Done Abba” than backing behemoths like “Kites” and “Raavan”. Viacom 18 has backed many biggies but the profits are coming from “Tanu Weds Manu” and “Pyaar Ka Punchnama”.


The trend is contagious. Known for making films for the undivided Indian family, Yash Raj banner has been forced to create a new brand called Y-Films, which will make movies only for the 15-25 age-group. The irony is that the king of romance has kick-started with “Luv Ka The End”.


Mukta Arts, which ignited Searchlight before corporatisation of Bollywood took root, is more active than ever before. Once termed as the Showman of Bollywood, Subhash Ghai is busy backing regional films like “Noukadubi” and “Valu” with an eye on awards and critical acclaim. “Both made money in Bengal and Maharashtra and ‘Noukadubi''s dubbed version in Hindi proved a bonus,” says Ghai.

There are plenty of reasons behind this gradual shift from stars to sensational content. Vikas Bahl, who was UTV Spotboy's pointman till recently, says that Bollywood has become a no-formula industry. “Every time you feel that this has become a formula, change it. With small budgets, you can take bigger risks but budget could never be the starting point,” says Bahl, who is known for identifying the potential of films like “Aamir”, “Dev.D”, “Udaan” and “No One Killed Jessica” before erring on the starry side with “7 Khoon Maaf”.


Interestingly, the oldies hold the corporates' undue fascination responsible for their diversification. Ghai, who backed “Iqbal” before UTV and Reliance came into the fray, says banners like his, Yash Raj and Rajshri took a cautious approach when the big corporate houses started flexing their muscles in the creativity-driven industry. “Earlier the financier never interfered with the creative process. He didn't want to sit in on story sessions. But now the corporates poke their nose in everything,” rues Ghai. He holds them single-handedly responsible for raising the star fees disproportionately. “In 2006, we signed Akshay Kumar for 1.5 crores for ‘Aitraaz'. Today he asks 27 crores for one film. I don't want to make a film where 70 per cent of the budget goes to the star.”


Invoking the timeless quote that it is the budgets, not films, that fail, Bahl feels cinema of all sizes can co-exist. He agrees that the corporate guy can't take over the job of the director overnight but he could definitely be a good sounding board. “He could help in arriving at a just budget for the film and prevent the creative side from going overboard with an idea.”


Local talent pool

With his media school Whistling Woods finding roots, Ghai is busy generating a talent pool, which would make the industry more democratic. “When you see the same guy in IPL, in television ads, it becomes very difficult to identify with the character,” says Ghai, whose “Love Express” and “Cycle Kick” releasing this week, are the first two products of Whistling Woods finding a theatrical release.


Ashish Patil, who heads Y-Films, agrees talent crunch is one of the reasons for production houses looking for fresh stories and small films, consumer gap being the other one. Patil brings his television experience and jargon to cinema. “While television has become segmented, cinema is still being run as a single general entertainment channel. In Hollywood, they have a separate category for teen films. It makes much more sense in India where 50 per cent of our population is below 25.”


But “Badmash Company” and “Band Baja Baraat” were also Yash Raj products and were also directed at the youth. “See, with a Yash Raj film, people and the media expect a certain scale, a certain idiom. With Y-Films we will have singular focus and the audience would know what they should expect from the film.”


Everybody is after the next happening idea. Patil is buoyed by “Mujhse Fraandship Karoge”, a spoof on one of Yash Raj's film. “The romance no longer brews in a coffee shop. It evolves on social media and this is what the film is about.” Tigmanshu Dhulia, who is working on “Milan Talkies”, feels big city love no longer rings the bell. “How many times will you show youngsters kissing on the sea shore or making love in a taxi? In small cities there are still realistic obstacles in the path of love and that is what excites me.” Ghai who is opening a branch of Whistling Woods in Jhajjar, Haryana, with an eye on local talent and flavour, says, “In Mumbai, I give five-star facilities, so I get only those students who can afford it. In Haryana, there won't be such restraints.”


Rahul Bose, one of the first actors to have benefitted from the small film trend, says, “Things have remarkably changed from the time I did ‘English, August'. Now you have four-five small films every year, which get critical acclaim and get decent response at the box office. Worldwide, it is the big banners who make successful small meaningful films.”


Citing the example of Vipul Shah, who recently ventured into small films with “Kucch Luv Jaisaa”, Bose says Vipul can arm-twist distributors and exhibitors to give the film a good number of shows at the right time slots. “As he has a big film coming up in the form of ‘Force'. Onir didn't have that kind of luxury for ‘I Am' and the film suffered because of that. I feel independent filmmakers can make good cinema but they don't have the money to publicise it.”


Dhulia says the difference between Anurag Kashyap and him is that Anurag got UTV to back “Dev. D”. “Had such support system existed when I made ‘Haasil', I would have been in a different league. From getting good ratings in the media to nominations in top awards, banners' support is crucial.”


However, there is a flip side to the tide as well. Bose complains that in this wave there is still little space for an English film made by an Indian filmmaker. “You have to make it for 50-60 lakhs to make it viable,” says Bose, who once made “Everybody Says I'm Fine”. Also, the work for actors has not increased. Everybody wants to join this trend but they still want to work with people they are comfortable with. That's why stars are trying to be actors. I don't think this will work in the long run because there has to be complete honesty at the core of your pursuit,” adds Bose. Dhulia alleges that a balanced approach is missing as the failure of big films push the banner to cut costs and delay the release of smaller films. Reliance went for a low key release of “Shagird” after the debacle of “Kites” and “Raavan” and UTV's strategy changed after “Tees Maar Khan” found no takers. “When ‘7 Khoon Maaf' failed despite stars and bloated publicity, UTV delayed the release of my ‘Paan Singh Tomar', which is an ideal Spotboy film.”


Bahl counters, “If you get a star and an established director to do a small budget film, the situation seems perfect. But with talent and box office nothing could be foolproof,” he chuckles, adding the “7 Khoon Maaf” failure was not the reason behind his quitting UTV. Interestingly, Bahl is now co-directing “Chillar Party” for UTV Spotboy. The churning continues….Click here


Copyright © 2011, The Hindu