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February - March 2009


The ‘New’ Formula?

by Nikhil Gajendragadkar

Last year was not a very good for Indian, especially for Hindi film industry. There were more misses and flops than hits. Nobody knows what will work; everybody is trying to find out a winning formula.

Was global meltdown responsible or plain bad ideas, the answer is not yet clear; but 2008 was indeed a nightmarish year for Hindi cinema. Film after film bombed at the box office. Big star cast or big name of a production company were not a guarantee of film’s success. ‘Bhootnath’, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan failed to invoke any magic. ‘Tashan’ a multistarrer that had Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan bombed miserably. ‘Drona’, a supposedly ‘special effects’ venture with Abhishek Bachchan in the lead role went unnoticed. We have seen Hollywood s’ ‘Mummy’ and its sequels so who wants to see its cheap copy? Same fate was ‘enjoyed’ (?) by films like ‘Halla Bol’, and many more. Many of them were expensive productions so their failure hurt many.

Because of the crash of several big budget commercial films, a feeling grew that now the ‘formula’ is not working. Actually what film world thinks as a formula keeps changing .So, in 50’s and 60’s family drama was earning bucks, in 70’s action films took over. Now nobody knows what people will like. Action, exposed bodies-male and female, comedy; any thing may click or may not. That is why producers and directors keep playing with various ideas.

In the recent past, few films managed to be successful claiming being ‘different’ .May it be story line or the treatment, in many ways they were dissimilar to main stream Hindi films. ‘Salaam Namastey’ dealt with ‘live in relationship’ (this subject was first handled in K.L.Saigal’s Zindagi way back in 40’s) was well received. Another type was madcap comedies like ‘Bheja Fry’ and some more. Then there were many films made on a small budget but managed to earn good returns for the producers, ‘Iqbal’ was one such film. Films based on sports are a well-established genre in Hollywood and British and European cinema but is still a novelty in India. So ‘Iqbal’ and ‘Chak De India’turned out to be hits.

But last year hits were spares flops were aplenty. ‘Jodha Akbar’ was first and only ‘successful’ film, for nearly 10-11 months or so. It tried a combination of love story and Historical; the success was partial and should be attributed to the pulling power of main stars, Hritik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai. The film was criticized for being unfair to the history, to say the least. But it did cover the costs.

‘Rock On’ and ‘Jaane Tu ya jaane na’ were successful and exception to the string of failures. After every few years a film comes with new faces. The very newness of actors stirs curiosity of spectators and that ensures success for the film. ‘Jaane Tu’ scored on that point. Otherwise it was a routine love story. Remember ‘Bobby’? Raj Kapoor introduced Rishi Kapoor and Dimple, two new faces and the film not only brought success to RK but also created a history. Compared to that, achievement of ‘Jaane Tu’ was nothing, it was an average grosser. But the film Industry needs some degree of success and it did provide that. Films based on Rock singers, musicians are also an established category in the west, in India it is a new subject, yet Rock music sells quite well in India-audio and video also. So producers successfully ‘cashed in’ the idea, and ‘Rock On’ was declared as a hit.

Above-mentioned and few more films did good business in primarily urban areas and were not hit across the India. How can rural youth identify themselves with characters from, say, ‘Jaane Tu’ or ‘Rock On’? In the past Hind films having Dharmendra or Jitendra or some Khanna were as popular in rural India as in the cities. But now production houses have developed new business model. If the investment is up to 2.5 crores (25 Million Indian Rupees) and returns are up to 5 crores(50 million Rs.) then they consider it a hit. The duration of its run is not important.

‘Ghajini’ and ‘Rab ne Bana di Jodi’ were highly hyped films and were released at the fag end of the year. And both turned out to be hugely successful at the box office. ‘Rab ne’ has Shahrukh Khan in the lead and a newcomer as his romantic interest. He plays a kind of a double role here. A simpleton and a debonair, smart young man. Many women wish to have a simple man to marry with but don’t they secretly wish that their man should be more stylish? This wish fulfillment is visualized here. In a way the theme is similar to ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’. Nearly 20 years ago Hrishikesh Mukherjee presented ‘Golmaal’. In the film the hero plays two different roles, that was pure fun. Hrishikesh Mukherjee’ s great directorial skill made the film all the more beautiful .But the new generation of spectators do not know about it, hence ‘Rab ne’ is considered as ‘new’ and funny. Actually it has the same old formula.

‘Ghajini’, much touted and advertised Aamir Khan vehicle is nothing but a story of revenge. Hindi film industry has produced such films in scores in the past .In some respects they were much better. But ‘Ghajini’ uses filming and editing techniques which are new to a majority of Indian audience. Those who have seen ‘Matrix’ and James Bond flicks are used to such visual treatment. Songs are actually out of synch with the story, but they are presented in ‘music video’ style, now a part of young Indian’s lives. All these elements and tactful ‘marketing’(including promos, making of Ghajini shown on various channels)created a feeling that this is a ‘different’ film. And it proved to be a money spinner.

Nothing is different. People still want to be entertained. Now the media is far more diverse than it was 20 years ago. Then cinema was the only and cheapest entertainment. Now Computers (and games) are popular, there are many tv channels but big screen cinema still rules in India. As time changes some changes do take place and yet formula still remains same, only it appears in a ‘different’ dress; that is all.

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