‘I am making an issue based film which is so close to reality that it will shock the audience and make them wonder if this could happen to them one day’
Once a filmmaker makes this statement,rest assured it could well announce death kneel for the film there and then. It’s as simple as that. Well,in most of the cases at the least.
If a film is being pitched to audience as a commercial entertainer,the very prefix of ‘issue based’ pretty much ensures that a wide segment is alienated. Especially in the current market scenario when an opening weekend not just decides but pretty much seals the fate of the film,as a filmmaker you don’t really want to send out any signals that makes an audience get even an iota of doubt around what is in the offing.
Ask the makers of I Hate LUV Storys and Red Alert – The War Within and they would give an answer,though with varied expressions.
The former was a conventional love story but due to a catchy title and promotion,it fetched its audience despite mixed reviews. By the time audience actually realised that the film was just another love story despite an antithesis of a title,the investors were smiling all the way to the bank. The film did see a fall,especially by the time the second week begun and is today almost on the verge of being extinct,but so what? Imran and Sonam got a hit,Karan merrily organised a success party while some quick money came in.
On the other hand,the team of Red Alert had to be content with good reviews and that’s about it. For the last couple of years,the film was being pitched as a tale that depicted ‘Naxal issue’. Of course the subject warranted that the right aspects of the film were put on display but then audience too had made up their mind. For them,an issue based film was a strict no-no,with or without any amount of international acclaim that it may have got. Good to excellent reviews came in home territory as well but ruthless audience was unmoved. Ananth Mahadevan,Suniel Shetty and rest of the team may well be thinking if they could have fetched better gains had they pitched Red Alert as an action drama rather than a serious Naxal issue based film!
Subject or the treatment?
Same could well be the thought process of Rahul Dholakia,Sanjay Dutt and Bipasha Basu as well who were brave enough to add a tagline of ”The untold story of Kashmir’ next to Lamhaa. The film is actually an action thriller while being set in Kashmir. Of course it does highlight the issue prevalent in the valley for a couple of decades now.
However,right through the making of the film,punch words ‘issue based’ were being thrown around that made it look like yet another serious take on the issue of militancy. Now with a lead protagonist like Sanjay Dutt,the film could have been marketed and promoted for what it is,i.e. a thriller,and hence perhaps gained better results.
This take on the state of affairs came pretty late in the day and by the time audience had already been conditioned that made them believe otherwise. Result? A below average opening for this big budgeted film that should have been far bigger to reach at the least the safety mark.
No wonder,the man who actually brings to fore some issues without making much on-your-face hoopla is – as you would have guessed it by now – Aamir Khan. Pick up many of his last few films,whether the ones in which he has acted or the ones that he has produced and there is this term ‘issue’ which is there but pretty much kept concealed.
Even if it is not as much concealed,as evidenced in Taare Zameen Par,he has ensured that there are enough pointers in the film’s promotion that makes audience understand that there is lot more than just an issue being explored. One can’t imagine anyone else but him making the term ‘dyslexia’ so known despite its complicated spelling. Also,even in the promotion,he never allowed dyslexia to become threatening enough to keep the audience away.
For an unassuming film like this,he could have easily gone around the festival circuits,added a mention of 20 odd awards at the top of the posters and went ga-ga over it around the release. However,he released it like just another regular film and the results were there to be seen.
The Rajkumar Hirani School of marketing
Same holds good for 3 Idiots,where one of the obvious marketing tools could have been – ‘Ok,so now kick start our crusade against the education system in India’. This very statement could have gained quite some mileage for the actors because it would have meant an entry into the elite world of cinema where ‘enlightenment’ was the key word. However,the makers of 3 Idiots obviously had different plans.
It was entertainment that held the centre stage and enlightenment just followed. This was indeed the case to be as well and even though one can well believe that the message did come out eventually,it was due to the audience’s conversation amongst themselves instead of reading some quotable quotes that were driven by the PR folks of the film/actors.
In this aspect,Rajkumar Hirani certainly understands how to make an issue based film and still not make a big deal about it. He did that in Munnabhai MBBS where he did challenge the way medical world operates. Or,for that matter Lage Raho Munnabhai where he brought to fore the ideologies of Mahatma Gandhi.
However,imagine the fate of the two films had he commented that “In Munnabhai MBBS,I wish to talk about how a common man is impacted by the medico ethics” or “In Lage Raho Munnabhai,I will have Mahatma Gandhi come to earth again and educate us on how his ideologies can still be practiced in the modern world”.
This is what happened in case of Ashutosh Gowariker’s Swades which despite it’s brilliance and career best performance (before Chak De India happened) by Shah Rukh Khan,didn’t get an opening weekend audience since not many were interested to know about the escapades of a NASA returned Engineer to a remote village in India.
Audience weren’t kicked enough to really see what was in store and that was a pity because the film came straight after Lagaan. The fact that the film finds itself amongst the top of the list of ‘must watch flicks’ for many a viewer is the testimony of the fact that the making of the film hadn’t gone wrong. What had gone wrong was the marketing and promotion that pitched Swades as a film which was about the ‘issue of youth who leave India for big bucks’.
Terrorism? A strict no-no
No wonder,even Karan Johar would agree that terming Kurbaan as a film that picked the ‘issue of terrorism’ wasn’t the best thing to do from the very day that it came into inception. In fact the damage was done to a large extent when the film was first rumoured to be titled Jihaad. With a country that was still afresh with memories of 26/11,a film titled Jihaad would have been the last in the wish list and no wonder,the makers stopped calling Kurbaan by that name after a while.
Quick fix action was taken by now and the film was being proclaimed as a love story with a background of terrorism but that didn’t help much. Neither did the bare back of Kareena nor her passionate moments of love making with Saif Ali Khan enticed audience enough to check out Kurbaan which couldn’t even fetch a good opening.
In this aspect the makers of New York played a smart game because despite it’s theme being centred on the (known) issue of prisoners being lodged in US jails just on the basis of suspicion,they played it like a film that had friendship as a key element. The promos were very balanced as they projected both side of affairs – friendship and imprisonment – but there was no ‘our film is issue based’ hammering done.
While these are the biggies where stakes are obviously higher,even smaller films have had their share of confusions and complexities when at the heart of it all,there is an issue to be explored. A lesser known film called Sikandar was about how teenagers get brain washed into picking up acts of militancy. However,what resulted at the box office was a total no-show.
Same was the case with Lahore which spoke about improved ties between Indo-Pakistan by means of sports. A noble thought but a sad performance at the box office which could have been so much better had the film being sold as an out and out action entertainer with kick-boxing as its theme rather than Indo-Pak issue.
Real life issues? Let’s not make a headline
This is where the success of A Wednesday can well be considered as a case study because despite a deep rooted meaning to it,it never called itself as a film that highlighted the ‘plight of a common man who is impacted the most due to constant fear of terror attacks’. It was made as a thriller,pitched as a thriller and as a result,its box office outcome too was nothing less than a thriller.
On a different theme,Anurag Basu too smartly pitched Life In A Metro as a musical dramatic tale rather than announcing that ‘Through this film I wish to talk about the issues that middle class couples face in metropolitan India’.
Similar was the case with Karan Johar who could have got made headlines with Wake Up Sid by stating it as ‘a film that explores the issue of what goes into the mind of modern day youth’. However,he kept it fun and simple,something that worked with the audience.
What didn’t work earlier was Rann which despite its right intentions failed to fetch audience. In fact if there is one Ram Gopal Varma film in recent times that deserved to be a huge success then it was Rann. What was considered as a definite ace angle – i.e. a film that highlights the ‘issue of media’ – turned against the film as it didn’t seem enticing enough to audience. Now that was really a shame because at the core of it,the media angle was just peripheral and at best a marketing tool rather than the fact that Rann was basically a human drama.
The same sentiment would apply for Madhur Bhandarkar too who seems to have taken a temporary break at the least from making ‘issue based films’ after Jail.
Just the right impression
Thankfully,more and more filmmakers are waking up to this fact that projecting a film of theirs as ‘issue based’ would fetch only film festival entries and awards but nothing more than that. No wonder,the makers of Paa ensured that the promos were light hearted and frothy despite it’s central protagonist bearing a physical handicap,something which could so easily have been sold as ‘issue centric’.
Or for that matter Peepli [Live where the title itself was changed from being The Falling. After all this title hinted of an issue based theme,especially with the fact being that farmer suicides form the core of the film. Now the film is being pitched as a satire with ‘daayan mehengai’ being the central affair,not farmer suicide.
No wonder,even Akshay Kumar understands that the last thing audience would expect from him is something serious which hints of being issue driven. Imagine this week’s release Khatta Meetha being instead titled ‘Contractor – The story of a corrupt man’. Now how would that have worked even for Akshay’s hardcore fans? Just imagine!